8 Ways Pastors can Refresh Their Tired Souls

Peter Drucker, one of the world’s greatest leadership experts, once listed what he considered the four hardest jobs in the world. Here are those four: President of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital, and a pastor. Wow, strong words from a wise man. Although I’ve not held the first three jobs, I have served as a pastor for over 35 years. It can be tough and pastors must care for their souls. Consider these 8 ways to refresh your tired soul.

  1. Do something totally different from ministry. Often pastors spend even their free time on ministry related pursuits and thoughts. Consider doing something totally different from the ministry vein. I once took improv classes I found very refreshing to my soul.
  2.  Be okay with taking care of you. Pete Scazzero, most known for emotionally healthy spirituality, learned this the hard way and wrote these words.
    • “The degree to which you love yourself corresponds to the degree to which you love others. Caring for ourselves was difficult for us to do without feeling guilty. We unwittingly thought that dying to ourselves for the sake of the gospel meant dying to marital intimacy and joy in life. We had died to something God had never intended we die to.” (www.christianity today.com/le/1998/winter/8l1063.html)
  3. Keep healthy boundaries with others. A boundary is a line that helps define those things for which we are responsible. They define who we are and who we are not; when properly managed they can bring us great freedom with others in our churches. I recommend Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s bestseller Boundaries for better understanding.
  4. Lighten up and laugh more often (not at others’ expense, though). Current research on how humor affects leadership has discovered that the most effective leaders use humor more often than less effective ones. (Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, Primal Leadership, 34).
  5. Build relationships with no ministry purpose in mind. Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message Bible paraphrase said…
    • “Pastors can lose touch with relational vitality when their relationships are driven by programmatic necessity. When this happens, pastors can lose the context for love, hope, faith, touch, and a kind of mutual vulnerability. In the midst of the congregation, pastors become lonely and feel isolated-and that isolation can be deadly to the pastoral life. Those are the conditions in which inappropriate intimacies flourish.” (http://www.alban.org/conversation.aspx?id=3280)
  6. Take care of your body through exercise, healthy eating, and adequate sleep.
  7. Master technology, don’t let it master you. I’m a techno geek. I was one of the original Mac owners and I use an iPhone and an iPad. I love electronic gadgets. I’m on Facebook. I tweet, text, e-mail, and blog. I’ve found, however, that technology can easily enslave me. It’s a battle yet when I control my technology, I’m more at peace. Interestingly, research has shown that the average worker is interrupted every eleven minutes and takes twenty-five minutes to refocus back on his job. I found that to be generally true in my life when I compulsively check e-mail.
  8. Periodically take a solo retreat. Occasionally I’ve taken a night and a day at a local retreat center. I’m usually the only one there. When I go, I think, pray, plan, write, and study. Those periodic getaways refresh my soul and help break me from the rigors of ministry, resetting my focus to respond appropriately to the stresses ministry brings.

What has helped add life to your soul as a pastor?

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Leadership Margin: 6 Indicators you May Have Exceeded Yours

Four years ago I began serving a great church, West Park Church in London, Ontario, as their lead pastor. In retrospect realized I could not keep the pace I had initially set. I lacked what Dr. Richard A. Swenson, author of Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, calls margin. He defines margin as the “space between ourselves and our limits.” I had read the book years before, but had failed to heed its advice. Here’s what was happening in my leadership life.

  1. I left no white space in my Outlook calendar. I had packed every minute of my workday with some task or meeting, leaving no margin or white space for unexpected time demands.
  2. I was getting home late every day. I had planned to leave the office at 5.30 several days of the week to get home in time to exercise and then have dinner with my family at 6.30.  I found myself working until 6.30 or later on many of my non-meeting nights (Wednesday is the night I reserved for meetings).
  3. I felt exhausted when I got up each day, even after 8 hours of sleep.
  4. I found myself wishing  I didn’t have to go into work some mornings, although I thoroughly enjoy my work.
  5. I could not even stay awake to watch an entire episode of Criminal Minds, one of my favorite TV programs. After dinner I usually watch TV to wind down but I was so tired I couldn’t even make it half way through one episode.
  6. I began to experience mental exhaustion during my Sunday sermons, even after getting a full-night’s rest.

