5 Leadership Tensions Seen in Jesus’ Leadership

Some time back I delivered a message on how Jesus modeled masculinity. As I reflected on that talk, I realized similar parallels apply to leadership. Jesus lived within these leadership tensions during the three years He established our Faith. Although fully God in every way, He lived as a human in every way as well, yet was without sin. He perfectly balanced each of these qualities below that appear as opposites. As you read these five tensions, ask yourself which ones reflect your strengths and which ones need strengthening.

Power and Compassion

  • Jesus showed great power and guts when he turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple (Matt 21). He also showed his commanding power when He called the religious leaders whitewashed tombs. (Matt 23.37)
  • Yet he touched the lepers, showed tenderness to the woman with an issue of blood, and showed compassion to the rich young ruler who wouldn’t give up his riches.

Head (intellect) and Heart (emotion)

  • He amazed the people with his grasp of the Scriptures at age 12 while in the Temple. His arguments and logic silenced even the most brilliant of his day. He even tongue-tied the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. He created ingenious intellectual dilemmas for his adversaries. He masterfully used Scripture in the context of life with allusions and questions that made others think.
  • Yet Jesus deeply loved people at levels they emotionally felt. The shortest verse in the Bible even says that, “Jesus wept.” (John 11.35)

Present and Future

  • Jesus approached people where they were. He didn’t ask broken people questions like, “How in the world did you let yourself get into such a jam?” He was a realist about human frailty.
  • Yet, he didn’t want people to stay where they were. He told Zacchaeus the tax collector to make restitution. He accepted him where he was, but He urged him to move forward into the future in a God honoring way. Jesus lived with a perfect blend of experiencing the present with an eye toward His future and toward helping others move into their best future.

Purpose and Freedom

  • Jesus knew why he had come, to do His father’s will. “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. (John 4.34) He was bothered when the disciples didn’t take his mission seriously. He was passionate about his work. He knew what needed to be done and did it. He worked hard.
  • Yet he lived with an amazing sense of balance. He was never in a hurry, compulsive, and never forced people to do what He wanted them to do. He gave them freedom to choose. He said followership was voluntary, no arm-twisting or guilt motivation. He didn’t force his agenda on others. He knew his purpose and knew if others would embrace His purpose for them it would be best for them. Yet he released them to make their own choices.

Strength and Sensitivity (especially toward women)

  • On the sensitivity side, Jesus elevated the status of woman so high that he even praised a woman for what was a purely a masculine role, sitting at the feet of a Rabbi (when Mary sat at his feet). Jesus accepted financial support from women. He even defended a woman caught in adultery, not to approve her adultery, but to expose the injustice of her accusers.
  • Yet he was forceful. He was blunt with his mother when she was out of line to ask Him to do some things not a part of His messianic plan. He affirmed Mary’s role when he indirectly confronted Martha’s compulsiveness. In John 4 He candidly pointed out to the woman at the well that she had 5 husbands. Jesus knew when to be sensitive with women and when He needed to be strong and not back down.

I believe pastors and leaders, too, must live within these tensions.

  • Which of these is your greatest strength?
  • Which is your greatest weakness?
  • What would you add to this list?

“I just learned 5 leadership tensions in Jesus’ life that apply to spiritual leadership.”(click here to tweet this quote)


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7 Ways Leaders can Navigate the Pain of Rejection

Rejection. The sound of the word itself even sounds ominous. If you’ve been a pastor or church leader for any length of time, chances are you’ve felt the dagger of rejection. It may have come intentionally through a serious conflict with a leader who didn’t like or support you. It may have come more subtly when someone quietly leaves your church and the scuttlebutt was that they left because they “weren’t getting fed.” The source doesn’t matter. It still hurts. When it inevitable does come, what can we do? In this post I suggest 7 ways to navigate the pain of rejection.

