Rejection: How if Affects Leaders

Disapproval and rejection can sting and wound. We’ve all felt it. What do we do when important people in our lives (or even those that we don’t deem important) reject us? How do we respond as did Jesus when he was rejected and scorned? In this post I unpack this painful thing called rejection.

One depressed person stands lonely, apart from the group

Years ago I experienced deep disapproval and rejection from some key church leaders in the church I was in. Essentially they told me that I wasn’t a good leader nor could I inspire people when I preached God’s Word. I was devastated and the effects lingered for months. At the time I didn’t process this rejection well. In retrospect, however, I now understand why this hurt so much and what to do about it.

God created our bodies and our mental command and control center, our brains, with two overall systems that profoundly impact how we think and feel. Our refleXive system (think X-system) is the one that acts without thinking. When it controls, our emotions often take over. The other system, our refleCtive system (think C-system) is the one that helps us think clearly and biblically when our emotions want us to do otherwise. When our X-system controls, we become highly emotional and reactive which dampens our C-system’s ability to think clearly and objectively. However, when we submit our C-system to the Holy Spirit, we are able to think more in line with the Apostle Paul’s command in Philippeans 4.8.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

Because I failed to appropriately filter their disapproval with the mind of Christ (His thoughts and perspective), my response prompted my brain to release neurochemicals, called catecholamines, that revved up my X-system. This in turn further diminished my ability to think and lead effectively in these three ways.

  • Mental exhaustion: My brain’s check engine light was always on. One part of our brain (the anterior cingulate cortex) senses inconsistencies we detect in verbal or non-verbal messages we get from others. Because those leaders often gave me mixed messages about my performance (you are a great guy… you don’t inspire people), that part of my brain was constantly ‘on.’ I become mentally exhausted which bred even more anxiety about the situation.
  • Easily defensive: My brain’s impulse control brake pads wore thin. I’m usually able to control my emotions and avoid defensiveness. However, because the stress had tired my brain and body, the part of my brain that helps control impulses and emotions (the ventral lateral pre-frontal cortex) had little ‘brake pad’ left. As a result, I was not able to carry on objective conversations about their perspective, which would have helped. Instead, I became defensive, didn’t listen well to their viewpoints, and reacted to small irritations at home.
  • Inability to concentrate: My brain’s mental etch-a-sketch could not hold a creative thought long without losing it. An important part of the brain (the dorsal lateral pre-frontal cortex) gives us the ability to plan, hold items in memory, and think abstractly. However, I could barely concentrate which impacted my ability to think creatively when preparing a sermon or when planning a new initiative. My brain felt like an etch-a-sketch constantly being shaken causing the picture on it to quickly dissolve. I often defaulted to mindless activities such as looking at Facebook several times daily rather than focusing on the more important mind-taxing tasks ministry demanded.

When leaders feel rejected, these internal processes will occur unless with the Spirit’s power we proactively take action to counter them. In my next post I discuss how we can counter these tendencies when we feel rejected.

When others have rejected you, what negative consequences have you seen in your leadership?

Related post:

The 7 C’s of Great Ministry Leaders

I recently read a great article by Brad Powell on the 7 C’s of great ministry leaders. I’ve heard of the three C’s before, but his 7 captured the essence of great leaders. Here are his 7 C’s.

Leadership concept
  1. Calling: we must have a sense of God’s call where we currently serve
  2. Character: perhaps the most important, there is no substitute for integrity and a pure heart
  3. Competence: we need the right gifts and abilities to match the needs in our ministry
  4. Confidence: our confidence in the Lord gives us what we need to lead without hesitation
  5. Courage: we must be willing to take unpopular stands sometimes and remind ourselves that we play to an audience of One
  6. Commitment: if we are going to last for the long haul we must be ‘all in’
  7. Continuous growth: a good leader must constantly be learning and growing

What C’s for great leaders would you add (or any other qualities that don’t begin with C)?

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A Simple Exercise that will Infuse Life into your Staff

Recently our church staff held our annual in-house evaluation retreat when we reviewed the prior year’s goals and plans. God had given us a good year and we wanted not only to discuss how we could improve, but rejoice in His blessings. After we prayed, we did a simple exercise that infused life into each of us. Here’s what we did that I guarantee will infuse life into your staff, whether they are paid or volunteer.

Gratitude changes everything - inspirational text on a vintage slate blackboard

This will infuse life into your staff.

