10 Indicators You Have no Margin in your Life

In Richard Swenson’s seminal book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, he defines margin this way. Margin is the space between our load and our limits.

He says it is related to our reserves and resilience. He calls it a buffer, a place where we can recharge our batteries, and a space where we can focus on what matters most. I highly recommend the book. Unfortunately, those in ministry often lack margin. Here are 10 signs that may indicate you lack margin and 5 steps to gain more of it.

margin vice grip
  1. I’m always mentally and physically exhausted.
  2. Small things more easily get under my skin. I can’t turn my anxious thoughts off.
  3. I don’t seem to have the joy for ministry I once did.
  4. I count down the days until my day off. Yet even on my day off I’m still anxiously thinking about ministry stuff.
  5. Those who love me most tell me to slow down yet I always have a comeback excuse.
  6. I often worry about what others think of my performance.
  7. I too easily take things personally.
  8. I find that I can’t focus as well as I once did.
  9. I get easily distracted and try to multi-task more often.
  10. My devotional times with God are mostly dry.

If a few of these are consistently true of you, you may need more margin in your life.

If that’s so, what should you do?

When I’ve found myself with little margin, it hasn’t been easy to change things, but these steps have helped.

  1. Admit that you life is too full and that it’s not good, pleasing to God, or healthy for you.
  2. Learn the art of mindfulness, being aware of and in the present moment without being harsh on yourself or worrying about what happened yesterday or fretting about what might happen tomorrow. Meditate on the words of Jesus in Matthew 6.
  3. Take a day off, really. Turn off your phone and don’t check email. Do something that refreshes your soul.
  4. Turn your mind off earlier in the day than you do now. Perhaps you need to decrease night meetings. Maybe you need to establish hard stops for those evening meetings.
  5. Remind your self that if you don’t take care of you, you can’t take care of others.
    After all, Jesus did say something about loving yourself.

What has helped you gain better margin?

Related posts:

What One of the World’s Smartest Leaders Taught Me

Recently I heard Malcolm Webber speak about leadership. With a PhD in organizational leadership and author of over 30 books, he understands the current leadership culture like few others I’ve heard. He leads an organization called LeaderSource and speaks to and trains leaders all around the world on the subject. As one of the brightest and most innovative leaders/leadership consultants today I had difficulty taking notes fast enough because most everything he said was worth remembering. Here are some highlights.

Leadership concept
  • Great leaders must say yes to the right things.
  • Leaders must not confuse activity with results or size with success.
  • Leadership development is not discipleship. A discipled leader is assumed.
  • The three parts of the leadership process are:
    • Identification (what John Maxwell calls Discovery)
    • Development
    • Deployment
  • The biggest problem in leadership today is working with the wrong people (a paraphrase from the great missiologist, Ralph Winter)
  • Jesus’ men did not sign up. They were chosen.
  • Damaged leaders damage others.
  • There are two fundamental, foundational issues that must be in place for prospective leaders:
    • They can think. They…
      1. explore
      2. think ahead and outside normal patterns
      3. learn from mistakes
      4. remain teachable and adaptable
      5. think conceptually and holistically
      6. embrace ambiguity.
    • They act. They…
      1. don’t wait for someone else to act
      2. are probably already leading somewhere
      3. take responsibility and initiative
      4. challenge the status quo
      5. energize others.
  • When choosing leaders, keep these four ideas in mind.
    1. Look for people who think.
    2. Look for people who act.
    3. Look for people about whom you can observe their lives.
    4. Look for people who deeply depend on God.
  • Potential is not performance.

What insights about leadership have helped you lead well?

Related posts:

5 Vision Killers

Casting vision is a key role every pastor must fill. Yet sometimes corporate attitudes and unhealthy cultures can get in the way. I’ve discovered five attitudes that will stifle even the best cast vision. See if you agree.

vision
  1. Consumer Christianity reflected in the attitude, What’s in it for me?
    • Healthy churches realize they can’t consume their way into discipleship. Following Jesus is not all about us. Great churches rally around a unified cause centered in Jesus and move forward for the good of the whole and the glory of God even it means some people won’t get their preferred way. Good leaders will teach that flexibility and a deferential spirit are crucial ingredients for prevailing churches.
  2. Losing sight that the church gathers on Sundays to scatter the rest of the week.
  3. Risk aversion.
    • Minimizing risk and maximizing safety can becomes a trait for risk averse leaders.  J Oswald Chambers who authored the devotional My Utmost for His Highest wrote, “The frontiers of the kingdom of God were never advanced by men and women of caution.” Great churches can’t play it safe, huddle and cuddle, strive for safety and security, nor guarantee comfort and convenience. While not throwing caution to the wind, great leaders and churches must take bold steps of faith
  4. Programs and processes that trump passion and people.
    • It’s easy to assume that great plans and strategies will automatically and easily reach people. They are important, but without a driving passion for God and a love for people, they are, well, only plans.
  5. The barrenness of busyness.
    • Busy pastors often struggle with this one. I know I do with what seems to be a limitless to-do list. However, busyness can make us miss God. And it does not always translate into productivity. As Bill Hybels has famously said,”Doing the work of Christ was killing the work of Christ in me.” When that happens, our hearts become calloused and cold, we lose our leadership edge, and vision gets stifled.

