The 10 Most Important Questions You could ever Ask Yourself

Questions reveal a lot about us. Good questions can point us in healthy directions. Great questions can save us from disaster. Several years ago I read a brief article by Donald Whitney, a pastor and seminary professor, who gave me permission to re-print his article that lists 10 important questions. It is outstanding and I’ve included it below.

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Once, when the people of God had become careless in their relationship with Him, the Lord rebuked them through the prophet Haggai. “Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:5) he declared, urging them to reflect on some of the things happening to them, and to evaluate their slipshod spirituality in light of what God had told them.

Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It’s so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we’re going and where we should be going.

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.

1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?

3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

What questions would you add to this list?

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Copyright © 2003 Donald S. Whitney.

Copyright Disclaimer: All the information contained on the Center for Biblical Spirituality website is copyrighted by Donald S. Whitney. Permission granted to copy this material in its complete text only for not-for-profit use (sharing with a friend, church, school, Bible study, etc.) and including all copyright information. No portion of this website may be sold, distributed, published, edited, altered, changed, broadcast, or commercially exploited without the prior written permission from Donald S. Whitney.

What Mac & Cheese Taught me about the Needs of Others

A very successful businessman inadvertently taught me a lesson about paying attention to other people’s needs … with macaroni and cheese.

Macaroni and cheese in an individual casserole dish with bread crumbs

Several years ago I ate breakfast at my favorite diner with one of our church’s key leaders. He owned a flourishing business and gave quite generously to our church. As I enjoyed the blue plate special of eggs, pancakes, and Canadian bacon, I asked him how business was faring. He described one recent experience with a potential client that brought a smile to my face and a fresh reminder that I must pay closer attention to other people’s stories and needs.

He had scheduled a lunch with a local company CEO and remarked that she ordered only salad and mac & cheese. I thought that a bit odd as did he until he said, “She explained that her favorite food was mac & cheese.”

He then described a second luncheon with this same CEO at this office that he had scheduled for the next Monday. The menu that day? Mac & cheese from six different restaurants.

From a business perspective he ordered this novel lunch menu hoping to make a good impression on a client that might garner him more business. But I thought to myself, What a creative and thoughtful way to touch a person’s life.

His kind gesture may not have brought him new business, but I’m convinced that this CEO will never forget his thoughtfulness. My friend simply paid attention to someone else’s unique interests.

As I drove back to the office after that breakfast and mulled over this mac & cheese luncheon, God impressed these thoughts on me.

  • Do I pay close enough attention to the leaders, friends, and spiritual seekers in my life to discover their unique interests?
  • Do I consider those interests as invitations from God upon which I could capitalize to become a better tool in God’s hands to minister to them?

I don’t think I will ever see mac & cheese in the same way again.

How have you met other people’s practical needs after discovering something unique about him or her?

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4 Ways to Successfully Navigate Change

Great leaders manage change well. Great pastors also manage change well. But it’s not easy. In my research for my latest book, Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry, I learned that brain insight can help us navigate change successfully. Consider these 4 ways to successfully navigate a change you’re facing. (Reprinted by permission from Brain-Savvy Leaders).

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4 Ways to Successfully Navigate Change:

1. Keep others informed about your progress and welcome their input.

Build into your change buy-in plan specific dates when you will communicate progress. Tell your team how you will evaluate progress and when you will report it. Bring all your key players into the conversation. If they feel they are in the “out” group, resistance to change will be higher, as it creates an away response (Rock & Cox, 2012), a response that hinders followership. Be thorough in your assessments. If the change is not going as planned, be honest yet focus on solutions, not problems. Give hope.

Elicit feedback from several sources, not just from those at the top of your organizational chart. The more collaborative your evaluation process, the more successful the change (London & Smither, 1995). When others feel that they contributed to the evaluation process, they sense more freedom and thus more ownership.

2. Continue to acknowledge that change is scary.

When you talk about the progress you’re making, continue to verbalize that you understand how difficult and scary change can be. Be sure that you don’t speak in a patronizing way that implies that it’s difficult for your team and not for you. Let them know that it’s scary for you as well, another way to build empathy, an important leadership competency. Help your team realize that it’s normal to feel unsettled during change and that it will pass. 

 

3. Tell stories of people who are navigating the change well.

Narrative persuasion is a technique that uses indirect communication through story and example. Often we try to persuade others with a direct approach that communicates just the facts, like, “We are going to make a change, and here are the reasons why.” The direct approach often is not effective.

