Soft Skills

Thursday, May 2, 2024

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Dear Pastors

Soft Skills

In the world of Management there is an important distinction made between ‘hard and soft’ skills.

Hard skills are comparatively easy to quantify – they are the technical knowledge (and industry knowledge) you learn either in the classroom or on the job, and you prove them through earning certificates, degrees or other qualifications. Such things as Accounting, IT, time management, strategy, teaching, engineering, medicine etc. Hard skills can be quite easily observed and can be assessed.

Soft skills, on the other hand, are a whole lot more subjective – you can’t show a potential employer you scored an A in teamwork, for example. Instead, you have to show you’ve developed these interpersonal skills through offering instances of where you used teamwork in a particular setting. Or you can’t easily show how empathetic you are. It’s only when you are working closely with someone that you discover how well formed their empathy skills are.

In Christian leadership and particularly in pastoral ministry I have come to the conclusion that a persons soft skills are arguably more important than their hard skills – certainly as important. It’s has always been true that your initial qualification(s) are important and necessary to get your ‘foot in the door’ but it is your soft skills that will keep you inside the door over the long haul.

“soft skills are acquired through coaching and a pastors’ conscious shaping of his or her actions”.

Let me offer two illustrations.

  1. When a congregation member shares with you a personal problem they are very rarely coming to you because you received an A for Church History or a B+ for an Overview of the Old Testament as important as these subjects are. They are coming to you because of the wisdom you consistently display (in all sorts of different situations). Or they are coming to you because of your empathy or your ability to be very present and attentive. These are the soft skills you either have or do not have.
  2. When you are chairing a meeting that is dealing with a challenging issue and people see that issue quite differently, the soft skills that are now required is your ability to ‘read the room accurately’, to be able to draw out thoughts from less vocal members and to ‘skilfully’ help the meeting to find a solution that everybody can live with.

Can soft skills be learned? Yes I believe they can. When I reflect over my own life I can see quite some growth in many soft side skills that I possess today that I was totally unaware of as a younger rookie pastor. In fact it is one reason why I hold to the view that the ideal age to go into pastoral ministry is in your late 30’s/early 40’s when you have done some living and as a result become more self-aware of the soft side skills you need to be a good pastor. Further a quick review of the literature confirms that soft skills can be learned.

Soft skills can't be taught solely through book or classroom learning. Because they are behaviour-based, they must be learned differently. Instead of “downloading” information and following step-by-step instructions, soft skills are acquired through coaching and a pastors conscious shaping of his or her actions. It requires honest self-reflection.

Finally, what then are the soft side skills that are crucial in pastoral ministry. Here is my list in no particular order. I am sure that you can think of others.

  • Empathy
  • Good listening
  • Attentiveness
  • Persuasion
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Creativity
  • Problem solving
  • Humour
  • Flexibility and adaptiveness
  • Self-regulation of your emotions
  • Communication – What you SAY and how you say it….in the moment.

And before I dash off and take the dog for a walk here’s an observation. People will often complain about Sunday services, the programmes of the church and other easily identifiable concerns (no church is perfect), when actually they are frustrated with you and your low level ability in the soft side skills of ministry but they find it hard to find words that express their frustration and disappointment to what they deep down ‘feel’.


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