How to Overcome Spiritual Vertigo

My friend Dwayne Mercer, pastor of CrossLife Church, one of the largest churches in central Florida, just released his book Overcoming Spiritual Vertigo. He writes from the perspective of a seasoned pastor and a believer who has faced personal challenges in his life. Today he is my guest blogger. I highly recommend reading his book.


It was the middle of a typical hot summer night at our home outside Orlando. My wife, Pam, and our two younger children were visiting family in Georgia while our oldest son and I stayed behind. We were sound asleep after a long day of golfing in near 100-degree temperatures when I suddenly woke up in a cold sweat. The room appeared to be spinning. I tried to get up but each attempt made me feel sick to my stomach. To make matters worse, my brain felt like it was moving around inside my heard and my eyes seemed to be dancing. I had lost all perspective of direction and I was scared. I thought, Am I dying? Should I call for help? I tried to cry out to my son, who was sleeping in his bedroom, but my voice wouldn’t carry. Every time I tried to reach for the phone, I felt like the ceiling was attacking me.

Eventually, I mustered the determination to turn, grab the phone and dial 911. By the time the paramedics arrived, I was so disoriented that they had to wake my son to unlock the front door because I couldn’t move from the bed. They immediately strapped me to a gurney and whisked me away to the hospital. When I got there, the doctors administered intravenous fluids to hydrate me. They diagnosed me with a severe case of vertigo due to dehydration.

The high temperatures during our golf outing earlier that day left me exhausted by the end of the round. I’d also been drinking diet soda all day instead of water, which caused me to become extremely dehydrated. That night, I experienced vertigo because of it. The best way I can describe this condition is that your brain and eyes have a functional disconnect and your brain is unable to process what your eyes are seeing.

You may have never had physical vertigo, but most of us have experienced spiritual vertigo. This is a condition of severe doubt, when our faith cannot process what we see, hear, or experience. We know what the Bible says but we feel real life does not match what our faith teaches us.

As a result we live in a world of doubt and often discouragement. We are challenged by sermons and books to be a giant-killer, a lion-tamer, a conqueror in Christ. However, we cannot seem to gather the faith we need to meet the everyday challenges of life.

How do we reconcile life and faith? How do we win over our doubts? That’s why I wrote Overcoming Spiritual Vertigo.

You can follow Dwayne’s blogs here.

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How to to Give Effective Staff Evaluations

For years I’ve used this form below when I perform my twice-annual staff evaluations. I have every staff person complete the form on themselves and attach their goals for the previous and upcoming year.  These documents provide the talking points for the eval. Afterwards, I compile a one page written evaluation I give to them.

Hand writing Feedback with blue marker on transparent wipe board.

Staff Self-Evaluation/Annual Review

Employee name: _________________________ date:______   review period: ____________


  • Do you know what is expected from you in your role?
  • Do you know what is most important in your role?
  • Do you have the materials and resources you need to do your work right?
  • Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best almost every day?
  • In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  • Does your supervisor or someone at work seem to care for you as a person?
  • At work do you feel like your opinions seem to count?
  • Does our mission make you feel like your job is important?
  • Are your fellow staff members committed to doing quality work?
  • Do you have a best friend at work?
  • In the last six months has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  • In the last year have you had the opportunity at work to learn and grow?


How would you evaluate yourself in the following staff value areas (10 being the highest)?

  • Integrity                                       1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Attitude (positive, coachable, servant-like)      1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Volunteer appreciation/development            1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Holistic health (body, soul, spirit)                  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Simplicity                              1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Authenticity                              1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Teamwork (loyal, resolves conflicts)            1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Continual growth/learning                  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Health work ethic (excellence, hard worker, fun)      1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Risk taking (bold steps of faith)                  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Other areas
  • Budget (wisely manages budget)                        1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Evangelism (invests in and shares w/seekers)            1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Creativity                                                             1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Leadership                                                            1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

Comments about staff values:


Describe your overall job performance?



