7 Ways Leaders can Navigate the Pain of Rejection

Rejection. The sound of the word itself even sounds ominous. If you’ve been a pastor or church leader for any length of time, chances are you’ve felt the dagger of rejection. It may have come intentionally through a serious conflict with a leader who didn’t like or support you. It may have come more subtly when someone quietly leaves your church and the scuttlebutt was that they left because they “weren’t getting fed.” The source doesn’t matter. It still hurts. When it inevitable does come, what can we do? In this post I suggest 7 ways to navigate the pain of rejection.

How Leaders Can Navigate the Pain of Rejection… 

  1. Recognize that you’ve not sinned because you feel hurt. Our brain registers physical pain primarily in two areas of the brain, the insula, which lies deep in our brain, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which lies between our brain’s thinking center and our emotional center. And guess what? Social pain such as rejection registers in the same places. So, rejection actually physically hurts. It’s an automatic response to rejection that God wired into our bodies. So, the bad feelings you experience from rejection don’t mean you’re a weak leader or a sinful person.
  2. When rejected, admit the pain you feel. Don’t ignore or stuff your emotions. The phrase, “Grown men don’t cry,” implies that a guy should not allow himself to show his ‘soft’ emotions. The problem is, it’s self-defeating. When we stuff or suppress our emotions, it actually makes our painful emotions more intense internally. However, it’s scientifically proven that when we name our painful emotions, we actually lessen their intensity.
  3. Journal your feelings. Many counselors recommend something called ‘writing therapy,’ a fancy term for journaling. When we feel rejected, journaling our painful feelings can take the sting out of them. Akin to writing therapy is something called ‘talk therapy.’ Again, it’s a fancy term for sharing you pain with others. It’s helpful to find a safe friend to process your feelings when rejected. In this post I share several qualities to look for in a safe friend.
  4. Refuse to base your identity on your ability to make 100% of the people happy 100% of the time. A temptation every ministry leader faces is to keep people happy 100% of the time. Trying to do that will kill you. We certainly don’t want to intentionally make people mad. But some people will never be pleased, no matter what you do. Jesus, the perfect leader, didn’t please everyone. In fact, John records this uber rejection of Jesus. From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6.66, NIV)
  5. Don’t magnify the pain by rejecting the rejector in return. It’s tempting to cut your rejectors off by rejecting them. When we do, we only exacerbate our pain. I once had a guy who did his best to convince the board that I was not the right pastor for the church. The board fully backed me. He left. A few months later I saw him in a store and had a choice. Would I walk down another aisle to avoid him, or would I walk toward him and try to shake his hand? I made the latter choice. I walked over, reached out my hand, and said, “Hi.” He glared at me and walked by without shaking my hand. Poor guy. He was a bitter dude. In such cases, apply the words Peter gave us about Jesus’ response to rejection. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (I Pt 2.23, NIV)
  6. Step back to keep or regain perspective. When rejection stings, our perspective can quickly become cloudy. We can easily extrapolate the rejection in our minds and assume that many other people feel the same way or will do the same thing (i.e., I wonder who else is leaving the church?). Remember, a rejection by one person is…rejection by one person. Such rejection seldom reflects the viewpoints of others. So, guard against the proverbial, “blowing things out of proportion.”
  7. If it’s a serious rejection, get professional help. Sometimes rejection is such a deep blow that we can’t navigate it on our own with a good cry or coffee with a friend. You may need professional help. Losing a job, losing a vote of confidence from your board, or significant numbers of people leaving your ministry probably qualify as significant rejections. Don’t feel ashamed to seek professional help. If you break an arm, you’ll see a doctor. If your heart gets broken, find a wise counselor to help bring healing.

Sometimes we’d rather experience physical pain that social pain, for good reason. Our brains are wired to recall the emotional pain of past rejection, but not past physical pain. So, rejection potentially carries a long lasting impact on our souls. Don’t take it lightly. Deal with it sooner that later.

What has helped you deal with rejection in ministry?

