10 Secrets of Leaders who Forgive

Forgiveness. So very hard, yet so very necessary for leaders and pastors to lead well and experience personal freedom and relational health. Good leaders and pastors get the concept of forgiveness. And, it behooves every leader not only to understand and practice these 10 key insights about forgiveness but to teach them as well.

Forgive
  1. Forgiveness is counterintuitive.
    • It goes against human nature to forgive. Yet God rearranges our natural instincts and impulses by His grace.
  2. If you don’t forgive those who hurt you, you will stay frozen to your pain.
  3. Forgiveness can break the chain of unforgiveness we can unintentionally pass on to our children.
    • Physically we know that we can pass defective genes onto our children. In a similar way unforgiveness is like spiritually deformed DNA that we can pass on from one generation to the next. The Bible says that unforgiveness produces the fruit of bitterness that defiles many (Heb 12.15).
  4. Unforgiveness can lead to unforgiveness’ cousin: revenge, the passion to get even, a delight to hear bad news about those who hurt us, or wishing ill of those who hurt us.
    • Desire for revenge keeps the pain of the wound fresh, like picking a fresh scab over and over.
  5. Forgiveness does not settle all all questions of fairness.
    • What someone did to you is still unfair and wrong. Grace goes beyond fairness. It wasn’t fair that they crucified the ONE who never sinned. Grace doesn’t fit logic. It’s supernatural and beyond logic.
  6. Forgiveness does not minimize the offense.
    • The very nature of forgiveness actually recognizes that an offense occurred.
  7. Forgiveness is often a process that happens over time.
    • The deeper the hurt, the longer the process takes. True forgiveness is not forgive and forget the hurt. It’s more like remembering it less and less.
  8. Forgiveness does not absolve the offender of the consequences of his offense (in the eyes of the law or in the eyes of God).
  9. Forgiveness speaks to the longing of every human heart.
     
    • A  story in Ernest Hemingway’s short story, Capital of the World, illustrates this truth. A Spanish boy named Paco never experienced a relationship with his mother and his father had kicked him out of the house for some reason. Later his dad regretted it but couldn’t find his son. The remorseful father decided to attempt to reconcile with his son who had run away to Madrid and he took out an ad in the El Liberal newspaper. The ad read, PACO MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTANA NOON TUESDAY ALL IS FORGIVENPAPA. Paco is a common name in Spain. When the father went to the square he found eight hundred young men named Paco waiting for their fathers and yearning for the forgiveness they never thought was possible. (source unknown)
  10. You are well on our way to forgiveness when you begin to wish your offender well.

Leaders must model and teach true forgiveness. When we don’t, we can actually keep a lid on the health and growth of our churches and our lives.

Do you believe that unforgiving leaders can hinder the health and growth of their churches? Why or why not?

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The Cortisol Flooded Church: 9 signs and 8 antidotes

Cortisol, the stress hormone, is often associated with negative effects that prolonged stress puts on our bodies. Those effects  include weight gain, anxiety, heart disease, depressed immune system, digestive problems, sleep impairment, and even effects on memory. But could churches be negatively affected by cortisol as well? That is, if the leaders and culture of that church are constantly stressed, and flooded with cortisol themselves, could it affect the church negatively? I think it can and does in many churches. Consider these 9 tell-tale signs of a church flooded with cortisol.

Pulled in Too Many Directions Signs Stress Anxiety
  1. Your leadership team seems to always be uptight, tired, and sick a lot.
  2. Little trust between staff, elders, and the people in general exists.
  3. The leaders incessantly push bigger and better programs and ministries. They often switch from one great idea to the next.
  4. Your staff experiences lots of turn-over.
  5. An atmosphere of suspicion and “the wary eye” seems to pervade the church and your teams.
  6. Staff meetings are conflict filled or staff simply don’t say much in meetings for fear they will get reprimanded.
  7. A heavy spirit seems to linger over the office and even the church itself.
  8. Tension and conflict fill elder and/or deacon meetings.
  9. You seem to focus most on problems rather than victories or stories of how God is working.