How Leaders Can Navigate the Pain of Rejection… 

  1. Recognize that you’ve not sinned because you feel hurt. Our brain registers physical pain primarily in two areas of the brain, the insula, which lies deep in our brain, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which lies between our brain’s thinking center and our emotional center. And guess what? Social pain such as rejection registers in the same places. So, rejection actually physically hurts. It’s an automatic response to rejection that God wired into our bodies. So, the bad feelings you experience from rejection don’t mean you’re a weak leader or a sinful person.
  2. When rejected, admit the pain you feel. Don’t ignore or stuff your emotions. The phrase, “Grown men don’t cry,” implies that a guy should not allow himself to show his ‘soft’ emotions. The problem is, it’s self-defeating. When we stuff or suppress our emotions, it actually makes our painful emotions more intense internally. However, it’s scientifically proven that when we name our painful emotions, we actually lessen their intensity.
  3. Journal your feelings. Many counselors recommend something called ‘writing therapy,’ a fancy term for journaling. When we feel rejected, journaling our painful feelings can take the sting out of them. Akin to writing therapy is something called ‘talk therapy.’ Again, it’s a fancy term for sharing you pain with others. It’s helpful to find a safe friend to process your feelings when rejected. In this post I share several qualities to look for in a safe friend.
  4. Refuse to base your identity on your ability to make 100% of the people happy 100% of the time. A temptation every ministry leader faces is to keep people happy 100% of the time. Trying to do that will kill you. We certainly don’t want to intentionally make people mad. But some people will never be pleased, no matter what you do. Jesus, the perfect leader, didn’t please everyone. In fact, John records this uber rejection of Jesus. From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6.66, NIV)
  5. Don’t magnify the pain by rejecting the rejector in return. It’s tempting to cut your rejectors off by rejecting them. When we do, we only exacerbate our pain. I once had a guy who did his best to convince the board that I was not the right pastor for the church. The board fully backed me. He left. A few months later I saw him in a store and had a choice. Would I walk down another aisle to avoid him, or would I walk toward him and try to shake his hand? I made the latter choice. I walked over, reached out my hand, and said, “Hi.” He glared at me and walked by without shaking my hand. Poor guy. He was a bitter dude. In such cases, apply the words Peter gave us about Jesus’ response to rejection. 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. (I Pt 2.23, NIV)
  6. Step back to keep or regain perspective. When rejection stings, our perspective can quickly become cloudy. We can easily extrapolate the rejection in our minds and assume that many other people feel the same way or will do the same thing (i.e., I wonder who else is leaving the church?). Remember, a rejection by one person is…rejection by one person. Such rejection seldom reflects the viewpoints of others. So, guard against the proverbial, “blowing things out of proportion.”
  7. If it’s a serious rejection, get professional help. Sometimes rejection is such a deep blow that we can’t navigate it on our own with a good cry or coffee with a friend. You may need professional help. Losing a job, losing a vote of confidence from your board, or significant numbers of people leaving your ministry probably qualify as significant rejections. Don’t feel ashamed to seek professional help. If you break an arm, you’ll see a doctor. If your heart gets broken, find a wise counselor to help bring healing.

Sometimes we’d rather experience physical pain that social pain, for good reason. Our brains are wired to recall the emotional pain of past rejection, but not past physical pain. So, rejection potentially carries a long lasting impact on our souls. Don’t take it lightly. Deal with it sooner that later.

What has helped you deal with rejection in ministry?

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Are you a People Pleasing Pastor? Take this Assessment and Find Out

I based my third book, People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership on significant research around people pleasing. As a scripturally based book, it incorporated fascinating insight about how our brain influences our leadership and our tendencies to appease and please others in unhealthy ways. To discover how pervasive people-pleasing is in the ministry I gathered research from two sources. I contracted Lifeway Research to survey over 1,000 pastors about people pleasing and I added to this research the results of a similar on-line survey of 1200 pastors I did for a total of over 2200 pastoral responses. In this post I’ve created a simple self-evaluation for pastors to determine how much people pleasing affects them.

My research revealed that 70% of pastors agreed that people-pleasing affects their lives and ministries at some level. In the on-line survey I included an option for pastors to anonymously tell their people pleasing stories. I got 100 pages of heart wrenching stories, single-spaced!

Here’s one pastor’s sad story.

In a church that I pastored, there was a major power struggle with several members who remained very close friends with the previous pastor who actively worked to wield control through these members. I often felt unable to measure up, always trying to ‘minister’ to these folks in hopes that I could win them over, and yet being angry that I couldn’t. After two years I left the church and left the ministry. And I felt like a failure as a pastor and as a husband/father.

Is people-pleasing affecting your ministry?

Take this short assessment to see if it is. Mentally check which statements are true of you.

  1. In my church’s board or leadership meetings, sometimes I don’t speak up on an issue for fear of creating tension.
  2. Too easily I say yes to someone’s request for me to do something. Later I regret having put that on my plate.
  3. I will go out of my way to attempt to change someone’s mind who wants to leave my church or ministry.
  4. Sometimes I get angry at myself for not having stood up or spoken up for what I believe.
  5. I have kept on a non-performing staff person or volunteer leader too long before making a change.
  6. When I need to be firm with someone else, I inordinately delay the conversation and/or after I do have the conversation, I realize I didn’t say everything I should have said.
  7. Sometimes I try too hard to be nice.
  8. It bothers me when I upset someone. I tend to blame myself for his or her distress.
  9. I tread lightly around some people in the church because of their moodiness.
  10. When those around me are angry, I become the peacemaker by trying to get them “un-angry.”

How many did you check? If you checked…

  • 1-3: People-pleasing could become a growing issue in your leadership unless you do something soon.
    • Keep this issue in prayer and stay vigilant of your tendency in the area(s) you checked.
  • 4-6: People pleasing is most likely hindering your leadership and may get worse.
    • Find a safe, wise leader in your church or a local pastor with whom you can confidentially share your struggle. Become accountable to him so you can stop unhealthy people-pleasing before it gets out of hand. See my blog here on what to look for in a safe person.
  • 7-10: You’re probably angry, anxious, and fearful most of the time and people-pleasing is clearly hurting your leadership.
    • Consider seeing a good counselor who can help you ferret out the cause and help you lead less from an approval motivation.

As you deal with your pleaser tendencies, consider this verse.

