When the Ministry Honeymoon Wears Off

The ‘honeymoon’ concept dates as far back as the 5th century. After getting married, a newlywed couple would often drink lots of mead, a honey-based alcoholic drink thought to have aphrodisiac properties. So, their inebriation made everything between the two early on appear overly positive. And then when they got sober they faced reality. In a similar way, when we take a new job or assume a new ministry role in a church (paid or volunteer), the honeymoon effect can mask the realities of this new role. So what do we do when the ministry honeymoon wears off? I suggest five ideas that may help.

honeymoon

First, what might be some signs that your ministry honeymoon is over?

  1. You may hear more rumblings and criticism than you did when you first came to your new church.
  2. People may become more overt in their criticism. In one church I delivered a message series with which a small group took issue. They boycotted the series.
  3. Mental fatigue may give way to chronic negative thinking. When we start in a new ministry, we bring dreams, excitement, and anticipation that all will go well. When things don’t go as planned, you may find yourself dwelling more on the negative rather than on the good things happening. This leads to mental fatigue which in turn leads to more negative thinking. This negative thinking loop is called rumination.
  4. You may question the decision you made to move into the new ministry role. You may begin to have second thoughts. “Did I make the right move?”

If you believe your honeymoon is ending, consider implementing these simple ideas to help you move forward.

  1. Remind yourself that it’s part of a natural ministry cycle for every honeymoon to end. Jesus also had a honeymoon (great crowds, Hosannahs on Palm Sunday, etc.) and even though He led perfectly, His ended. Yet, it had to end for resurrection to begin.
  2. Stay hopeful. When a marriage couple’s honeymoon ends, it gives them an opportunity to truly love each other. If they are both committed to the marriage, their love will deepen. When your ministry honeymoon ends, you have the opportunity to deepen your love for those in your ministry and in your church.
  3. Remember, it’s seldom as bad as you may think. Our brains are wired to focus on the negative. It’s called the negativity bias. We have five times more brain circuits dedicated to focus on the negative in contrast to those dedicated to the positive. Guard against catastrophizing like Chicken Little mistakenly did when he yelled, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” The sky probably isn’t really falling in your ministry.
  4. Don’t cut off your critics. This post unpacks the important principle that distancing ourselves from our critics often backfires and makes things worse. Don’t ignore and dismiss your critics yet don’t let them use you as a punching bag.
  5. Don’t get defensive. Defensiveness only complicates matters. This post suggests 5 ways to avoid defensiveness.

So, enjoy your honeymoon while you have it. But when it ends, embrace the new ministry phase that offers great new opportunities for growth and learning. 

What has helped you weather the ministry honeymoon?

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How Curiosity Can Make you Less Defensive

Defensiveness. We’ve all been guilty. Someone in our family says something that hurts us and we say something back to retaliate. A person at work makes a comment about us and we internally stiffen up. Someone in our church questions a decision we made as a leader and we react and defend our position. It’s easy to let defensiveness drain us and make a situation worse. Recently, however, I learned a helpful new tool that can help dampen defensiveness. It’s called curiosity.

Asian Businessman are fighting by kung fu

In an interesting doctoral research project at the University of Rochester, NY, 142 students participated in a one day laboratory session. They were led to believe that a peer had rejected them and then they wrote for seven minutes. Each participant wrote under one of three conditions

  • Suppression: they were asked to suppress their feelings and write on neutral events of their day.
  • Expression: they were simply asked to express their thoughts and feelings.
  • Interest-taking (curiosity): they were asked to express their feelings and be curious about their feelings as they wrote.

Immediately after they wrote, the researcher measured their emotions, specifically anger, their positive feelings toward others (called prosocial affect), and how they internalized rejection. Next they listened to taped speeches from the peer who rejected them and from a neural person. Finally, they rated their like-ability and intelligence.

As you might expect, all three groups rated the rejecter negatively. And those in the suppression and expression group rated the neutral person negatively as well. However, the research yielded this surprise. Those in the interest-taking group rated the neutral person more positively.