Neuroscientists have confirmed common sense that storytelling has a powerful effect on behavior (Falk et al., 2012). Storytelling helps others “see” through the eyes of another. As you solicit feedback, look for stories of people who are managing the change well. Tell their stories as you give updates about your progress. When your team members can see successful responses to change through stories of others, it will help them navigate the change better.

4. Stay reasonably connected to your biggest resisters.

In my third book People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership, I devote an entire chapter to explaining why we need to stay connected to our critics. Change will bring detractors to the surface, as the Bible often shows. When Moses sent Joshua and the spies to scout out the promised land, even though they returned with glowing reports about the opportunity before them, many people resisted the change by spreading a bad report (Num 13: 32). Stay connected to your detractors, but don’t become their punching bag. Rather, if you stay calmly connected to them, you can help calm their emotionality

What has helped you navigate change well in your church or organization?

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References:

  • Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry by Charles Stone (Kindle Locations 2735-2758). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
  • Rock, David & Cox, C. (2012) SCARF in 2012: updating the social neuroscience of collaborating with others. Neuroleadership Journal, (four).
  • London, M. & Smither, J.W. (1995) Can Multi-Source Feedback Change Perceptions of Goal Accomplishment, Self-Evaluations, and Performance-Related Outcomes? Theory-Based Applications and Directions for Research. Personnel Psychology, 48 (4), pp.803–839.
  • Falk, E.B., O’Donnell, M.B. & Lieberman, M.D. (2012) Getting the word out: neural correlates of enthusiastic message propagation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6. Available from: <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3506032/> [Accessed 28 March 2013].

The Most Productive 4 Hours of my Week

I received an undergrad degree in industrial and systems engineering. IE’s, as they are called, are sometimes referred to as efficiency experts. Whether that’s true or not, the training I received from my degree has force me think about leadership productivity. In this post I describe my most productive four-hour time block each week, what I do, and why it’s so productive.

Productivity concept in word tag cloud on white background

This might surprise you, but those four hours fall on Sunday afternoon between 1 and 5 pm. I call that time block my strategic planning time that positions me for maximum productivity in the week that follows.

Many pastors rest and nap on Sunday afternoons. I don’t begrudge those who do. I used to take a two hour nap every Sunday afternoon. But I’ve discovered several reasons why those afternoons have now become so productive for me.

Why Sunday afternoons have become so productive:

  1. My body’s already flowing with hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and neurotransmitters (dopamine and norepinephrine) that heighten attention and focus. After I’ve preached and interacted with people I’m already on a “high.” So, I simply ride out that extra boost of energy on Sunday afternoons.
  2. Those hours put me into a forward looking perspective for the next week which motivates me with positive anticipation.
  3. Since the brain loves certainty (and dislikes uncertainty), when I carefully plan my week up front, I set my brain at ease knowing that I’ve prioritized what must get done. Since I’ve already set those priorities, I don’t waste energy during the week wondering what I should do next.
  4. I’ve chosen a place with minimum distractions, McDonalds. That may sound odd, but the McDonalds near my home allows me to pick a booth away from noise and people distraction which helps me concentrate. I usually buy lunch and a refillable soft drink which allows me to get some caffeine into my body. I also use noise suppressing headphones to block out all noise. In this post I suggest 4 ways you can improve your focus.

What I do that makes Sunday afternoons so productive:

  1. I review my personal mission statement and true north values. This post describes how to discover your true north values. By starting here I keep what God has called me to at the forefront of my thinking.
  2. I review what I call my ‘church dashboard.’ My dashboard summarizes our church’s mission, vision, values, and goals. This provides a one page snapshot of our overall direction and helps direct me to allocate time blocks to work on specific goals and projects.
  3. I review my upcoming schedule for the next 3-4 weeks and make appropriate adjustments. I use Outlook for the Mac as my calendar program. I also create specify action plans needed for upcoming meetings and projects.
  4. I review a set of folders where I’ve placed notes or materials that relate to key ministry areas and significant projects. Those include budget planning, leadership development, writing projects, new initiatives, and staff. Reviewing these folders helps remind me to allocate time to work on those projects.
  5. I revisit an email file I created in Outlook called, “Act upon in a Week.” Throughout the week I place emails in this file that didn’t require any immediate action. I’m more effective dealing with the tasks these emails generate all at once rather than spread out during the week.
  6. I determine what I call my ‘big three’ goals for the coming week, goals that take precedent over all others.
  7. I usually drink half a bottle of 5 Hour Energy to help me focus (probably by boosting the neurotransmitter dopamine) and give me an overall sense of well being (probably due to an increase in serotonin). See my post here about energy drinks for pastors.

