9 Signals Your Hormones May be Hijacking your Leadership

God gave us a magnificent creation called the brain.Weighing less than three pounds, it wields incredible influence over how well leaders lead. Although we usually call the brain a computer, it’s more like a pharmacy that constantly dispenses drugs (hormones and neurotransmitters) into our bodies and brains which affect our emotions, our thinking, and our leadership. A new field called neuroleadership is helping leaders understand how brain function relates to leadership. It’s a burgeoning field pastors and leaders should pay attention to. My most recent book, Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministryintersects brain science with biblical principles on leadership.

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Are your hormones hijacking your leadership?

Brain researchers have discovered that sustained high levels of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline affect our ability to think clearly, creatively, and decisively, thus diminishing our ability to lead most effectively.

And how do sustained high levels of these hormones get into our system?

They get there from chronic anxiety, when we face long-term stress. It’s akin to a car accelerator getting stuck and revving at high rpm’s for a long period of time. If it continues, the engine will wear out prematurely. In the same way when leaders and pastors stay stressed 24/7, their anxiety, and thus their hormones, get stuck at a high level which dramatically reduces their ability to lead.

Take this simple assessment to discover how many chronic anxiety markers are currently in your life.

  1. I react and act impulsively when people disagree with me.
  2. I assume the worst and connect dots where there are none.
  3. I easily get defensive.
  4. I don’t seem to be as creative as I once was.
  5. I often find myself in a mental and emotional fog.
  6. I lose perspective easily.
  7. I don’t listen well to others, not because I don’t want to, but because my mind wanders and can’t focus.
  8. I find it difficult to concentrate.
  9. I find that others often mirror my defensiveness and reactivity.

How many markers did you find?

If more than two, your hormone accelerator is probably stuck and you aren’t leading at your best. The solution to reducing stress can be a bit complicated. But a wise pastor once advised me to regular take breaks. He shared these three simple statements that have helped me keep my stress hormones in check.

  • Divert Daily (take time out to reflect and be still before God every day).
  • Withdraw Weekly (take a weekly sabbath).
  • Abandon Annually (take a vacation every year when you truly disconnect).

How have you kept your stress hormones under control?

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4 Questions to Ask when you Face Conflict

Everybody faces conflict. It’s nothing new. From the cosmic conflict between Lucifer and God before creation to the conflicts in the early church to the conflicts Jesus often faced with the Jewish legalists, it’s a given in life. Conflict is not sin in itself, but sin can cause it and we can sin in how we respond to it. Wise leaders, however, know how to manage conflict when it comes. 4 good questions arise from Acts 15 in the account of the early church’s conflict with those who believed that non-Jews (Gentiles) could become Christians, but only after they first became Jews.

Choose to Resolve or Continue Conflicts - Conflict Resolution

4 good questions to ask when you face conflict:

If the early church had not resolved the conflict with the Judaizers, the results could have been disastrous. In a similar way, when conflict arises in our churches, unless we wisely resolve them, we can lose momentum, people, and resources.

Question 1: The conviction question. Is the conflict you are facing a matter of deep conviction that you can’t resolve through personal prayer and processing?

In the early church’s case, the issue of salvation (was it Jesus plus works or Jesus plus nothing) was a significant issue. It could not be overlooked. Paul and Barnabas had to deal with it.

Many issues are simply issues of personal preference, hurt feelings, or simple misunderstandings that we can pray through and move on. We don’t need to confront every person over every issue. However, some issues are too significant to overlook.

I suggest these five thresholds that can help you determine if you need to take it further than prayer and personal processing.

  1. The issue is seriously dishonoring Christ. In some sense God’s reputation is being dishonored or damaged. In the Judaizers case it was well within this threshold.
  2. This issue is damaging your relationship with that person. Were you not to try to resolve the issue, it could seriously hurt and undermine your relationship with that person.
  3. The issue is hurting others involved.
  4. The issue is causing hurt to the offender.
  5. You just can’t shake it through prayer.

If the issue meets one of these thresholds, then take it further.

Question 2: The counsel question. Do I need a third party to help?

In Matthew 18.15-18, Jesus says to first go to the person one-on-one if you have a conflict with someone. Usually that’s the proper procedure. But sometimes I believe it’s appropriate to bring in a wise third party even before you do that.

Paul and Barnabas felt it necessary to go to Jerusalem to include the elders and apostles there for them to weigh in on this issue. They needed wisdom.

Sometimes we do need to include the counsel of others even before we escalate a conflict to a one-on-one conversation. What might justify doing that?

  1. You need wisdom from an objective third party to help you discern it you really need to confront the other party.
  2. You need wisdom to know how to confront the other party.
  3. You need to be encouraged to confront the other party and a wise person can give you the confidence to take that step.

If you do bring in a third party, check your motives. Make sure you’re not doing this to make the other party look bad or to win the person you’re seeking counsel from over to your side.

Question 3: The compromise question. Do I need to defer in some way in this conflict?