Areas in which you’d like to improve:

I believe that my spiritual gifts of____________________________________________are being: __Maximized       __Moderated       __Minimized       __Unused



GOALS (please attach a current copy of your goals with progress notes included)

For______ ______ through _______ ______

(month)  (year     (month)     (year)


1. Do you feel your area of ministry has been well identified and/or communicated to the:

Staff?             __Yes     __Somewhat     __No

Church body?             __Yes     __Somewhat     __No

Within your area?            __Yes     __Somewhat     __No

As a staff:

2. Where and how would you like to see communication improve or increase?


As a church:

3. Where and how would you like to see communication improve or increase?


In your area of ministry:

4. Where and how would you like to see communication improve or increase?


Staff Relationships

1. With how many people have you experienced significant frustration this past year?

__Some           __One or Two            __None

2. What attempts have you made to improve these relationships? Are the issues still outstanding?


3. Any thoughts or ideas on how we can improve staff relationships?


4. Any thoughts on how to improve relationships with church leadership?

5. Are all your relationships consistent with biblical standards of sexual and moral purity?

Comment(s) on any of the above:

Energizers and Stressors

1. In what area of ministry are you most productive, energized, or fulfilled?


2. On what do you spend most of your work time?


3. Are there areas of work or ministry in which you spend too much time?


4. In what area of ministry do you experience the greatest amount of stress and frustration?


5. What area of ministry do you find difficult to resolve?


Team Development

1. How would you describe the current status of the ministry teams you lead?


2. Who are the names of new leaders/volunteers you have brought into ministry during this last year?


Personal and Professional Development

1. In what area would you like additional development or skill training?


2. How can your supervisor help you in these areas?


3. What do you believe you can do to develop in these areas?


4. Does someone hold you spiritually accountable?  __Yes     __No

How would you describe the effectiveness of that accountability?

Other areas

Anything else you’d like to discuss with your supervisor:

Any suggestions on how to improve this review process?

What kind of staff eval has worked for you?

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5 Signs You’re a “Bounce Back” Leader

Inevitably all leaders face disappointment, setbacks, and difficulty in their roles. As a pastor, I’ve faced my share at times: significant budget deficits, losing crucial staff members, people leaving the church in a huff, programs that didn’t meet expectations, and painful conflict. This side of heaven we can’t avoid the pain that leadership sometimes brings. Some leaders bounce back quickly from such adversity. Some don’t. So what does a “bounce back” leader look like? As you read the following list, ask yourself how many of these qualities would characterize your leadership when you face adversity.

Bounce back

The term often used for this ‘bounce back’ quality is called resilience. So we could actually call this list “The Resilient Leader.”

Resilient leaders…

  1. Don’t lead from perpetual caution.

     They take reasonable risks, but don’t “bet the farm” on risky leadership options.

  2. Admit they hurt when they face setbacks. They are honest about how much it hurts. However, they don’t wallow in their pain. The more we ruminate over our disappointments, the more we actually strengthen the fight-flight-freeze-appease parts of our brain which in turn dampens our ability to think clearly.
  3. Seek to learn new insights from their setbacks. Often a setback can be a blessing in disguise, for without it we would not be open to new learning. Resilient leaders are perpetual learners.
  4. Keep a long haul perspective through difficulty. Failure is never fatal nor final.

    Rather, it prompts resilient leaders to step back and refocus on their long term goals, objectives, and core values. Read my post here that explains how we can discover our true north values.

  5. Refuse to let their devotional life slip. In fact, such leaders recognize that in tough times they must draw closer to Him for strength and wisdom.

When you’ve observed great leaders face disappointment and setbacks, what qualities have you seen in them?