What have you experienced that can stifle a God-directed vision?

Related posts:

5 Statements that Help Leaders Define Reality

I’m eight months into leading West Park Church, a church of several hundred in London, Ontario, Canada. And I’m a US citizen, totally new to Canadian culture. When I arrived I had to adjust not only to a new church and a new staff but to a new culture as well. Fortunately I prepared myself for the transition by reading several books about on-boarding, the process of adjusting to a new job. One book, You’re in Charge, Now What suggested a process to help a new leader define reality with his or her new staff. Whether you are new to a ministry or business leadership role or not, consider using this process with your staff to learn fresh insight about your work setting.

Reality Definition Displays Certainty And Facts

Within the first month I asked one of the longest tenured staff members lead a discussion with the entire staff during a staff meeting. I gave the team instructions and then stepped out for about 45 minutes. He lead them to complete these statements in a candid sharing time. Here are the statements.

  1. We expect this from you…
  2. You need you to know this about us… (including what we believe we do well and where we need to improve as a staff)
  3. We want to know this about you and here are our concerns…
  4. Here are the burning issues now facing the church…
  5. Here are the major obstacles now facing the church...

After I left he recorded everyone’s responses on our conference room’s white board. When I returned, I read through each one and asked questions for further clarification. Here’s what I learned.

  • They wanted me to show that I cared for them through prayer, feedback, and truth telling.
  • They expected consistency and integrity.
  • They wanted to be taught, trained, and challenged.
  • They wanted to know what they could do better.
  • They wanted clear communication and clarity about their respective roles.
  • They wanted me to know that they worked hard and supported each other.
  • They wanted to know what was important to me, my boundaries, my personal struggles, and whether I wanted them to reply to every email I sent. :)
  • They wanted me to know that the church at the time faced financial challenges and trust issues.
  • They wanted me to know that I might face resistance to bringing change in the church.

This simple process provided an invaluable, honest, and simple way to help me define reality through the eyes of our staff. This experience helped me craft appropriate action plans to bring essential change for staff development and to the church at large.

My first eight months have been a joy and we’ve made great progress. This unique listening session helped set me up for success.

What tools have helped you define reality in your setting?

Related posts:

How to be a Likable Leader

Great leaders lead by influence. Their character, competencies, and relational skills or lack there of, can determine their leadership effectiveness. And as a pastor, perhaps my relational skills influence my leadership impact the most. Integral to relational skills is the vibe others feel from us. If someone feels like you like him or her, they’re more likely to respond positively to your leadership. If they don’t, and enough people feel the same way, your leadership will suffer. Consider these simple ways to become a likable leader.

like as friend

Several times the Bible characterizes an individual or group as having a refreshing spirit.

1Cor. 16.18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. 
2Cor. 7.13 By all this we are encouraged. In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. 
2Tim. 1.16   May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. 
Philem. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.

You’ve probably met people like that. Even after a short conversation with such a person, you walk away feeling special, encouraged, and refreshed. My wife is one of those people who naturally does that. She has the gift of giving others soul refreshment.

So, how can we become more likable and thus refresh the spirits of others?

1. Be fully present with others.

It’s easy as a pastor, or as anyone who deals with people in public, to skim conversations in order to make connections with the maximum number of people. However, when we don’t look people in the eye and our eyes wander to the person just behind or beside them, it conveys a wrong message. Appearing distracted also conveys the wrong message. I suggest focusing on the quality of public interactions rather than on quantity which requires our being fully present.

2. Show interest in a person’s personal life.

Remembering names has always challenged me. I still must work hard to remember them. Yet when I use a person’s name in a conversation, it means a lot to him or her. And when I remember something personal about another and ask about it, that simple act of remembering deposits lots of refreshment into his or her soul.

3. Watch your body language.

Sometimes I can appear hurried when I’m talking to someone. I’m often in the ‘ready’ position to move on. That’s a soul refreshment drainer. But, when I face someone, slightly lean forward, and empathetically listen, that person feels honored and truly listened to. A smiling countenance will also make a great deposit. Body language communicates as much or more than our words.

4. Be your authentic self.

To create a likable persona does not mean we become an extrovert when we are actually an introvert. Neither does it mean the opposite. It means that we relate to people with our true, authentic selves. People will sense a fake and they’ll sense when you are being you as well. However, being your authentic self does not mean we don’t practice and continue to grow in our relational skill set. Although I’m basically an introvert, I’ve learned much from my wife as she is an extrovert with great people skills. I’m still an introvert by nature, but by God’s grace, He continues to build into me important people skills.

What qualities have you seen in likable leaders?

Related posts: