Dumb & Dumber Mistakes Pastors Often Make

I’ve served over 37 years in different churches in various roles and have make lots of mistakes. I didn’t make these mistakes with ill will or with an evil heart, and neither do most pastors. However, we make them, and sometimes they are, well, just dumb. Here are some of the dumbest mistakes I’ve made.

  1. Assuming everybody understands what I meant.
    • Just because people remain silent when I share my idea does not mean that they get it or agree with it. I’ve learned the hard way that I must pry feelings from those who don’t speak up when I share a new initiative. Otherwise, their concerns will show up later and probably surprise me.
  2. Getting defensive when somebody didn’t buy into my plan.
    • Sometimes I’ve unintentionally conveyed to others that every aspect of the church vision must start with me. And if it’s not my idea, if must not be from God. Perhaps in the Old World top down command and control style of leadership that thinking worked. It doesn’t in today’s environment.
  3. Believing that my position as pastor automatically elicited trust from the church.
    • Positional leadership does not guarantee trust from potential followers. I’ve learned that church people only give a certain level of trust in leaders, often low at first. And most likely the trust they have extended to spiritual leaders has taken a hit in the past. I’ve learned that I must go the extra mile to build trust with those in the church. I suggest 10 ways leaders build trust here.
  4. Not communicating enough.
    • I’ve heard mega-church pastors Rick Warren say that because vision leaks, he revisits the church vision every 30 days. He’s right. We must continually communicate not only the vision, but others important issues in the church as well. We almost can’t over-communiate.
  5. Thinking everybody will love, remember, and apply my really great, God anointed, exegetically sound sermons.
    • I used to think that a well crafted sermon I spent 25 hours preparing would light up the hearts and minds of those who were in church that day. Unfortunately, the mind can only absorb so much and if those who listen to my sermons get and apply one insight, they are doing well. I’ve sense tried to find ways to make a few cogent points really stick through brain based communication insight.  You can read my blog here about brain based preaching.
  6. Failing to realize the concept of “uninformed optimism.”
    • The bell curve of change tells us that initially those in a church tend to be excited about a positive new idea or initiative. It’s called uninformed optimism. In the listeners’ minds the idea initially seems really great. However, that optimism often only lasts until they realize what the change may cost them (inconvenience, more money, etc.) That new phase is called informed pessimism. I’ve since  learned to prepare myself for some eventual pushback when the realities of the change finally set in. Tempering my expectation has helped me manage my disappointment when the resistance comes.

What dumb and dumber mistakes have you seen other leaders make?

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How to Have a Tough Conversation with a Staff Member

Leadership often requires that we sometimes must navigate a tough conversation with a staff person. It’s easy to neglect such vital conversations for several reasons: fear, they’ve gone sour in the past, we don’t know how, etc.  But to lead well, we must not avoid those talks. I’ve learned that a simple process called active listening can help make those interactions go much better. Here’s how it works.

First, appropriately set up your conversation. Assume, for example, that an employee named John is consistently late to work and you need to talk to him about that. To give him some sense of control (when we feel like we have control we can dampen the brain’s fear response), don’t spring the conversation on him. Ask John in a non-emotional moment that you’d like to talk about office hours at his convenience. Ask him to let you know a time that might work.

The conversation might go like this.

John, I’d like to chat with you for about 15 minutes about our office hours. Would you mind looking at your calendar and suggesting a couple of times that might work with your schedule? After I hear from you, I’ll check my schedule and then we’ll set a time. Thanks.

So assume that you both agree on a time. Before you meet, carefully think through what you want to say using this simple acronym, DESC. This easy-to-remember tool can help guide your conversation, keep it positive, and secure commitment for the desired change. Here’s what DESC stands for.

  • D: Describe the negative behavior.
  • E: Express the emotions you feel when you see the negative behavior.
  • S: State the positive behavior you desire.
  • C: Explain the consequences that will result with the new positive behavior you desire.

Here’s what a conversation might look like using the DESC model. I’ve shortened the conversation for brevity’s sake.

D

John, I’m noticing that you are often late to work. As you know we want to be here at nine so we can get in a full day of productive work.

E

When you are consistently late for work I feel frustrated because it does not provide a good example for the rest of the team. Sometimes I also feel angry at you because we’ve talked about this before. I don’t want to start my day feeling frustrated or angry at you.