What happened? Those in the first two groups displaced some of their hurt from the rejecter onto the neutral party. Those in the curiosity group did not. And at the end of the research session, the curious group reported less anger and less feelings of rejection and more positive feelings toward others (prosocial affect). Curiosity apparently dampens the fight-flight centers of our brain.

As a practical parallel, think of a guy who has a really bad day at work and, for no fault of their own, yells at his kids when he gets home. He’s displacing his anger onto them.

So what are some lessons we can learn from curiosity and its effects on defensiveness?

  1. When someone says something to us in anger, rejects us, confronts us, etc. and we feel tempted to defensively respond, take a curious posture.
  2. Rather than suppressing your feelings or thoughtlessly expressing them, stay curious.
  3. Ask yourself what might have prompted the person to do or say what he or she did (i.e., Did he have a bad day at work?). The situation might also lend itself to your asking the other person non-judgmental, open ended questions.
  4. Be curious about your own thoughts and emotions.
  5. Remind yourself that that the initial anxiety, fear, or worry that another’s behavior may trigger in you, will pass. Those emotions are not you, but passing mental and emotional events. Remind yourself that you don’t have to act on the feeling.
  6. Keep a curious mindset not only in these difficult situations, but also about the good around you (see Philippians 4.8).

Unfortunately, curiosity may have gotten a bad rap in the past (i.e., curiosity killed the cat). Yet, when we apply it to sticky situations ripe for defensiveness, it can serve us well.

The writer of Proverbs gives us wise counsel in this verse.

A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire. (Prov 15.1, The Message)

What has helped you become less defensive?

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Source: Weinstein, N. (2010) Interest-taking and carry-over effects of incidental rejection emotions. Doctoral dissertation, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY.

Who Should Serve on Your Leadership Team? 4 Traps to Avoid

An exceptional book on teams by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird just came out this week. It’s called Teams that Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church LeadershipI highly recommend it! I asked those guys (who are really smart dudes, especially in the area of church leadership) to write a guest post. Their post below offers wise insight on avoiding traps when deciding who should serve on your leadership team.

BOOK-Teams-that-Thrive-3d-HARTWIG-BIRD[1]

Determining who should be on your team – and who shouldn’t be – can become a challenge, especially when many different people are vying for a spot at the table. Plus, many pastors understandably want to do whatever they can to please as many of those people as possible (as Charles Stone writes about in People-Pleasing Pastors). But establishing a small yet powerful team made up of the right people – and not the wrong people – is essential to your team’s success.

To help you make the bold, sometimes difficult decisions necessary to take your team to the next level, your leadership team doesn’t need to – and in many cases shouldn’t – be:

1. Merely the lead pastor’s or executive pastor’s direct reports.

While it’s common practice to identify the senior leadership team by drawing a circle around the top two or three layers of the organizational chart, doing so is neither necessary or advisable. Sitting at a particular place in the organizational hierarchy does not automatically qualify someone for senior team membership. For instance, the senior team at one large church we studied does not include the CFO, communications director or worship pastor, even though each of them report directly to the executive pastor. Though each of them brings outstanding individual skill and commitment to their roles, the leadership team was designed to be as small as possible, and so their positions on it were not guaranteed. As you determine your team’s membership, you don’t have to be a slave to your organizational chart.

2. A democratic representation of all church constituencies.

Leadership teams are not mini-democracies. Every special interest group in your church does not need a seat—or direct representation—at the senior leadership team table. A “representative” approach means people tend to lobby and protect their constituency rather than fight for what’s best for the church as a whole. Also, because they are representatives, they tend to encourage even more representation, and therefore a larger number on the team, making it cumbersome and ineffective.

Instead, it is important that the members of your leadership team—or at least one member of your leadership team—can think strategically and broadly enough to be able to generally understand the important interests of your church’s various constituencies and consider them in the team’s discussions. Special-interest pleading is a fatal practice of leadership teams.

3. People you include largely to make them feel special.

A senior leadership team is no place to assuage a staff person who has been passed over for a promotion or whose role has been recently downsized. Nor even is it the group to offer an automatic seat solely because someone is a long-standing volunteer or long-term staff member. While placing (or keeping) that person on the leadership team might soften someone’s potential ego blow, you can be sure it will be a huge hit to your team’s productivity and overall health. Don’t fall to this temptation. At the same time, use extreme caution when using a seat on the leadership team as an enticement to lure a new staff member.