We have nine on our ministry staff and eight were present that day. I asked everyone to write down the names of each staff member sitting around the table. I then asked them to write down one quality about each person that they most appreciated. That was the easy part. The uncomfortable, yet life-giving part came next.

I then asked each person to look at one individual and tell him or her what they appreciated most about that person. We went around the table while each of us stayed on the ‘hot seat’ (maybe there is a better term for it). Then, one by one, we each looked directly at that staff person and told him or her what we most appreciated about them.

It was an incredibly life affirming experience.

Tears were shed.

We become vulnerable.

Each of us got blessed.

Our retreat took on an incredibly open and affirming tone.

It was amazing.

Gratefulness expressed to others is not only biblical, but it brings with it many practical personal benefits as well. Science is now telling us what the Bible has for centuries: showing gratitude, saying thanks, and affirming others is really good. Here’s what we’re learning about gratefulness.

  1. Gratefulness stimulates Christ-honoring behavior, called pro-social behavior by psychologists.
  2. Gratefulness can actually make us happier.
  3. Gratefulness can help decrease the power of materialism.
  4. Gratefulness can help us learn to forgive more consistently.
  5. Gratefulness can help us sleep better.
  6. Gratefulness can make us feel better physically because it evokes the production of two neurotransmitters in our brains, dopamine and serotonin, involved in reward and well-being, respectively.

So, when we experience and show gratefulness to others or in our hearts, many benefits result.

Two great Scriptures remind us how important gratefulness is.

“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds” (Psalms 9:1).

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Try this with your staff (or even with your family) and experience how life giving it can be.

What are some other life-giving exercises have you used with your staff?

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6 Insights I learned at the 2016 Willow Creek Leadership Summit

This year our church took over 55 to attend Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit at our local video venue in London, Ontario. As usual, I came away with many great leadership insights. In this post I summarize my top 6 learnings.

summit 2

What I learned at this year’s Willow Creek Leadership Summit:

  1. The lens of leadership.
    • Bill Hybels, senior pastor at Willow, taught the first session of the day. He’s always super. He used eyeglasses as word pictures to describe these 4 different lens of leadership:
      • passion lens (self explanatory)
      • shattered lens (an unhealthy view of leadership)
      • performance lens (we have to get stuff done)
      • legacy lens (what we will leave behind)
    • The ‘passion’ lens insight stood out to me the most. He said that passion can be fueled by our dreams or even our defeats (lessons we learn about what does not work or lessons learned through failure). He also said that it’s our job to fill our passion bucket.
    • This statement profoundly impacted me: There are no do overs in leadership but there are makeovers.
  2. Culture mapping.
    • Erin Meyer, a professor at a university in France, and author of The Culture Map, gave a fascinating talk about her innovative research on how cultures differ in several ways. She has isolated eight different dimensions that any organization involved in cross-cultural work needs to understand.
    • In her talk she unpacked the communication dimension which was amazing. Since our church has three different language expressions in three different congregations, I will definitely delve more into her insights.
  3. The one thing to get right: add value to people.
    • John Maxwell spoke on this subject. I’ve heard John speak before and read many of his books. But it’s been a while since I’ve heard him. When he started speaking, I felt like a wise uncle was  in my living room sharing sage advice with me. I had heard his theme of ‘add value’ to people before, but it was refreshing to hear it again.
    • Several gems stood out.
  4. The power of vision.
    • In this session Jossy Chacko who leads a ministry that has a goal of planing 100,000 churches (they planted an average of 11 per day in 2015), challenged us about true vision. Here are some of his nuggets.
      • Some people are vision poppers.
      • A passionary leader is a passionate leader with great vision.
      • Risk is a friend to love not an enemy to be feared.
      • Real vision is hinged to the door of risk.
      • View comfort and safety as enemies to vision.
      • Don’t try to work out all the details of your vision before you do anything.
      • See the heavenly possibilities instead of human limitations.
      • Leadership capacity is proportional to your pain threshold.
      • Some of the world’s greatest ideas lie in the grave (because some people were too afraid to pursue their vision).
  5. What to look for in a potential leader.
    • Patrick Lencioni has been a Summit favorite for years, and for good reason. He brings great stuff. At this session he summarized his latest book, The Ideal Team Player, in which he suggests three key character qualities that make, well, the ideal team player: humble, hungry, and smart.
    • I loved this insight about humility. Humility is thinking about yourself less, not thinking less about yourself.