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5 Leadership Insights I Wish I Knew 25 Years Ago

I just finished six months as a lead pastor at West Park Church in London, Ontario and I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here at a great church. This summer also marks 34 years in ministry that has included my role as singles pastor, discipleship pastor, associate pastor, teaching pastor, church planter, and lead pastor. Although I’ve earned two seminary degrees and I appreciate what I learned in seminary, I’ve learned many key lessons that seminary never taught me. I wish I had known these 5 key lessons when I began  ministry.

Little child play with book and glasses
  1. Silence from your team does not mean they agree with you.
    • Early on when I’d lead either staff, board, or volunteer meetings I tried very hard to sell ideas I was excited about. I would often present the idea in such a way that hindered honest input from the team. I’d enthusiastically share the idea, ask if their were any questions, and when none came I assumed everybody agreed. I learned the hard way that silence often did not mean they agreed with my idea. Rather, the team was simply reluctant to share their concerns. Only later would I find out that the idea was not a good one and lacked support. My overbearing “sell job” actually stifled feedback I needed to hear.
  2. Collaboration will get you further down the road.
    • This insight stands as a close cousin to number 1. I once thought that to prove my leadership mettle, I had to originate all major ministry initiatives and ideas. If someone suggested an idea, although I may have appeared to listen to them, mentally I would often dismiss their idea if it didn’t jibe with mine. Why? Because it didn’t originate with me. I’ve since learned that if I use a collaborative process to determine vision and major objectives, I got more buy-in and in the long run make greater progress.
  3. You probably can’t over-communicate.
    • Most people in our churches don’t spend the hours we do in thinking about church ministry. Because we spend so much more time thinking on these issues, I often fell into a subconscious trap assuming that if I felt I was over communicating about something, others must feel the same way. I’ve learned since that it’s almost impossible to over-communicate issues like vision, values, and core strategies. Although we created banners, book marks, and cool graphics to communicate our church’s current theme (Unified yet Unique), when I asked our church this past Sunday to quote that simple phrase, few could repeat it. That experience reminded me that although I thought I had communicated it effectively, I still needed to communicate it even more.
  4. Others mirror a leader’s emotional temperature.
    • The term for mirroring another’s response is called emotional contagion. Teams actually ‘catch’ the emotional state of their leaders. Early in ministry I felt that I had the leadership right to get angry, pout, or emotionally cut myself off from others if things didn’t go well. It was being authentic, or so I thought. While not discounting the importance of authenticity, I’ve learned that I must bring a positive and hopeful tone into the office each day. When I experience something painful and it’s appropriate to share it, say in a staff meeting, that sharing builds trust. But if I regularly bring negative emotions into the office, I set up a tone that others often catch and mirror, even though that emotion may have nothing to do with their circumstances. Such negative emotions can hinder a team’s effectiveness.
  5. Less is more.
    • I’ll never forget my first elder’s meeting almost 30 years ago. I had started a church in the Atlanta, GA area and we had just elected our first slate of elders. I planned the agenda for the first meeting. It was three pages long. I am not kidding. I actually still have memory traces of me racing through the agenda at a breakneck speed so we could check off all the items. The meeting was a flop. I’ve learned that less is more applies not only to meeting agendas but also to sermon prep as well. People in general absorb a few key ideas (or idea) much better than when we use the proverbial firehose approach.

What key lessons in your ministry do you wish you had known when you started?

INVITATION to a LEADERSHIP EVENT: Today, June 10 (2014), at 11 am PDT/2pm EDT I am privileged to join Brian Dodd and Greg Atkinson in a live broadcast on leadership. We’ll be talking about innovative leadership, avoiding people pleasing, and indispensable practices to help you grow. Here’s the link if you’d like to join us.

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Smart Leaders stay close to their Critics

MEN WANTED FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS. Little did those accepted for this job out of the thousands who applied realize how true those words would eventually become.

criticism stick figure

Ernest Shackleton, a well-known explorer in the early 1900s, placed this ad in 1915 to recruit a team for his third attempt to cross the continent of Antarctica. In August of that year, he set sail with his recruits in the ship Endurance, named after his family motto: “By endurance, we conquer.” Three months later they arrived at South Georgia Island in the southern Atlantic to begin their thousand-mile trek to the Antarctic Peninsula, a trip expected to take 120 days.