When I began to experience these symptoms, I knew that my leadership would soon suffer, if it hadn’t already. So what did I do to bring myself back into balance? I began to work on these seven behaviors.

  1. I first had to admit that I was wrong and that what I was doing bordered on sin.
  2. I shared my struggle with our board.
  3. I readjusted my schedule to include white space into at least two afternoons each week for unexpected issues.
  4. The elders asked me to take one full day at my home office for study, so as to minimize interruptions to my study at the office. This increased my study efficiency.
  5. I had to give away some responsibilities. We were currently short-staffed so more ‘stuff’ fell on my plate. I shared some of these projects with the elders and they graciously consented to deal with those issues.
  6. I increased the time I spend each morning in activities that make deposits in my soul, my quiet time and reading. I scheduled one hour each morning for this.
  7. I watched this short video where Bill Hybles explained how he replenishes his soul. He motivated me to become more serious about personal replenishment.

I still work a solid week every week in the ministry and love the work, but I believe I set myself on a sustainable path early on in my new role.

What has helped you keep healthy margins?

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The Addiction Many Pastors are Hooked on

Addiction. Usually the word connotes a physical compulsion to drink or eat too heavily, use illicit drugs, or satisfy our sexual passions in sinful ways. Although some may, most pastors don’t get sucked into such destructive behavior. We are called to serve God with our whole hearts and we mostly stay clear of these issues. But, there is one thing that I’d guess many pastors are addicted to, yet don’t realize it. We can blame our brain on it.

The addiction? Dopamine. Dopamine is one of the main neurotransmitters in our brain. It’s what we feel when we put the final touches on a sermon. It’s what we feel when we see an uptick in our blog followers on google analytics. It’s what we feel when we accomplish a goal or drink an energy drink.

Dopamine gives us a nice feel good kick. It’s involved in developing the more destructive addictions I mentioned above  causing us to want a greater and greater ‘hit’ to feel good. The chemical is involved in reward, motivation, and pleasure prompting us to seek out experiences that invoke it. We not only want it (the motivation) but we like it (the reward it brings).

All the above and more behaviors elicit dopamine which is released in the pleasure center of our brains called the nucleus accumbens. This structure lies just behind the front part of our brain called the pre-frontal cortex.

It simply feels good to get things done. And when we feel good, our brains want to repeat the process so in turn, dopamine helps us form habits, whether good or bad.

So how do I know if I’m addicted to dopamine?  Consider these possible indicators.

  1. I constantly check email. I might get a nice email from someone and when I do, it gives me a tiny shot of dopamine.
  2. I constantly need something new and novel to feel ‘right.’
  3. I constantly check Facebook to see if I got more ‘likes.’
  4. I feel jittery if I can’t look at email for a day or so.
  5. I have become compulsive about some things, like having to pick up every call that comes to my cell phone or home phone.
  6. I find that I’m more easily distracted than I once was.
  7. I can’t get through a day without caffeine or sugar (caffeine and sugar also gives us a nice dopamine fix).
  8. I’m often mentally exhausted even though I’ve not done mentally taxing tasks.

Fundamentally, when we get addicted to dopamine, we are seeking shots of it while often not doing anything truly productive (like constantly checking email).

So, what can we do if we think we are addicted to dopamine. Consider these ideas.

  1. Acknowledge that you have a problem.
  2. Turn off automatic email and social media notifications on your cell phone or computer.
  3. Take a day off each week when you don’t interact with email or social media.
  4. Make sure you spend time each day alone with God.
  5. Check out this entire website dedicate to dopamine addiction.
  6. Purposely don’t pick up a call when you hear the buzz on your cell phone. Do this for several days to convince yourself that you don’t have to.

What has helped you keep from being addicted to this subtle addiction?

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Have you Overlooked this Brain-based Insight that Improves Public Speaking and Teaching?

My teaching has included 1,500 talks, sermons, speeches, and Bible studies during my 37 years in ministry. Sometimes when I’ve spoken I’ve felt like I was in the zone. At other times I didn’t. Only in the last few years have I discovered perhaps the single greatest key that has helped keep my mind sharp during a talk and improve its effectiveness. What was it? Exercise. Specifically, exercise within two to three hours of my talk. Here’s what I’ve learned about the brain and exercise that has improved my speaking.