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Are you a People Pleasing Pastor? Take this Assessment and Find Out

I based my third book, People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership on significant research around people pleasing. As a scripturally based book, it incorporated fascinating insight about how our brain influences our leadership and our tendencies to appease and please others in unhealthy ways. To discover how pervasive people-pleasing is in the ministry I gathered research from two sources. I contracted Lifeway Research to survey over 1,000 pastors about people pleasing and I added to this research the results of a similar on-line survey of 1200 pastors I did for a total of over 2200 pastoral responses. In this post I’ve created a simple self-evaluation for pastors to determine how much people pleasing affects them.

My research revealed that 70% of pastors agreed that people-pleasing affects their lives and ministries at some level. In the on-line survey I included an option for pastors to anonymously tell their people pleasing stories. I got 100 pages of heart wrenching stories, single-spaced!

Here’s one pastor’s sad story.

In a church that I pastored, there was a major power struggle with several members who remained very close friends with the previous pastor who actively worked to wield control through these members. I often felt unable to measure up, always trying to ‘minister’ to these folks in hopes that I could win them over, and yet being angry that I couldn’t. After two years I left the church and left the ministry. And I felt like a failure as a pastor and as a husband/father.

Is people-pleasing affecting your ministry?

Take this short assessment to see if it is. Mentally check which statements are true of you.

  1. In my church’s board or leadership meetings, sometimes I don’t speak up on an issue for fear of creating tension.
  2. Too easily I say yes to someone’s request for me to do something. Later I regret having put that on my plate.
  3. I will go out of my way to attempt to change someone’s mind who wants to leave my church or ministry.
  4. Sometimes I get angry at myself for not having stood up or spoken up for what I believe.
  5. I have kept on a non-performing staff person or volunteer leader too long before making a change.
  6. When I need to be firm with someone else, I inordinately delay the conversation and/or after I do have the conversation, I realize I didn’t say everything I should have said.
  7. Sometimes I try too hard to be nice.
  8. It bothers me when I upset someone. I tend to blame myself for his or her distress.
  9. I tread lightly around some people in the church because of their moodiness.
  10. When those around me are angry, I become the peacemaker by trying to get them “un-angry.”

How many did you check? If you checked…

  • 1-3: People-pleasing could become a growing issue in your leadership unless you do something soon.
    • Keep this issue in prayer and stay vigilant of your tendency in the area(s) you checked.
  • 4-6: People pleasing is most likely hindering your leadership and may get worse.
    • Find a safe, wise leader in your church or a local pastor with whom you can confidentially share your struggle. Become accountable to him so you can stop unhealthy people-pleasing before it gets out of hand. See my blog here on what to look for in a safe person.
  • 7-10: You’re probably angry, anxious, and fearful most of the time and people-pleasing is clearly hurting your leadership.
    • Consider seeing a good counselor who can help you ferret out the cause and help you lead less from an approval motivation.

As you deal with your pleaser tendencies, consider this verse.

The fear of human opinion disables . . . (Prov 29.25, The Message)

How have you seen people-pleasing tendencies affect your or other’s ministries?

You can learn more about the book here and view a cool animated video trailer of the book.


“People-pleasing in the ministry: I just took an interesting assessment on people-pleasing.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)


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A Science-based Sermon Note Taking Template

I invest 15-20 hours each week to prepare a Sunday sermon. If you’re a pastor, I’m sure you invest similar time. Have you ever wondered, though, how much of your sermons really stick in your listeners’ minds to help them become spiritually transformed? I have, many times. As I’m learning more about how God fashioned our brain to work in learning environments, I’m testing what I’m learning as I preach. I just began a series on Romans at our church and I created a new sermon note taking template (below) based on some science-based learning principles. I describe it here and include some screen shots if you’d like to modify it for your use.

First, a few basic details.

  • It’s a front and back insert. The image in this post includes both front and back.
  • We hole punch it so people can put it into a notebook, rather than the recycle bin.
  • The front includes basic details such as date, passage, speaker, etc.

Now, some of the science based principles.

