14 Questions Pastors should Avoid if they Fear Vulnerability

Some time back I read an incredible book – Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Dr. Brene Brown. I highly recommend it. Her TED talk on this subject has garnered over 30,000,000 views. She strikes a chord for leaders about risking vulnerability. As a pastor vulnerability is scary and carries risks with which we must practice care when being vulnerable. As risky as it is, Dr. Brown says it’s a key to what she calls wholehearted living, what I’d called a Spirit-filled life. She says we live in a culture of scarcity and poses 14 questions in her book (p. 27) in three categories that caused me to reflect deeply about my family, my ministry, and my world. I’ve quoted some here and paraphrased others.

14 really scary questions about vulnerability…

As you read them, what is God saying to you about your family, your life, and your ministry?

SHAME

  • Is my self worth tied to achievement, productivity, or compliance?
  • Do I use the threat of belittling or ridicule to keep people in line?
  • Are put-downs and name-calling rampant?
  • Are blaming and finger pointing norms?
  • Am I guilty of favoritism?
  • Am I a perfectionist?

COMPARISON

  • Has my creativity been suffocated?
  • Do I constantly compare and rank myself against others?
  • Are people in my family or church held to one narrow standard rather than acknowledged for their unique gifts and contributions?
  • Is there an ideal way of being or one form of talent that is used to measure everyone else’s worth?

DISENGAGEMENT

  • Is everyone struggling to be seen and heard?
  • Are people afraid to take risks or try new things?
  • Does it feel as if no one is really paying attention or listening?
  • Is it easier to stay quiet than share stories, experiences, and ideas?

As you read these, what question really resonated with you?

What question would you add to this list?

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5 Ways to Make Brainstorming More Creative

Brainstorming sessions have become standard fare for ministry teams that seek solutions to problems. The two key rules are to generate as many ideas as possible and don’t criticize the ideas. These concepts came from Alex Osborne’s book Your Creative Power published in 1948. Since then it’s been common practice to avoid criticizing the ideas in brainstorming sessions. The underlying assumption was that people won’t speak up if they fear criticism. There’s only problem with this kind of brainstorming is this: it simply doesn’t work. In this post I explain why it doesn’t and give 5 ways to make brainstorming more creative.

Multiple studies have shown that groups who use standard brainstorming rules generate less ideas than do individuals (Lehrer, 2012). In other words, when posed with the same problem, individuals consistently generate more possible solutions to a problem than do groups. When I learned this I was shocked because I’ve always applied these two basic rules in brainstorming sessions with my teams.

So based on the latest research, I’ve listed below 5 ways we stifle creativity and the antidote to each.

  • Stiflling…Discourage dissent. Don’t allow anyone to debate or criticize an idea in a brainstorming session.
    • Antidote: encourage friendly debate and healthy criticism. Set up rules beforehand, though, such as don’t personally attack people, clarify before criticizing, use phrases like I have a different view, etc.
  • Stiflling…Make the group an all boys club.
    • Antidote: include women because they, in general, have greater empathy skills and emotional intelligence and can offer unique perspectives.
  • Stiflling…Only includes your BFF’s (best friends forever).
    • Antidote: include in your brainstorming team both people with longstanding relationships and newbies. One study found that the creative teams behind the most successful Broadway musicals included people who had known each other a long time and newbies (Ellenberg, 2012).
  • Stiflling…If you are the leader, telegraph your views at the beginning of your brainstorming session.
    • Antidote: if you’re leading the session, be as neutral as possible or you may hinder some people from sharing a good idea because it may conflict with yours. And, most people don’t like to disagree with their leader.
  • Stiflling…Make the brainstorming session a serious, linear, logical experience.
    • Antidote: make the session fun, out of the box, and as rule free as possible. Encourage individual idea generation, counter intuitive ideas, and mind wandering. Mind wandering often produces some of our greatest insights (Christoff et al., 2009).

What have you discovered that encourages creativity in your team in brainstorming sessions?

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Sources:

Christoff, K., Gordon, A.M., Smallwood, J., Smith, R. & Schooler, J.W. (2009) Experience sampling during fMRI reveals default network and executive system contributions to mind wandering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (21), pp.8719-8724.

Ellenberg, J. (2012) Six Degrees of Innovation. Slate. Available from: [Accessed 9 May 2013].

Lehrer, J. (2012) Groupthink. The New Yorker. Available from: [Accessed 25 February 2013].