How many of these did you check? Granted, spiritual forces are at work here as well. It’s not just a biological thing. But if more than two of these are true of your church, you might need to take a good look at your church’s stress level. Your church may be flooded with cortisol.

How might a church dial down a cortisol culture? Consider these potential antidotes.

  1. Create a ‘do not do’ list for your church. Pare down what you do so that leaders and volunteers don’t feel run ragged. Do a few things well.
  2. Teach your leaders how to build trust. Here’s a recent blog on building trust. When we build trust, we help activate the trust neurotransmitter oxytocin in our brains that creates a feeling of safety and belonging. Here’s a video of a recent talk I gave on building trust.
  3. Build fun experiences into your staff calendar. Don’t make every encounter revolve around pressing ministry issues.
  4. If you are the main leader, dial down your own intensity. Take breaks during the day. Deal with your own stress. Take your day off. Disconnect from technology 24 hours each week.
  5. Begin your staff and elder/deacon meetings with praises and victories.
  6. Share stories in your services that point to God’s blessings and changed lives.
  7. Over-communicate with your church. When people sense they know what’s happening, they will tend less to assume the worst. When we assume the worst we become anxious and cortisol ratchets up.
  8. Smile a lot. Our brain has what are called mirror neurons (brain cells) that prompts us to mimic the intentional, goal directed actions of others. Model give body language to others that you want them to imitate. And, make it positive.

Do you think churches can be affected by cortisol in leaders? Why or why not?

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10 Subtle Signs You Have Hit your Stress Red Zone

The Red Zone: unsafe areas in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, a region of France decimated during WWI, the area on the field between the 20 yard line and the end zone in American football (source: wikipedia).  The term Red Zone is a fairly well understood term that designates either a problem area or a heightened sense of alertness, as in the case of football. I’m extending that meaning to the emotional place many pastors and leaders find themselves in, sometimes without there even knowing it. Consider these subtle clues that may point to your being in the stress Red Zone. Mentally check the ones true of you.

Zone rouge

10 indicators you are in the stress Red Zone

  1. You quickly walk by someone at church or at the office to avoid a conversation simply because you don’t have the energy to engage.
  2. Fun in ministry and life seems to have disappeared.
  3. When you come home your spouse says, “You look terrible.”
  4. When you come home you could go to bed, right then.
  5. You can’t shake the free floating anxiety that seems to cling to you.
  6. Small things that once didn’t bother you now set you off.
  7. You often ruminate over and rehearse negative issues in your ministry and/or life.
  8. You easily default to worse case scenario thinking.
  9. You feel anger coursing deep within.
  10. You’re not sleeping very well.

How many did you mentally check? If you checked any of these, you may be in the stress Red Zone.

Often leaders lead in such stress-filled environments that their bodies and brains are awash in the stress hormone, cortisol. When under stress, whether good or bad, our adrenal glands (located atop our kidneys) release this important hormone. Cortisol is not all bad. We need it in times of stress. However, it becomes harmful when we are perpetually under stress and our body gets overexposed to it and other stress related hormones.

Here’s what can happen to your body if it’s perpetually awash in cortisol.

  • dampened immunity: you’ll get sick more often
  • digestive problems
  • heart disease
  • anxiety
  • weight gain
  • impaired brain functioning, especially memory
  • sleep impairment

So what can you do if you realize you are in the stress Red Zone? Consider these ideas.

  1. Make sure you regularly exercise as exercise can help reduce excessive cortisol in your body.
  2. Practice mindfulness as part of your spiritual formation process. My latest book includes an entire chapter on mindfulness.
  3. Get 30 minutes more sleep each night.
  4. Take your day off…really take it off. Don’t even look at email for 24 hours straight on your day off.
  5. Talk to a friend, your spouse, or a counselor about your stress. Others can often give us a more objective sense of reality which can reduce our stress.

What has helped you manage your stress and avoid being awash in cortisol?