Often the issue is not so much about what the other person did to you, but about your role in the conflict. Sometimes we should defer, yield, or let go of the issue. Compromise never means watering down truth or your convictions. Neither does not mean you are weak.

In the case facing the early church, the Judaizers had to give up their wrong notion that becoming a follower of Jesus required that a person had to become a Jew first. And the Gentile believers had to yield to some of their Jewish Christian brothers on some dietary issues that could have a caused a rift in their relationships with them.

A sign of a mature follower of Jesus is loving compromise.

Question 4: The clarity issue. Have I clarified the issue?

Often conflicts get so muddied that both parties loose sight of the real issue. The conflict reflects something deeper or even something not related to the ‘presenting’ issue.

The early church clearly clarified their issue by appealing to history, to the facts, and to God’s Word. They dialogued, listened to each other, and even recorded in a letter what they had resolved.

When they clarified the issue they presented a united front, avoided a split, and encouraged each other. When we truly resolve conflict in the church, everybody feels a sense of relief, just like the early church did.

Some when you deal with conflict, make sure you clarify the real issue.

These four questions based on how the early church resolved a conflict can guide leaders toward successful conflict resolution in their churches.

What else has helped you resolve conflict in your church?

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When Plans Get Interrupted, What Should You Do?

What do you do when your plans get interrupted? Fume…fuss…cuss? I tend to fume. I recall two experiences that interrupted my well laid-out plans. In the process, I also learned a few important life lessons.

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Interruption #1

I was taking a voice-over class in Chicago a few years ago and I had parked in the same building where the class was held. The valet kept the keys and after the class (later that night), I was to retrieve my keys from the security guard and drive home.

Except this week.

The guard couldn’t find my keys. She called the boss and while he drove back to the building, I had some time to kill. For the next while, I was able to have a meaningful conversation with Faith (the guard) about having a relationship with Jesus. She didn’t trust Christ, but I believe her heart opened a bit. Eventually, the boss found my key and I made it home.

One redeemed interruption.

Interruption #2.

Two days later I prepared for my quarterly overnight planning retreat at a retreat center a few miles west of my home. Just before I left, I opened my Mac to send an email. When I opened the lid … a black screen stared back. This had happened two weeks prior and I thought is was a one-time glitch.

Apparently not.

Fortunately, the first time it happened one of our staff was able to perform a convoluted fix because my re-booting, removing the battery, and screaming at my Mac didn’t work. But, he was now out-of-town. I checked with another staffer and he said he thought he could fix it. He did. By the time he fixed it, though, I had lost a half-day of my retreat. Plus, I had lost the file of my current sermon.

On my drive to the retreat center, I faced a choice, I could fume or pray. I choose the latter. Amazingly, that focused prayer time centered me and prepared my heart for the retreat, even though a train stopped me on the way there and when I arrived the place was locked.

Another interruption redeemed.

Here are the 3 lessons I learned from those interruptions.

  1. Life can seem like a series of interruptions punctuated by a few plans that get accomplished. 

  2. When interrupted, we all choose how we will respond.

  3. When we respond with God’s grace, He will redeem even the most frustrating interruptions for His glory and our benefit.

How did you respond the last time you were interrupted?

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5 Church Growth Essentials from the Apostle Paul

When I was in seminary Church Growth 101 was a required course. I took interest in the whole field and became a student of church growth. I read a pile of books and attended most of the big church growth conferences. Some of the principles I’ve applied have worked. And some have failed royally. When we look at the early church, though, obviously they did something right. They grew exponentially. In this post I suggest 5 church growth essentials from the Apostle Paul that we see from his first missionary journey.

Large group of people in the form of the church. Flashmob, isolated, white background.

Church Growth 101 from the Apostle Paul

First, a bit of background. At this point in the early church, described in Acts 13-14, we see three significant movements: the main church leader moving to Paul from Peter, the target group for evangelism shifting from primarily Jewish to Gentile, and a move from a rural focus to an urban focus. Paul and Barnabas visited six cities on this first missionary journey.

Principle 1: Rely on the Holy Spirit.

In these two chapters we see the obvious work of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, while not dismissing good leadership, thorough strategic planning, and great outreach events, only God by His Spirit grows the church (Col. 2.19, 1 Cor. 3.7). In chapter 13 we see the work of the Holy Spirit in several ways.

  1. He was involved in the selection of Paul and Barnabas to go on this missionary journey (13.2).
  2. He planted in their hearts the desire to go (13.4).
  3. He gave Paul great courage to confront a wizard who wasn’t too happy that Paul was evangelizing his boss (13.6-12)

So, if you want to see your church grow, make sure the Holy Spirit is guiding and directing your plans and decisions.

Principle 2: Evangelize through your most natural relationships.

When Paul would enter a city, he would make a beeline to the synagogue. Why? Because he was a Jew and Jews would be there. Their common Jewishness bound them together. It was also natural for him to go there first, because the Jews were already religiously minded and Paul could easily talk about what was common between them, the Old Testament scriptures, prophecy, and the longed for Messiah.