S

Going forward, I want you to be at work at nine.

C

When you start arriving at work on time, it will help keep up team morale and help me start out with a positive disposition toward you for the day.

After you share your thoughts above, ask for a commitment from John to be on time and then set a mutually agreed upon follow up date to gauge progress.

This simple tool works not only in the workplace, but at home as well.

How have you handled those difficult conversations?

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11 Ways to Use Email to Make Things Worse

Email has become endemic to our culture. Without it, it would be difficult to communicate as much as it seems that ministry and the marketplace require. I receive scores of emails every day and I know some pastors and leaders who get over 100. YIKES! It can be a useful tool if used correctly. But it can also be a deadly tool if used poorly. If you want to make matters worse with people you know or within your organization or church, these 12 practices will definitely get the results you want.

  1. When you are emotionally charged about something or someone, fire off your email right then. Make sure you are honest in what you say. Share your true feelings. Remember, honesty is the best policy.
  2. If you want to add emotion to your email to emphasize your point, WRITE YOUR EMAIL IN ALL CAPS. IT IS THE BEST WAY TO MIMIC A REAL SCREAM, ONLY YOU ARE USING PIXELS.
  3. To further make a point, use an exclamation point! Even better, use lots of them!!!!!!!!!
  4. Never, never, never let someone objective read a difficult email before you send it. Remember, honesty is the best policy and you would not want anyone to edit out your honesty.
  5. It’s best to send email in sticky situations rather than calling someone or meeting them face to face. That way, you save precious time at the moment, even though your email may be misunderstood. If it’s misunderstood, it’s the recipient’s fault.
  6. Always assume that people who read your emails will perfectly understand what you intended to say. After all, it is in black and white.
  7. Make sure that your emails are long enough so that the reader has to scroll down to read the entire email. After all, you took the time to write it. The other person should take the time to read it.
  8. When you need something, don’t write “please” in the email or the reader may think you don’t mean business. Just demand it.
  9. When you get an email sent to several people, use “reply all” so that everybody gets to read your email.
  10. If someone does not respond back to your email in a timely manner, assume that they are a slovenly slob. Never assume that the email could have gotten blocked, accidentally sent to the junk file, or inadvertently trashed.
  11. Don’t believe the email golden rule: Type unto others what you would have them type unto you.

What email practices have you discovered that makes matters worse?

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5 Ways to Handle the Chronic Church Critic

Every church has ’em. The Chronic Critic…the person(s) who simply can’t be pleased. No matter what you do, they have something negative to say. You are not alone when you face chronic critics. Nehemiah, perhaps one of the greatest leaders of all times was on a mission from God. Yet he faced chronic critics. They could have derailed his God-given mission. They didn’t. And here’s what he did.

How to handle the chronic critic:

Complete this statement: The last time I was criticized by someone in my church I…

  • Reacted
  • Blew up
  • Screamed
  • Cussed (maybe not out loud, but in your mind)
  • Stayed silent and drove my anger inward
  • Became defensive
  • Felt embarrased
  • Listened and learned from the critic
  • ???.

Were any of these responses true of you?

Criticism never feels good. Sometimes it’s warranted. Sometimes it’s not. Nehemiah’s criticism from Sanballat and Tobia was not warranted, yet Nehemiah wisely responded with the 5 P’s below. Nehemiah 4. 1-9 tells the story.

Neh. 4.1   When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews,  2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble — burned as they are?”

3   Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building — if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!”

4   Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.  5 Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.

6   So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.

7   But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry.  8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.  9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. (NIV)

You’ll recall that God gave Nehemiah a burden to re-build the wall around Jerusalem, a noble task. He obeyed God’s prompting and got criticized for it. The five insights below from Nehemiah’s response to his chronic critics give us a good template to follow when we’re criticized. I call them the 5 P’s.