  • All Learning is Based on Prior Learning: Next week’s passage. At the top on the front page, I include the following week’s Scripture passage. I encourage our people to read that passage at least five days of the next seven, three times at each sitting. The more familiar they are with the passage I will preach from, the more what they hear will resonate because they are already familiar with the passage. All learning is based on prior learning and the more they know about the passage, the more sticky your sermon will be.
  • Gist or Verbatim memory: Today’s Big Idea. I try to boil down the message into one core statement. [This particular week I simply gave an overview of the book and then shared 9 ways the listener could get the most from the series.] When we speak, we must balance two kinds of memory, gist memory –this means what it says, the gist of what you are preaching, which, by the way, sticks in memory longer – and verbatim memory – specific details of your sermon. The big idea captures the one overall concept, gist memory, what I hope the people retain if they forget everything else.
  • Neurons that fire together, wire together: Last Week’s Big Idea. Although the graphic does not include this line because that Sunday was week one of the series, in future weeks I will include the prior week’s big idea. Repetition truly is the key to learning. The more specific neurons fire together, the more our brain wires itself around what made it fire (it’s called ‘Hebbian Law’). So, when you repeat something, neural circuits around that repeated concept get strengthened. Repeating the prior week’s big idea can help imbed those key concepts you hope will get retained.
  • The Protege Effect: Today’s Key Insight. Students who help tutor other students consistently outperform other students. It’s the old “you want to learn something, teach someone else” concept. On the second page at the top is a box where people can write down one or two key insights that stood out the most from the sermon. I encourage them to envision teaching someone else that concept. Even imagining this will help imbed learning – even better, actually doing it.
  • Social Learning: Today’s Lunch Question. Next, on the backside of the insert I include a box with a question about the sermon. I encourage our people to discuss it at lunch with their friends and family. This process, called social learning (processing what we learn with others) is proven to help deepen learning. As we dialogue with others, we gain different perspectives and new insights, which makes our sermons stickier.

These and other learning techniques you can apply around sermon note taking can help imbed the biblical truths about which you area preaching. Of course, ultimately the Holy Spirit brings transformation. John reminds us of this here.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14.26)

What has helped make your sermons sticker?

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7 Ways to Make a Graceful Exit and Leave Your Church Well

Unless you stay at the same church your entire life, you will leave one ministry or church and go to another, perhaps several times. In fact, the average pastor in the U.S. stays at one place about four years. I’ve served at six different churches in my 35 years in ministry and have always sought to leave well. At my current church I hope I’ll have another 10 years of fruitful service. I’ve learned, however, that leaving is more of an art and is often difficult. Here are 7 insights I’ve learned that have helped me make a graceful exit.

  • Deal with your baggage. Leave with a clear conscience that relationships have been made right, as much as is possible.
    • Acts 24:16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.
    • Rom. 12:18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone
  • Don’t leave angry. Process your pain. If you struggle with anger after you leave, get coaching or counseling to avoid bitterness.
    • Hebr. 12:15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
  • Leave on top. That is, leave your ministry as healthy and as strong as possible.
    • Col. 3:23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men….
  • Speak well of the former leaders, both lay and paid. Don’t leave a trail of gossip. Don’t undermine the leaders or anyone else who may have hurt you. Don’t burn bridges. Leave in such a way that your and Christ’s reputation remain intact.
    • Prov. 22:1 A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
  • Let go of ownership. You are no longer in charge. You may be tempted to still influence it from afar. Guard against that.
  • Pray that God would bless the ministry even more with the new leader who replaces you.
    • 1Kings 1:37 “May the Lord be with Solomon as he has been with you, and may God make Solomon’s reign even greater than yours!”
  • Grieve well. Change brings loss. You will lose familiarity, relationships, and influence even as you gain those in your new ministry. Don’t be surprised if you grieve. The Apostle Paul grieved when he left the church at Ephesus for the last time.
    • Acts 20: 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: `It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” 36 When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. 37 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38 What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.

Years ago I heard a talk by Ellen Goodman about leaving well. This quote captures the spirit of a leader who makes a graceful exit.

There is a trick to the Graceful Exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over-and let it go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving on, rather than out.

What insights would you add to this list?


“I just learned some good insight about how to gracefully leave a ministry.”(tweet this quote).


