The Power of Intentional Friendships for Leaders

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Henry Cloud has become one of my go to leadership authors. He has penned over 40 books and is famous for the Boundaries series. Recently, Cloud published another timeless work entitled The Power of the Other. The premise of this new work is that for people “to get to the next level we need relationships that help us develop both our brains and our minds in very specific ways.” Cloud identifies four types of relationships, which he refers to as corners: 1) Disconnected, No connection, 2) The bad connection, 3) The pseudo-good connection and 4) The true connection.

Among the outstanding lessons that this text offers, one lesson in particular struck me as a clergy person. Although many articles have been written about the dangers of isolation, isolation continues to be a real problem for many church leaders. Seclusion limits clergy effectiveness by closing off the opportunity for significant connections with others to occur. Removed from the body of Christ, energy is not transferred beyond ourselves, and we are unable to make needed changes to our lives and our leadership abilities.

Clergy need ongoing, significant, deep relationships—what Cloud refers to as “four corner relationships.” These connections build self-control, foster responsibility and spiritual growth, and make learning and failure safe. Small groups of this sort are hard to come by and do not happen without intentionality. In 2011, I joined a group of pastors through Spiritual Leadership Incorporated (SLI). The group was comprised of a lay leadership coach and clergy from multiple states, including West Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee. Committed to becoming better as leaders, we met once a month via video conference and face to face twice a year. These four corner relationships were significant for me. It is possible that I would not be in the pulpit today had it not been for this group that held me accountable and supported me during difficult times.

In early 2014, our team faced its most significant challenges. First, each member of our team was in significantly different phases of our ministry. One-on-one coaching was going to be more effective than group coaching. Second, one of our team members transitioned out of the local church into a supervisory role.  This change of position changed the relationship on the team. I experienced a level of loss and fear that I would find my way back to isolation. In just a few months I was able to join another group of pastors in the next county for conversation and accountability preventing isolation.

A greater blessing came this September after the New Room Conference. I had stayed in touch with two of the 2011-2014 pastors, and we decided to form a New Room Band. In November, six pastors gathered for our first retreat. There we decided that our group would focus on worship, accountability, support, and fun. We established expectations for our relationship, forming a covenant. We have plans to retreat twice a year, meeting in person every other month to check-in. We also commit to praying for each other’s families, communicating by phone and text to maintain accountability. There will never be a repeat of that first team, but now I have nine other pastors that can help nurture my spiritual growth. In the end, our families, spouses, and churches will be better. When a leader grows everyone wins!

If you want to become a more effective church leader, you must have four-corner relationships. These individuals should be from other ministry contexts so that they can bring new energy and objective perspective. Avoid the temptation of isolation. Remember: time on social media doesn’t count. Find or create a team that will connect you to the power of the other.

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Lee Stevenson is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church and a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary. He is married to Judy, a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary and in the ordination process of The United Methodist Church. They have three children, Morgan, Jordan and Katie. Lee serves as Pastor at First United Methodist Church of Pulaski, in Pulaski, TN. In his Sabbath time, Lee is an avid cyclist, has written many sermons and had long talks with God while riding his bike named, “Visitation.”

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