  • PREPARE FOR IT: if you want to make a difference for God, you will be criticized, even though what you’re doing is noble. We live  live in a fallen world and this world’s systems and values oppose the rule of God. If satan can use criticism to derail you, he will. The greater impact you have for God, the more you will be criticized, not less. If you try to please everybody, you may avoid criticism, but you’ll be miserable.
    • For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism. (Harrison’s Postulate)
  • PAUSE AND PRAY: Instead of reacting, retorting, getting defensive, showing the illogic of his critics, Nehemiah first turned to the Lord in prayer (v. 4). The criticism hurt, but he did not even the score. He asked the Lord to bring appropriate judgment. Prayer takes the sting out criticism and when we pause, it gives time for clear thinking to rule, rather than reactivity.
    • Matt. 5.44 … I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer… (Message)
  • PRAY AND PROCESS: Criticism often makes us feel bad and often we act irrationally or in an healthy way to it. When we get criticized we must, however, process that criticism by asking these kinds of questions. What is valid about it? What do I do with it? Do I ignore it? Do I confront the criticizer? Do I learn from it? We should not disregard all criticism.  We can learn much from our critics. Some critics can even become our best coaches.
    • Psa. 141:5 Let the godly strike me!  It will be a kindness! If they reprove me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it. (NLT)
      • Evaluate the merit of criticism in two ways.
        1.  In light of the spirit and attitude in which it was given. Did the critic criticize to help you or to hurt you?
        2. In light of the voices to whom your critic listens. Does the critic hang around with godly people, or simply run with a pack of other critics?
  • PROCEED WITH CARE: Although Nehemiah often prayed, he didn’t use prayer as an excuse to do nothing. He did something. He moved forward with the project to rebuild the wall. When the chronic critic criticizes you, don’t let it immobilize you. Do something tangible.
    • You may need to separate yourself from your constant critics and not listen to them any longer.
    • You may need to boldly tell your critic to stop criticizing.
    • You may need to listen and learn from your critic.
  • PROTECT YOUR VULNERABILITIES: In response to his critics, he posted guards at the wall’s most vulnerable places. Sometimes criticism reveals where were are weakest and most vulnerable. When such criticism reveals those weaknesses, we may need to take some of these extra steps to deal with those sensitive places.
    • Consult a good counselor.
    • Invite a safe friend into your life to help you process the criticism.
    • Study Scripture to see what God’s Word says about that area.
    • Read a helpful book that addresses your sensitive area.

Ultimately we must look to Christ who provided the perfect pattern for responding to our chronic critics.

1Pet. 2.23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (NIV)

What has helped you respond to your critics?

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[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Determined (p. 50). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Data Overload: Is Your Church Guilty of Infobesity?

In today’s world we’re bombarded with information overload. One author coined this problem infobesity (Pearrow, 2012) to describe this data overload. When we get too much data our thinking brain shuts down to new information. British psychologist Dr. David Lewis coined a term to describe what happens from infobesity as ‘Information Fatigue Syndrome.’ Symptoms include burnout, a compulsion to constantly check email or the web, poor concentration, hostility (Elwart, 2013), and anxiety caused by over stimulating our brain’s emotional centers. Sometimes churches can be guilty of infobesity. Is yours?

In 2012 this amount of information was produced every single minute and it grows each year (Elwart, 2013).

  • 72 hours of video posts
  • 347 blog posts
  • 700,000 Facebook entries
  • 30,000 tweets
  • 2 million e-mails sent
  • 12 million text messages

Unfortunately the church can be guilty of overloading people with information as well. What might indicate that your church is guilty of infobesity? Consider these 5 indicators.

  1. You pack your Sunday bulletin with so many inserts about activities that the inserts get dropped all over the floor after the service.
  2. Your announcements last longer than 3 minutes.
  3. Your announcements include more than 3 items.
  4. At your staff meetings you get dizzy thinking about all the stuff that “needs” to be communicated.
  5. You send out more than one weekly email to church members about church events.

So if you think your church is guilty, what can you do to address it?

  1. Clarify your church’s vision and don’t do stuff that doesn’t reinforce it.
  2. Learn to say no to marginal events and ministries.
  3. Prioritize what’s most important and make sure those priorities get priority communication.
  4. Align all your communication venues (announcements, bulletin, enews, other printed collateral) so that they all reinforce your priorities.
  5. Develop an annual calendar so you can see what events might compete with each other.

How have you dealt with infobesity in your church?


“I just learned how to deal with infobesity in my church.”(tweet this quote by clicking here).


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References:

Elwart, S. (2013) Information overload making your head explode? [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.wnd.com/2013/01/information-overload-making-your-head-explode/> [Accessed 24 April 2013].

Pearrow, M. (2012) Infobesity: Cognitive and Physical Impacts of Information Overcomsumption. Available from: <http://distworkshop.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/dist2012_submission_8.pdf>.