5 Reasons Why Every Church Needs a Staff-Board Conflict Resolution Strategy

The board meetings have begun to sour. Increasingly the pastor and his board have heated conversations about the church’s direction. The conflict has bled into every meeting for months. Emotions are running high. Conflict reaches a flash point. There is no written plan on how to deal with it. What happens? The board either sends the pastor packing or he quits out of frustration. A rarity? No. Over 1500 pastors are forced from the ministry each month and many more pastors simply quit because they’re broken. Many are pondering leaving right now. What can a board or pastor to encourage biblical conflict resolution? That’s the focus of this post.

When emotions run rampant among pastors and boards, thoughtfulness seldom prevails. Our emotional brain hijacks our thinking brain.

So what is the solution to this problem? A written, clear, agreed-upon conflict resolution process. Here are 5 reasons your church needs one.

  1. Simply quoting Matthew 18:15-17 on dealing with conflict often doesn’t cut it. Although it’s the basis for conflict resolution, it’s seldom practiced without specific written guidelines.
  2. When we’re emotional, we don’t think clearly. When that happens we need something objective that is not open to interpretation, something that specifically explains the process how board-staff or staff-staff conflict can be resolved.
  3. Such a policy can often result in a more redemptive resolution to conflict than knee-jerk reactions like firing or quitting.
  4. We are called to model to the world love for each other (John 13.34-35). How we respond to conflict often conveys just the opposite.
  5. When we solve conflict in a God honoring way we embody unity, what the Scriptures often command us to seek. Ephesians 4.13 says, Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

I highly recommend the organization called Peacemakers to help you craft such a policy. Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, founded and leads this organization. Every pastor should read his book.

They also offer training and have produced some excellent materials you can use to teach your church and leaders. Check out this link for their resources.

Does your church have a conflict resolution policy? If not, what would be a good first step to create one?

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5 Signs that you Need to Quit Something

Quitters never win and winners never quit was drilled into my mind at an early age. I believed it. I practiced it. I lived it. I only quit one thing in my life before age 18, my high school football team. I quit because I sat on the bench 99.976% of the time. Since, then, however, I’ve questioned the veracity of that phrase, as catchy as it may sound. And recently I heard a concept that further spurred my thinking about quitting – strategic quitting. What is strategic quitting and why should pastors and leaders practice it? In this post I define strategic quitting and suggest 5 signs that you need to quit something.

First, a definition of strategic quitting. Strategic quitting is thoughtfully and carefully quitting a program, ministry, or initiative that simply is not working, has become staid, is disproportionately  sucking up resources, or simply needs to go. In contrast to reactive quitting, quitting when things simply get harder, strategic quitting is not a spur of the moment knee-jerk reaction to difficulty. Rather it is a measured decision carefully made.

It’s a concept so essential that leadership expert Seth Godin even wrote a book about about it, The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches You When to QuitHe says, “Strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations.”

Unfortunately, strategic quitting isn’t easy because of a phenomenon called the ‘sunk-cost bias.’ The ‘sunk cost bias’ is a mental trap we can easily fall into. Because we have invested so much time and energy into a project, we would feel like a failure if we nixed it. In reality, many such projects need to go. Read more about this bias here.

So what are some benefits of strategic quitting?

4 benefits of strategic quitting…

  1. It can release resources (your time, staff or volunteer time, and money) for other projects and initiatives with greater potential for material, spiritual, or organizational payoff.
  2. It can remove the perpetual drip, drip, drip of regret that has nagged your soul and emotions for months (or even years).
  3. It can boost your leadership in the eyes of others when they see you muster the courage to nix that ‘elephant’ that most everybody felt should have gone long ago.
  4. It can develop a key quality great leaders embody, humility. It’s humbling to admit that a project you may have started just doesn’t work anymore, or never did.

If you think you may need to strategically quite something, how do you know?

5 signs that indicate you need to strategically quit something…

  1. When in your soul you know it needs to go. Perhaps you’ve often wrestled with this ‘thing’ in your mind and you never can seem to get peace about it. Is God saying, “Now’s the time?”
  2. When those you trust hint that it needs to go. Have influencers in your circle raised the issue from time to time? Have they suggested that the ‘thing’ needs to go?
  3. When in your mind’s eye as you envision it gone you sense deep relief. As you’ve thought about it and imagined it no longer a burden, do you feel like a weight is off your shoulders? How much influence should you allow this subjectivity play in your decision?
  4. When you sense the Lord prompting you to strategically quit. In your quiet moments with the Lord, do you sense Him releasing you from it? Have you spent time praying about it?
  5. When you begin to really dislike the ‘thing.’ Perhaps your attitude has soured on it and constantly confessing your attitude doesn’t change it. Maybe this is God’s way of saying, “It needs to go.”