      He then described the person with different combinations of only two of these qualities, really interesting stuff. Definitely a good book to pick up.

  6. Bonus insight.
    • Wilfredo De Jesus (pastor of the largest Assembly of God Church in the U.S.) closed out the Summit with a powerful call for the Church to be the Church. Some of his standout quotes included these:

I’m glad I attended this year’s Summit. I plan to read several of the speakers’ books and our team will meet soon for a debrief/action plan session.

If you attended the Summit, I’d love to hear the insights that stood out to you?

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4 Traits of the World’s Second Greatest Leader

I believe Jesus was the world’s greatest leader. I would call the Apostle Paul the world’s second greatest leader because he wrote much of the New Testament and because he spread Christianity into the the west through his missionary journeys. The book of Acts details much of those early missionary journeys. Acts 16 describes four traits that Christian leaders should emulate.

Leader on his way to success. 3d rendered illustration.

In chapter 16 Paul, Silas, Timothy, and later Luke visited some of the churches they had visited/founded before. Their journey included several roadblocks, a vision, a meeting with a wealthy business woman, an exorcism, flogging, jail (and a miraculous release from jail), and several conversions.

On this amazing journey, four crucial leadership behaviors stand out that a healthy Christian leader should build into his or her leadership.

A healthy Christian leader…

  1. …tries to make every encounter he or she has with others benefit the other person.
    • Everywhere Paul went he made emotional, spiritual, and relational deposits into the lives of others. After people spent time with Paul, they were better people. Acts 15-16 describe Paul as strengthening the brothers, strengthening the churches, and encouraging people.
    • Great leaders make positive deposits into the lives of others. I once heard someone say that there are three kinds of people: VIP’s, VNP’s, and VDP’s. VIP’s are very important people, the kind who make deposits in you. VNP’s are very nice people. They neither hurt not help you. VDP’s are very draining people. They feel like emotional vacuum cleaners that seem to suck the life out of you.
    • Healthy Christian leaders are known as VIP’s. 
  2. …balances his approach to discerning God’s will.
    • As Paul began this missionary journey, we see four inputs that influenced how he discerned God’s will about the direction his journey should take. In much of life God gives us wide latitude with His will. But some weighty decisions require extra effort to discern it. That’s when multiple inputs can increase our confidence that we are making the right choice.
      • Subjective inner witness. This is when we sense God’s leading in our heart, a peace, a pull, a feeling we get after praying. Some scholars believe that when this chapter described how the Holy Spirit kept Paul from going north or south, this refers to a subjective inner witness in Paul’s heart. Paul simply may have sensed in his heart not go north or go south.
      • Circumstances: Another reason God closed these doors may have been Paul’s health. Since Luke, a doctor, joined them part way through, other scholars surmise that Paul’s health was the reason behind the closed doors. He physically could not make those trips. God will use circumstances, both closed doors and open doors to direct us to His will. Sometimes he says No and sometimes He says Go
      • Reflection: Paul certainly thought a lot about the closed and open doors he faced. God expects us to think clearly and use our minds to weigh options before us. God never intends Christians to check their brains at the door.
      • Collaboration: This means that we invite wise people into our lives to help us weigh our options. Sometimes we simply need objectivity from another to help us discern God’s will. In Paul’s case he had Silas, Timothy, and Luke with whom to dialogue about which direction to go.
  3. …looks for opportunities to have spiritual conversations with others.
    • When Paul would enter a city he’d first go to the synagogue to share the gospel. In the city of Philippi, however, none existed. But places of prayer where spiritual minded people gathered did. Paul sought out such a place. When he arrived, he met a woman named Lydia, a successful business woman. Through conversations with Paul, she became a Christian.
    • Paul also lead two other people to faith on that same journey. He was always looking for opportunities to have spiritual conversations with others.
  4. …faces difficulty with grace.
    • In one city Paul and Silas got thrown into jail after being beaten. Instead of whining about their condition, the Scripture says that that in the middle of the night they sang hymns to the Lord. Because they knew that God was still in charge, regardless of the outcome of their jailing, their hearts prompted them to sing, not your normal response to jail time. Paul knew how to respond to difficulty with grace.

So, Paul the leader models for us some behaviors and attitudes we too should build into our leadership lives. We never know who might be looking to us for an example of how to honor Christ in life and leadership.

What other qualities would you add to this list that leaders should build into their lives?

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