What Pastors should Look for in Safe People

In a previous blog post I wrote about how many pastors suffer with relational anorexia. Pastors can find a cure for this devastating issue when we seek out and find people with whom we can process the pain ministry inevitably brings. As you consider the traits you’d look for in a safe person, consider these Scriptures and the guidelines they infer, because these people are often difficult to spot.

Teamwork concept. Isolated on white

When Samuel went to look for Saul’s replacement, God told him, Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. GOD judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; GOD looks into the heart.[1]

Outward impressions may belie the heart of a potential safe person, so don’t let a poor first impression turn you off. When David looked for those with whom he’d surround himself, he wrote,  I have my eye on salt-of-the-earth people—they’re the ones I want working with me; Men and women on the straight and narrow—these are the ones I want at my side.[2]

Character and integrity took front and center when he chose his advisors and leaders. He also said, Let the godly strike me! It will be a kindness! If they reprove me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it.[3]

David looked for those with the courage to tell him what he needed to hear, not what he wanted to hear. Daniel Goleman (most known for writing on emotional intelligence) wisely notes,

People deprive their co-workers—whether bosses or subordinates—of honest performance feedback for several reasons, chief of which is that it can be uncomfortable to give such feedback. We’re afraid of hurting others’ feelings or otherwise upsetting them. Yet, while we tend to keep the truth about how others are actually doing to ourselves (oddly, not just the negatives, but also the positives), all of us generally crave that kind of appraisal. Candid evaluations matter deeply, in a way that other information does not.[4]

When Paul taught about rights and privileges he said “knowledge makes us proud of ourselves, while love makes us helpful to others.[5] Someone with all the right replies may not be who you need. Actually, we need those who will ask us the right questions more than those who want to give us answers.

Below I’ve listed several qualities to look for in a safe person. Only perfection, however, will embody them all, so don’t expect to find someone who meets all the criteria. A safe person, however, should evidence many of these.

  • Not a cliché giver, doesn’t over-spiritualize
  • Asks good questions, effectively reflects back what he hears you say, and seeks to understand
  • Believes in you
  • Consistent, a promise keeper
  • Trustworthy, can keep secrets
  • Not afraid of your anger, tears, or other emotions
  • Has his own scars yet doesn’t wallow in his pain; empathetic
  • Around him you don’t feel like a child with a parent but feel you are equals
  • Not critical or judgmental
  • Approachable, vulnerable, humble
  • Wise and discerning
  • Can and will challenge you to get outside your comfort zone
  • Around him (or her if you are a women) you feel comfortable; he’ll let you be on the outside who you are on the inside
  • Won’t try to make you someone you’re not; appreciates the real you
  • Likable to be around (I can’t overemphasize this)
  • Strong commitment to Christ, helps your commitment to Christ deepen
  • Willing to confront with love and grace, doesn’t flatter
  • Helps you become a better person
  • Doesn’t have a lot of expectations of you

To boil it down, a safe person is one who truly will listen, occasionally offer advice, and consistently will support and strengthen you.

Pastor, I encourage you to find a safe person in your life, sooner than later.

Related posts:

[1] 1 Samuel 16:7, The Message

[2] Psalm 101:6, The Message

[3] Psalm 141:5, NLT

[4] Daniel Goleman, 94. Primal Leadership

[5] 1 Corinthians 8:1, CEV