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Tithing: a Simple and Effective Way to Encourage People to Tithe

I believe every pastor should help his church grow in generosity. One tool I’ve used for many years is called a “Tithe Demonstration Day.” It’s essentially setting aside one Sunday each year, usually in a stewardship sermon series, when we challenge every person in the church to tithe, give 10% of one week’s income. It’s always the highest giving Sunday of the year. And weekly giving usually increases after that Sunday as well. I’ve included below the text of a bulletin insert we’ve used that simply explains it. We called this one the “7-30-90” plan because we encouraged not only tithing for one week, but continued tithing/increased giving for 30 or 90 days. Most people who build a habit over 90 days make it permanent.

If you schedule a Tithe Demo day, consider these pointers first.

  • Promote it well through all your promotion channels. Start a month prior.
  • Use a tithing testimony the week prior.
  • Mail a reminder the week prior in addition to sending an email reminder.
  • Create a special envelope for that Sunday.
  • Have your church tithe 10% of the offering given on Tithe Demo day to some ministry outside the church. Be sure to promote this well. This models for the people that your church will also tithe.
  • If you are the senior pastor, share your commitment about giving.
  • Report the results the week after. Make it a big celebration.
  • Include some sort of continued giving commitment that you are comfortable with, as the insert does.
  • Ideally, teach a four-week series on generosity and schedule Tithe Demo day on the fourth week. If you don’t do a full series, preach on giving two weeks prior.

Here’s the text of the insert we used. Use it any way that helps.


The 7-30-90 Generosity Plan

If you consider (church name) your church home, would you prayerfully consider accepting the “7-30-90 and beyond” challenge?

Recently Pastor Charles challenged those who don’t yet tithe to trust God to enable them to begin tithing in a step-wise fashion. He also challenged those who do tithe not to view tithing as a ceiling, but a foundation upon which to become a “beyond” giver.

God’s Word teaches that Christ followers should generously give back to Jesus their time, talents, and treasures. A tithe serves as a monetary ‘benchmark’ for systematic, proportionate giving. The word “tithe” is a mathematical term that means “a tenth or 1/10.” It means giving 10% of your income back to the Lord (Malachi 3:10).

The “7-30-90 and beyond” challenge is a three-step faith venture.

Step 1: tithe (give 10% of a week’s income) on Sunday, (date) on our all church Tithe Demonstration Day* (details below)

Step 2: after taking that first step continue to trust God and tithe your income through the entire month of March

Step 3: continue your faith journey and trust Him to enable you to continue tithing for three months (March-May)

Tithing example: If you make $52,000 per year and divide that by 52 weeks, your weekly income is $1,000/week. $1,000 weekly income x 10% = $100. A weekly tithe would be $100.

Note: Because of your financial situation, you may need to modify Steps 2 and 3 by increasing your giving over a longer time period so that by year’s end you can tithe regularly.

After three months of faithfulness, tithing will become a regular part of your financial plan.

If you now tithe, consider the ‘beyond’ part of the challenge an opportunity to review your giving and consider giving beyond a tithe.

(the back side of the bulletin insert is below)


TITHE DEMONSTRATION SUNDAY – SUNDAY, (date)

WHAT IS TITHE DEMONSTRATION SUNDAY?

It is an invitation for everyone who calls (church name) their church home to give one week’s tithe on this Sunday (10% of gross household weekly income). The purpose is to demonstrate what our potential could be if every household in our church family tithed.

WHAT IF I WON’T BE IN CHURCH on (date)?

If you can’t attend church on (date), please use one of these three options: (a) Mail in your tithe so it will arrive prior to Sunday, (date); (b) Drop your tithe off at the church office; (c) Send it with a friend; (d) use our online electronic funds transfer option (go to…your website… for instructions).

WHAT IF I’M ALREADY TITHING?

Thank you for your faithfulness. If you give on a monthly or biweekly basis, please adjust your giving schedule to participate in this church offering for this one Sunday.

WHAT IF I FEEL ABSOLUTELY UNABLE TO TITHE?

We ask that you give consistently as God leads you. If you feel absolutely unable to tithe, check your heart and God’s Word and make sure it is consistent with His leading.

On that day our church will tithe that day’s offering. We will be giving 10% to (ministry).


“I just learned a simple way to encourage tithing in my church.”(Tweet this quote).


How have you helped increase your church’s generosity?


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