Scientists increasingly see exercise as a powerful way to keep your brain healthy. Neuroscientist Dr. John Ratey wrote an entire book on the subject called SPARK, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. He explains that exercise increases a key protein necessary for a healthy brain, BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor). Brain derived means that the brain makes it and neurotrophic implies that it helps make neurons (brain cells) strong. It’s considered the master molecule of learning (Ratey, p. 38) that he calls ‘Miracle-Gro for the brain.’

This brain fertilizer benefits the brain in many ways.

  • It protects neurons from premature death.
  • It improves their function.
  • It enhances communication between them.
  • It stimulates their growth (neurogenesis).
  • It provides a key link between emotions and thoughts (Ratey, 2013, p 40).

In one study Dr. Ratey writes about neuroscientist Arthur Kramer who divided fifty-nine sedentary senior adults into two groups (p. 226). One group simply did stretching exercises for six months while the other group exercised for six months three times a week on a treadmill. MRI scans showed that their frontal and temporal lobes actually increased in volume, a surprising finding. And, their brains looked two to three years younger than the brains of the stretch only group.

Another study showed that even one 35-minute workout on a treadmill at 60-70% of maximum heart rate can improve our brain’s processing speed and cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility is a term that describes your brain’s ability to shift its thinking and to create new ideas.

Dr. Ratey also studied students in a school system in the Chicago suburbs. The school began a before hours exercise program called Zero Hour P.E. Students who participated in the program improved their mood and their reading comprehension compared to students who didn’t participate. He directly attributed this improvement to exercise.

Although for years I’ve regularly exercised during the week, I usually didn’t do so on Sundays since I had to arrive at church early. However, when I learned about this insight, I began to exercise 20-30 minutes early each Sunday morning. I now ride a stationary recumbent bike to get my heart rate to 60-70% of its maximum. When I began my Sunday morning exercise routine, I quickly realized these benefits.

  • I was less anxious about my message.
  • My memory improved and I more easily recalled the sermon’s points as I spoke.
  • I felt more physically energized than when I didn’t exercise.
  • I was more relaxed around others.
  • My overall mood was much better.

So, if you regularly preach or teach, consider exercising 20-30 minutes 2-3 hours prior to your teaching. I believe you’ll experience some of the same benefits I did.

What has helped improve your preaching/teaching?

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10 Ways Pastors can Escape the Ministry Stress Zombie Zone

In my last post I discussed how ministry stress can sometimes make pastors feel like zombies: listless, unmotivated, and mentally distracted. Many of you took the Zombie Zone Quiz to find out if you were in that zombie zone. If ministry stress is draining you, this post offers some practical guidance.

pastors under stress

purchased from Deposit Photos

If you currently feel like a zombie pastor, what can you do to renew your passion, energy, and zest for ministry? Consider these 10 simple steps that can help you regain your joy and step into God’s healthy zone.

  1. Admit that something is out of kilter in your life. Simply naming the problem is your first step to solving it.
  2. Share with a safe friend that you feel like a zombie and ask him or her for prayer and support.
  3. Take an honest look at your average week. Does it include a full day of rest when you disconnect from all things ministry?
  4. Start getting 30 more minutes of sleep each night.
  5. Schedule time each day when you email or do social networking. Don’t get sucked into them every hour.
  6. Ask the Lord to renew your strength.
    • But those who wait upon GOD get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind. (Is. 40.31)
  7. Do something fun that you enjoy doing. Make a date with yourself each week and do it. Don’t feel guilty that you are taking time for yourself.
  8. If it’s serious, find a coach or counselor who can help you dig out. Even if it’s not serious, periodically see a coach or counselor to help give you perspective.
  9. Ask your closest friends and family to tell you when they sense you are mentally preoccupied. When they tell you, write down what was on your mind. Learn how to catch yourself when you become preoccupied with those thoughts so you can change them and become more present with others.
  10. Practice silence and solitude. See the related posts below for insight on this important spiritual practice.

How do you keep yourself emotionally and spiritually healthy so that you don’t become a zombie pastor?

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