Knowing when to strategically quit can be tricky. Our emotions can powerfully influence decisions, sometimes in the wrong direction. But when your heart, your influencers, and the Lord seem to all say, “Stop the thing,” maybe it’s time to.

As you read this post, what ‘thing’ in your ministry or organization came to mind that you potentially need to strategically quit?

If some program or initiative did come to mind, what steps do you need to take to discern if you need to quit it?

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Has Your Emotional Brain Hijacked your Leadership?

Great ministry leaders keep their emotions in check. Unfortunately, when we don’t keep them in check, our emotional brain can hijack clear thinking and good leadership. Yet, when we understand how our brain and emotions work, such insight can help us manage them in God honoring ways. Below I give a quick summary about the part of our brain that affects emotions.

Many parts of the brain influence our emotions, but the part I call the Panic Alarm (the limbic system, especially the amygdala) contributes the most. The word limbic means ‘edge’ and it got its name because it lies on the edge between the outer part of the brain and other important internal structures. Its primary structures include the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the hypothalamus. The Panic Alarm strongly influences our emotional system, sometimes called the X-system.

The amygdalae (I use the singular form amygdala) are two almond shaped structures that play a critical role in our emotions for several reasons. It’s constantly on the lookout for problems and receives sensory input from many other parts of the brain. It stores and catalogs emotional memories. And both the hippocampus and the amygdala are involved in memory, the former primarily for facts and the latter for emotions.

For example, your hippocampus helps you remember the names of your elder or deacon board members. The amygdala tells you which ones you like. Because the amygdala is so highly connected to other parts of the brain, when it gets overly activated (the Panic Alarm goes off) it can diminish clear thinking and diminish thoughtful leadership.

An external real or perceived threat (an angry board member), a memory (when we were called to appear before an emergency board meeting), imagining ourselves in a threatening situation, or ever anticipating a threat can incite our Panic Alarm. The flight-flight-freeze-appease response originates from here. It’s also vital in helping us form healthy emotional attachments, especially at an early age.

Another component of the limbic system, the hypothalamus, acts as a controller to the master hormone gland, the pituitary gland. When we’re under stress it releases the stress hormone cortisol into our blood stream and neurotransmitters into our brain. Our body reacts very quickly to the neurotransmitter release but slower to the hormonal release. And chronic stress can damage our body and even kill brain cells (neurons) in the hippocampus. However, since the hippocampus is one of the few structures that can grow neurons, called neurogenesis, when stress decreases and cortisol levels out, the brain can regrow neurons here.

Another significant part of the brain, the insula, also influences emotions, and informs the amygdala. It maps our body’s internal feelings by receiving continuous input from over 100 million neurons (Armour, 2004) that line our hollow organs like our heart and intestines. It takes this information and represents how we feel in relation to our outside environment. Intuition is affected by this so called ‘second brain’ (Hadhazy, 2010). It can give us a ‘gut’ feel, butterflies in our stomach, or a ‘heartfelt sense’ we sometimes feel about something or someone. It’s also finely tuned to feel disgust and to sense unfairness.

I believe God used my insula to help me make a difficult decision years ago. I had been leading a poorly performing staff member that I had hoped I could reform to fit our culture. I kept telling myself that I could change him. But nothing seemed to work. I thought I needed to release him but I just couldn’t seem to pull the trigger. However, one morning I woke up in the middle of the night and knew in my gut I had to release him. I believe the Holy Spirit used my insula to help me make that decision.

Although the Bible never uses the word brain, it often uses the word for bowels to refer to the deep interior of our heart, soul, and mind. Although the Biblical writers didn’t explicitly understand the inner workings of the brain, God gave them keen insight into how our bodies and brains actually worked in real life.

Has your emotional brain every hijacked your leadership? What has helped you keep your emotions in check?


“I just learned how my emotional brain can sometimes hijack my leadership.” (tweet this quote by clicking here).


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References:

Armour, J.A. (2004) Cardiac neuronal hierarchy in health and disease. American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 287 (2), pp.R262-R271.

Hadhazy, A. (2010) Think Twice: How the Gut’s ‘Second Brain’ Influences Mood and Well-Being: Scientific American [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=gut-second-brain> [Accessed 28 February 2013].