Although Sunday afternoons have generally been downtimes for pastors, I’ve re-purposed those afternoons with encouraging results.

What do you do on Sunday afternoons that boosts productivity?

If Sunday afternoons don’t work for you, when do do your strategic planning for the week?

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What Would you Do for $10,000,000? How Leaders Build Integrity

What are you willing to do for $10,000,000?

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James Patterson and Peter Kim published the book, The Day America Told the Truth in 1991. In their research they posed this question to 2,000 Americans in an anonymous survey. These are the results.

  • Would abandon their entire family (25%)
  • Would abandon their church (25%)
  • Would become prostitutes for a week or more (23%)
  • Would give up their citizenships (16%)
  • Would leave their spouses (16%)
  • Would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free (10%)
  • Would kill a stranger (7%)
  • Would put their children up for adoption (3%)

These stats and others reveal that integrity is taking a beating today. Yet, leaders who truly want to honor God and effectively lead must lead with integrity.

One of the most interesting narratives in the Bible, the story about Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, illustrate how leaders build integrity. These young Hebrew men were conscripted into service for Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar after receiving three years of training.

As you read this qualities, rank yourself on each one.

Integrous leaders…

1. …willingly make tough choices.

Daniel refused to eat the king’s food offered to young conscripts (Daniel 1.8) because the Jewish law prohibited eating food offered in idol worship. He risked expulsion from the training academy and possibly death by making such a choice. He made the tough choice anyway.

2. …treat their critics and adversaries with respect. 

After the king’s wise men, of which Daniel was one, were unable to both tell the king a dream he had and interpret it, he issued an edict to have all the wise men executed. However, just before the execution Daniel approached the executioner with ‘tact,’ a Hebrew word used to describe taste (Daniel 2.14). The way Daniel approached the executioner literally left a good taste in the executioner’s mouth, a euphemism we use today to describe a good experience with another. This encounter opened up the door for Daniel to appeal to the king and interpret his dream which in turn prompted Nebuchadnezzar to rescend his decision.

Interesting brain insight: a part of our brain called the insult registers taste and emotional experiences with others like disgust and bitterness. Daniel’s interaction with the executioner kept the executioner’s brain from responding with these strong negative emotions, a wise example for we leaders when dealing with those who oppose us. Try to leave a good taste in the mouths of your critics.

3. … build their moral compass around Jesus.

When Daniel appeared before the king, he told him that no mere human could interpret his dream, but that the God of heaven could solve his conundrum. Daniel’s commitment to God served as his true north, his moral compass. Whenever Daniel faced a decision he always defaulted to what pleased God. This post describes how to build true north values into your life and leadership.

4. … remain consistent even in the small things of  life and leadership.

In Daniel’s later years he was faced with what appeared to be a small compromise. The then current king, King Darius, was tricked by leaders jealous of Daniel into issuing a 30-day edict requiring everyone to pray to the the king. Because they could find no character flaws in Daniel (Daniel 6.4), they resorted to trickery.

For decades Daniel had prayed to God three times a day and everyone knew it. Daniel, now in his 80’s, could have easily made this small compromise (pray to God in secret and fake prayers to the king) to avoid stress and difficulty in his old age. However, he refused to and was thrown into the lion’s den where God later rescued him. Great leaders refuse to cut corners, compromise, or hedge in even the small matters of life and leadership. 

5. …realize the people will either become bitter or better when they live with integrity.

Throughout the story, people responded to his integrity in one of two ways. They either were threatened by it and hated Daniel because of his integrity or they lauded it. When leaders take a stand for integrity, not everyone will respect your stance, cheer you on, and affirm you. Some will do the opposite. Great leaders lead well regardless of how people respond to their integrity.

6. …model integrity for their kids and grandkids.

Although Daniel and his three friends don’t model this quality, it’s worth stating. Our kids and grandkids will more likely do what we do (and did) that what we say (or said).

Centuries ago the ancient Chinese were so fearful of their enemies on the north that they built the Great Wall of China, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It was so high they knew no one could climb over it & so thick that nothing could break it down. Then they settled back to enjoy their security.

 But during the first 100 years of the wall’s existence, China was invaded 3 times. Not once did the enemy break down the wall or climb over its top. Each time they bribed a gatekeeper and marched right through the gates. According to the historians, the Chinese were so busy relying upon the walls of stone that they forgot to teach integrity to their children (source unknown).

Great leaders diligently seek to live, model, and build integrity into their lives. With integrity they spiritually thrive. Without it, their souls wither.

What other characteristics would describe an integrous leader?

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