Some of the most fruitful ways to grow the church is to find those most open to the gospel, often those already in our circle of relationships.

Principle 3: Stay flexible in your approach.

Paul tailored his evangelism to the group he was with. His method of operation with the Jews was to go to the synagogue and start with the Old Testament.

However, with the Gentiles who had no Jewish reference frame, he took a different approach. In one very pagan city they visited on this missionary journey, they healed a crippled boy (14.8-18). The word spread. A crowd gathered. And because of a Greek legend, they believed that Paul and Barnabas were the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes.

50 years prior a Latin poet had written about a local legend that Zeus and Hermes, disguised as mortals, had once visited the hill country near this city and they weren’t given hospitality. Thus, Zeus and Hermes destroyed the homes of those who refused hospitality. Now, the people thought that Zeus and Hermes had revisited them again (because of the miracle Paul and Barnabas had done) and wanted to avoid a similar fate. So they responded with wild fanaticism by offering sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas in order to appease the Greek gods.

Paul was shocked. Yet, he did not quote the Old Testament to them, as he did to the Jews. He appealed to what they knew, nature and natural law. He spoke of God being the God of creation and the general favor he shows everyone through the rain he provides that waters mankind’s crops.

Paul flexed his approach toward the particular people he was evangelizing. With the Jews he used one approach and with the Gentiles another.

It behooves church leaders to know their communities and to use flexible approaches rather than cookie cutter methods we might learn in a book or at a conference.

Principle 4: Deepen your spiritual roots.

Growing a church is not an either-or proposition, evangelism or discipleship. It is both-and. Paul certainly shared the Gospel. But in these two chapters he’s also encouraging believers to send their roots deep in the Lord. In fact, when the church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas on this trip, the church as practicing two spiritual disciplines: prayer and fasting.

Later Paul encouraged them to continue in the grace of God and encouraged them to remain true to the faith. He was challenging them toward spiritual formation.

I recently learned a great insight about spiritual formation.

Everybody IS being spiritually formed. It’s just a matter of whether or not it is intentional or haphazard. 

Intentional spiritual formation means that we intentionally seek, through spiritual disciplines, to be formed in the image of Jesus.

Unintentional spiritual formation means that we are being passively shaped by the experiences, circumstances, and people around us. Such spiritual formation yields little good fruit and potentially, bad fruit.

So, growing a church requires that leaders give attention and intention to spiritual formation.

Principle 5: Don’t bend to resistance to the Gospel.

Throughout history, when the Gospel changed lives, resistance was sure to follow. Paul repeatedly faced resistance to his work, while at the same time many responded positively to the Gospel. In chapter 13.49-50, many came to faith while at the same time those in opposition began a smear campaign against Paul. Did he and Barnabas leave town? No, they spent considerable time there.

In another city (15.1-2) the people stoned Paul and left him for dead. Fortunately, he didn’t die. Did he leave town? No. The Scriptures say that he went back into that very town.

So, when you see God bless your church with growth, don’t be surprised to experience resistance as well, sometimes even from within.

God wants the Church to grow. He wants your church to grow. And He will grow His church as we apply biblical church growth principles we see in the book of Acts.

What other biblical church growth principles should we add to this list?

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Three Kinds of People that Fill Every Church

In Judson Edwards book, The Leadership Labyrinth, he describes 21 paradoxes in ministry. He defines the ‘relationship paradox’ in this way: the people who like you most will be the ones you try least to please. He writes that three kinds of people fill every church. Would you agree with assessment?

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The three kinds of people in every church.

  • The energizers: their presence makes us feel better, buoys our spirits, and fills our tanks.
  • The regular folksthey may not buoy our spirits, but they don’t demoralize us either. They make up the largest group.
  • The drainers: they sap our joy and can ruin our day.

The main difference between the energizers and the drainers are their expectations of us. The energizers don’t place great expectations on us. The drainers do.

We don’t measure up to the drainers expectations. Either our preaching or counseling or leading or availability is not enough. These subtle unmet expectations may not be overt, but when we’re around these people, we feel their unspoken disapproval.

Edwards pens these profound words.

“When our credo becomes ‘I am as you desire me,’ we have lost the very thing that will enable us to minister effectively: our authenticity.”

Edwards rounds out his thoughts with three insights into how Jesus responded to his drainers.

  • First, Jesus retreated from his drainers to refresh himself and seek God. He regularly sought renewal.
  • Second, Jesus balanced his drainers with his energizers.
  • Third, Jesus didn’t allow the drainers to deter him from his plan and purpose.

Although Jesus practiced a rhythm of renewal and time away from his drainers, he never got rid of them. He still had to contend with them, just as we pastors must do in our churches.

Not everyone liked Jesus. Not everyone will like us. But God’s grace gives us what we need to serve even the most draining drainers.

For an in-depth look at people pleasing in the church, consider my third book: People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership.

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