4. The “team” that was here when you got here.

Just because you inherited a team doesn’t mean you should keep that team. You may realize that the current members of the team don’t possess the needed “stuff” to lead the church to new levels. Or perhaps history indicates a particular position has always sat on the team but doesn’t contribute much. In these cases, make a move, and do it soon (and graciously). Too many leaders take too long deal with team members who sap the life out of the team; by doing so, they simply prolong the inevitable. In essence, the only reason a person should be on the leadership team is to bring a critical talent, perspective or skill to the group that enables the team to accomplish its unique purpose.

For more about how to determine your team’s optimal membership and a host of other tips to help your team thrive, see Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership.

———–

Excerpted with permission from chapter 8 of Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird, InterVarsity Press, 2015. Visit www.TeamsThatThriveBook.com for the book itself, exercises, and other tools to help your team.

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8 Indicators that your Ministry May be Drowning You

In the 1992 presidential race Ross Perot coined the phrase, “giant sucking sound,” to describe his concern that a proposed treaty would cause American jobs to go overseas. I believe it aptly describes how ministry can sometimes feel to church leaders. Every day church ministry demands that we sooth someone’s hurt feelings, solve a ministry problem, seek new ways to grow our churches, or satisfy what seems to be some church members’ increasing expectations. Ministry does feel like a “giant sucking sound” that can suck the life out of us. How do we know if our ministry is drowning us?

Sharks

Major crises can certainly increase our stress as church leaders. But often lots of small stresses converge at once that unless we see the warning signs, we can end up casualties of ministry. Several years ago several church issues converged at once and I found myself not liking ministry, feeling stressed, and not being a very nice person to be around. I had to step back to re-calibrate my life. My first step was to take inventory and define reality.

I’ve listed below what I saw happen to me as I got sucked into ministry stress. As you read these, ask yourself if you can identify with any.

  • I felt like I was skimming my most important tasks as the senior pastor in an attempt to get to everything else that was screaming for my attention.
  • I felt so tired when I got home that I wanted to go to bed at 8.30 every night. Sometimes I did.
  • I easily began to do mind-numbing stuff like check Twitter every hour.
  • When I went home all I seemed to talk about were the problems at church.
  • What I’ve always enjoyed doing (looking and dreaming ahead about new ministry ventures) I now had little internal drive and motivation to do.
  • My daily devotions suffered.
  • I felt achy all the time.
  • I felt anger floating just beneath the surface ready to quickly surface when faced with another stress.

If you hear that “great sucking sound” in your ministry, I suggest you take inventory as I did as a first step in gaining a healthy balance in ministry.

What have been indicators of that “great sucking sound” in your ministry?

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The Curse of Comparison: when pastors compare

Several years ago I got a tweet that a large church in the southeast was starting another campus in the county where I started a church over 20 years ago. This church started out with over 1,000 from day one. The church I started finally reached 500 after 14 years. I must confess that unpleasant emotions crept into my heart when I read this tweet. The curse of comparison had reared its ugly head. When we pastors compare our work against others, what can we do?

Classic scales of justice

Our fallen human nature naturally tempts us to compare ourselves with the more successful, the prettier, the smarter. I believe we often do so to build ourselves up ao we can feel significant. No matter your vocation, position in life, or size of your ministry if you are a pastor,  you probably face this same curse.

I don’t have pat answers, but a few choices have helped me avoid the vortex of discouragement that comparison can bring.

  • I must remind myself that my identity comes not from my performance, but from my relationship with Christ. 
  • I must do my best with the opportunity God gives me right now and if I do, I will please Jesus. Jesus commended the guy who returned 10 talents back to him the same way he commended the guy who returned 4. They each had different levels of giftedness, yet they both were faithful to the task they were given.
  • I must believe the words of Paul when he said that ultimately it’s not what I think of my performance that counts, but what the Lord thinks.

What you say about yourself means nothing in God’s work. It’s what God says about you that makes the difference. (2 Cor. 10.18, The Message)

What has helped you avoid the curse of comparison?

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