More than a year earlier, Vilhjalmur Stefansson had led a different expedition to explore the Arctic in their ship, the Karluk. Both ships endured similar fates in their respective voyages. Dennis Perkins recorded these words about Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition:

The masts toppled and the sides were stove in, as shards of ice ripped the strong timbers to shreds. Frank Wild made a last tour of the dying vessel and found two crewmembers in the forecastle, fast asleep after their exhausting labor at the bilge pumps. He said, “She’s going, boys, I think it’s time to get off.” ( N. T. Perkins, Leading on the Edge, New York: AMACOM, 2000, p. 6.)

Both expeditions, a year apart, had been gripped in an icy vice that crushed their respective ships, forcing each party onto the ice and into horrific conditions. Yet similar circumstances, only poles apart, yielded dramatically different results. In the months following the Karluk’s destruction, the crew disintegrated into a conflict-­laden, self-centered group, which resulted in the death of eleven of its crew.

In contrast, Shackleton’s crew, although they too confronted harsh circumstances and conflict, emerged on dry land 634 days after the expedition began. Not a single man perished. Although they faced the same hellish conditions as Stefansson’s men did, they experienced a different fate. What made the difference? Shackleton’s calm leadership presence before his critics and naysayers. 

The ship’s surgeon, Alexander Macklin, captured this important leadership characteristic Shackleton embodied that contributed to the men’s survival.

“Shackleton at this time showed one of his sparks of real greatness. He did not rage at all, or show outwardly the slightest sign of disappointment; he told us simply and calmly that we must winter in the Pack, explained its dangers and possibilities; never lost his optimism, and prepared for winter.” (J. Marcuson, Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry, New York: Seabury Books, 2009, Kindle ebook, loc. 1117, emphasis mine)

Shackleton exemplified a key quality needed for every leader: engage your critics. In his time of crisis, he calmly connected to his men, especially the dissidents and troublemakers. It made the difference between life and death.

When our environment breeds anxiety and our critics try to stir up trouble, we can defuse this anxiety by calmly staying connected to them. Neuroscience actually verifies the biblical principle from Proverbs 15.1 that says, “a gentle answer turns away wrath.” It’s called emotional contagion. Others will catch our calmness which actually helps quiet the emotional centers in their brains responsible for anxiety and fear.

Men in Shackleton’s expedition noticed his calm, steady demeanor. When they were stuck on the ship, even one of his most pessimistic crewmen wrote these words in his journal.

“He is always able to keep his troubles under and show a bold front. His unfailing cheeriness means a lot to a band of disappointed explorers like ourselves. . . . He is one of the greatest optimists living.” (ibid, Kindle loc. 1182).

Shackleton keenly understood the importance of setting an example for his men on how to handle conflict and stress in a crisis. As you might imagine, living under such harsh conditions could easily cause arguments and disagreements. Yet those disagreements rarely disrupted unity because he developed an atmosphere that also encouraged dissent to be brought into the open.

Shackleton constantly faced four choices when confronted with dissident people, the same choices spiritual leaders face today:

  1. Pander and give in to critics to restore tranquility. Often because the critics are big givers or wield relational influence in our churches, we pander to them.
  2. Isolate or ignore critics, troublemakers and those with whom our personalities rub, thinking that if we don’t hear those voices, they will go away.
  3. Get defensive and power up to quiet the critic.
  4. Show courage and stay calmly connected to the critic.

Shackleton wisely chose the fourth option. Smart leaders do the same.

How have you managed the critics in your life?

(Taken and adapted from People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership by Charles Stone. Copyright (c) 2014 by Charles Stone. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, USA.

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