Leadership expert John Maxwell’s most recent book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, discusses the importance of the ability to connect with others. This is the second segment in a series of four.

Preaching: Let’s start from the negative standpoint. What would be an example of something you’ve seen pastors do—or fail to do—that causes them not to connect?

Maxwell: I think they live in their own world. They teach and preach from their own perspective. I think they give a lot more answers than ask questions.

One of the great times of my life was when I began to understand that connecting is all about asking questions. Zig Ziglar—many years ago I heard him, back in 1975 probably—was at a Positive Mental Attitude rally. I was a young pastor—first time I’d ever heard him. He made this statement that he’s known for: “If you can help people get what they want, they’ll help you get what you want.”

It was a eureka moment for me. Up until then, I thought as a leader-pastor that I was to get people to buy my vision: “Come get on my train.” I always was trying to get people to come my way; but Zig that day said, “No, no; go their way. Go where they are. Get off the mountain, go down to where the people are. Walk slowly through the crowd, put their interests first. Help them with whatever they’re struggling with, and they’ll turn around. You’ll influence them, and they’ll begin to follow you.”

That was life-changing. That changed the way I led. That changed the way I preached. I quit hanging around with people like me, and I began hanging around with people who weren’t like me and asked them questions. I found out why they didn’t come to church and that they had a lot of valid reasons for not coming. It really helped me to get into their world.

I think this is unique to pastors. I think they live in their world—and their world and the world that needs desperately to know the Good News are pretty far apart. So first of all, put other people first. Go to them. Find their agenda. I have a phrase I use in the book quite often, “Find common ground.”

All change occurs on common ground. Change doesn’t occur because we’re different. So every time the church talks about its differences, I say to myself:  Do they not understand that’s alienating to other people? There’s nothing appealing about that. There’s nothing that draws people into that. There’s nothing that makes a person say, “Wow, they’re so much different than me I want to go over there and explore their territory.” No, they live in their world; and if we’re going to reach them, if we’re going to connect, we’ve got to get there.

When you find common ground—and that takes a lot of effort and energy—then you can lift them to higher ground. That’s when you can start to take some of the steps to move them up. First, you’ve got to find out where they are, get on common ground and have them sense that you know and care. Once that understanding, caring link is there, then they’re ready to be led and influenced, ready to hear the Good News, but not until then.

I think that’s a failure we make. We kind of say, “I have this great truth”—which we do, the Word of God—”I have this great truth, so I’ll just deliver it; and it’ll change lives.” The truth doesn’t change lives until people are ready to accept the truth, and they’re not willing to accept the truth until they’ve accepted you and me. That’s where it all starts. Once people buy into me and I have bought into them and who they are, then we can start making some movement and connecting.

Preaching: How do you know when you’re not connecting? What are some signals for a pastor?

Maxwell: Many pastors don’t know they aren’t connecting. I think the reason is because they are in a world that is not only their world, but the people in their congregation also are in that world. I think the congregation basically has not realized they lack relevance. So it is the old expression “preaching to the choir.”

I think to solve this problem we all ought to carry a gong around with us. Remember the “Gong Show” —when the speaker wasn’t good, they were saying something that wasn’t very good or people didn’t want to hear? They’d just go up with the mallet and gong them, and it was over. I’m thinking if we all carried gongs, when we’re at a dinner conversation, somebody’s talking and everyone else is glazed over, somebody ought to gong them.

Do you understand that you’re talking but nobody’s home? I think it is because we are self-absorbed. Self-absorption is the absolute killer to connecting with people. We need the willingness—and it takes a will—to get out of our world and go into their world and find out what’s important to them.

I do a lot of speaking in the corporate community, and I have a wonderful exercise in which I have a deck of value cards that I give the team, especially when I’m dealing with senior management, senior leadership positions. I have them take the deck of cards out; they basically go through all the values, and they take the ones they like versus the ones that are not important to them. We break it down, break it down, break it down. In a 40-minute exercise, I get them to hold just the final two cards, the two most important value cards. Without showing the cards to anyone else, I have them pair up and try to guess what the two most important values of the other person are. About 75 percent of the time, they don’t know. Now here they are, management in senior leadership, and they don’t know the two most important values of their partner or colleague.

We don’t know. Why don’t we know? We don’t know because we really don’t want to know, don’t care to know, or it’s not that important to us. We have our agenda. We have our world. We have our message—and it’s killing us. How quickly the barriers can be broken down when we go into their world and find out what their values are, find out what their dreams are, find out what their temperament is so they respond based on that. I mean, we’ve got to get out of our world; that is the issue of connecting. Connecters always are willing to risk leaving their world to get into the world of the person they’re trying to reach.

Jesus, of course, modeled that continually in the gospels. The Master Connector was always where the people were, was always asking questions that would stir their hearts a little bit, always connecting with them, always putting them first—then out comes the message. I just don’t think we do a good job at that. I think we basically feel more secure in our world; so that’s where we’ve decided to live, then we wonder why we don’t connect.

(To continue reading the interview, click here)

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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