The fear of human opinion disables . . . (Prov 29.25, The Message)

How have you seen people-pleasing tendencies affect your or other’s ministries?

You can learn more about the book here and view a cool animated video trailer of the book.


“People-pleasing in the ministry: I just took an interesting assessment on people-pleasing.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)


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7 Ways to Make a Graceful Exit and Leave Your Church Well

Unless you stay at the same church your entire life, you will leave one ministry or church and go to another, perhaps several times. In fact, the average pastor in the U.S. stays at one place about four years. I’ve served at six different churches in my 35 years in ministry and have always sought to leave well. At my current church I hope I’ll have another 10 years of fruitful service. I’ve learned, however, that leaving is more of an art and is often difficult. Here are 7 insights I’ve learned that have helped me make a graceful exit.

  • Deal with your baggage. Leave with a clear conscience that relationships have been made right, as much as is possible.
    • Acts 24:16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.
    • Rom. 12:18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone
  • Don’t leave angry. Process your pain. If you struggle with anger after you leave, get coaching or counseling to avoid bitterness.
    • Hebr. 12:15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
  • Leave on top. That is, leave your ministry as healthy and as strong as possible.
    • Col. 3:23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men….
  • Speak well of the former leaders, both lay and paid. Don’t leave a trail of gossip. Don’t undermine the leaders or anyone else who may have hurt you. Don’t burn bridges. Leave in such a way that your and Christ’s reputation remain intact.
    • Prov. 22:1 A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
  • Let go of ownership. You are no longer in charge. You may be tempted to still influence it from afar. Guard against that.
  • Pray that God would bless the ministry even more with the new leader who replaces you.
    • 1Kings 1:37 “May the Lord be with Solomon as he has been with you, and may God make Solomon’s reign even greater than yours!”
  • Grieve well. Change brings loss. You will lose familiarity, relationships, and influence even as you gain those in your new ministry. Don’t be surprised if you grieve. The Apostle Paul grieved when he left the church at Ephesus for the last time.
    • Acts 20: 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: `It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” 36 When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. 37 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38 What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.

Years ago I heard a talk by Ellen Goodman about leaving well. This quote captures the spirit of a leader who makes a graceful exit.

There is a trick to the Graceful Exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over-and let it go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving on, rather than out.

What insights would you add to this list?


“I just learned some good insight about how to gracefully leave a ministry.”(tweet this quote).


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5 Ways to Make Brainstorming More Creative

Brainstorming sessions have become standard fare for ministry teams that seek solutions to problems. The two key rules are to generate as many ideas as possible and don’t criticize the ideas. These concepts came from Alex Osborne’s book Your Creative Power published in 1948. Since then it’s been common practice to avoid criticizing the ideas in brainstorming sessions. The underlying assumption was that people won’t speak up if they fear criticism. There’s only problem with this kind of brainstorming is this: it simply doesn’t work. In this post I explain why it doesn’t and give 5 ways to make brainstorming more creative.

Multiple studies have shown that groups who use standard brainstorming rules generate less ideas than do individuals (Lehrer, 2012). In other words, when posed with the same problem, individuals consistently generate more possible solutions to a problem than do groups. When I learned this I was shocked because I’ve always applied these two basic rules in brainstorming sessions with my teams.

So based on the latest research, I’ve listed below 5 ways we stifle creativity and the antidote to each.

  • Stiflling…Discourage dissent. Don’t allow anyone to debate or criticize an idea in a brainstorming session.
    • Antidote: encourage friendly debate and healthy criticism. Set up rules beforehand, though, such as don’t personally attack people, clarify before criticizing, use phrases like I have a different view, etc.
  • Stiflling…Make the group an all boys club.
    • Antidote: include women because they, in general, have greater empathy skills and emotional intelligence and can offer unique perspectives.
  • Stiflling…Only includes your BFF’s (best friends forever).
    • Antidote: include in your brainstorming team both people with longstanding relationships and newbies. One study found that the creative teams behind the most successful Broadway musicals included people who had known each other a long time and newbies (Ellenberg, 2012).
  • Stiflling…If you are the leader, telegraph your views at the beginning of your brainstorming session.
    • Antidote: if you’re leading the session, be as neutral as possible or you may hinder some people from sharing a good idea because it may conflict with yours. And, most people don’t like to disagree with their leader.
  • Stiflling…Make the brainstorming session a serious, linear, logical experience.
    • Antidote: make the session fun, out of the box, and as rule free as possible. Encourage individual idea generation, counter intuitive ideas, and mind wandering. Mind wandering often produces some of our greatest insights (Christoff et al., 2009).

What have you discovered that encourages creativity in your team in brainstorming sessions?

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Sources:

Christoff, K., Gordon, A.M., Smallwood, J., Smith, R. & Schooler, J.W. (2009) Experience sampling during fMRI reveals default network and executive system contributions to mind wandering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (21), pp.8719-8724.

Ellenberg, J. (2012) Six Degrees of Innovation. Slate. Available from: [Accessed 9 May 2013].

Lehrer, J. (2012) Groupthink. The New Yorker. Available from: [Accessed 25 February 2013].