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Are you a Contented Leader? 3 Keys May Help

My dad loves putting jigsaw puzzles together. I don’t. And I especially dislike doing them when you get to the end and find that a piece is missing. A missing jigsaw puzzle pictures the elusive something that leaders sometimes feel that we believe if we had ‘it’ we could truly be content. For a pastor it might be a larger church. For an entrepreneur it might be that winning business idea. For the CEO or president of a company it might be reaching that next sale’s milestone. It’s different for us all. Unfortunately, we often think if we attain ‘it,’ all will be well. That’s simply not true. One of the world’s greatest leaders, the Apostle Paul, gives us us keen insight on this perplexing  issue of contentment.

contentment road sign illustration design

While awaiting trial in a prison in Rome, Paul wrote a letter to the church in the city of Phillipi. Although life was not going well, he wrote these amazing words.

10 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Phil 4.10-13, NIV)

From this short passage, three insights about contentment stand out.

Insight 1. This side of heaven, perfect contentment will always elude us.

The apostle Paul had given up a cushy life as a rising Jewish leader after his dramatic conversion. After his conversion, life didn’t go well much of the time. Likewise, when we trust Christ, He does not promise us an eternal spring. Paul even points to a nagging sense of “something-just-isn’t-quite-right” in 2 Corinthians 5.1-3

 1 For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down—when we die and leave these bodies—we will have a home in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.  2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long for the day when we will put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.  3 For we will not be spirits without bodies, but we will put on new heavenly bodies.  4 Our dying bodies make us groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and have no bodies at all. We want to slip into our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by everlasting life. (NLT)

Because earth this is not a believer’s real home, we will groan and sigh and long for a better place. Because heaven is our home, we will never find perfect contentment here. This world cannot meet our deepest needs and longings. More money will not meet our deepest needs. Bigger and better stuff will not take all our heart longings and aches away. A a bigger church or a banner sales year won’t cut it either. This side of heaven, we will always deal with a linger sense of discontentment.

As Martin Luther said,

 “Next to faith, this is the highest art: to be content in the calling in which God has placed you. I have not learned it yet.” (“Martin Luther–The Early Years,” Christian History, no. 34.

Contentment often means we must deal with the tension of feeling content in our circumstances yet not feeling content because we long for something better. God designed us that way.

Insight 2. In the meantime, don’t waste your discontentment 

In verse 11 Paul writes that he had to learn to be content. His learning suggests three implications.

1. The measure of contentment we can experience is a choice we make.

2. Contentment doesn’t come instinctively. We don’t mysteriously drift into it.

3. Developing contentment is not a passive experience. To learn implies we must engage and direct our minds toward something.

I believe we learn to be content when circumstances bring our discontentment to the surface and then as we yield that discontentment to God, He brings us to a new state of contentment, until the next new challenge surfaces discontentment. Then we repeat the process of learning once again.

We don’t learn contentment from a book or a blog. We learn it through life’s experiences.

Even when Paul was in prison, he was learning contentment. In the short book of Philippeans he even used the word ‘joy’ 16 times.

Insight 3. Tend to your soul.

He mentions learn again in verse 12 but it’s a different word. The Greeks used this word to describe being instructed or initiated into a secret society. Through his learning he had been initiated into this secret of contentment. In this case the initiation rites were the lessons taught by both trial and prosperity. Through that process, he discovered by experience the secret of being content. He then writes in verse 12, I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Verse 12 doesn’t mean, for example, that I as a pastor of a church of 700 will see my church grow to 7,000 next year because “I can do everything.” Rather, He promises us that true contentment in any circumstance only comes through Himself. And as we tend to matters of our heart, our relationship with Him, He can bring a measure of contentment to us in the middle of difficult or disappointing  circumstances.

Jesus doesn’t promise never ending ministry success, every year a banner year, or freedom from difficulty. Neither does he promise cheery emotions every day. Rather He will give us what we need to face any circumstance that could keep us discontented.

So, as leaders lead, we must live in a world of discontentment and at the same time ever growing contentment.

What has helped you learn to be more contented as a leader?

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Leaders who Last: Is This the Reason Why?

Some leaders last. Some don’t. Why? Did God endow certain leaders with extra leadership moxie? Did they inherit the leadership gene? Were they in the right place at the right time? Was their ability to last due to good parents? Perhaps all these factors do play a part. However, I believe that one factor in particular determines how well leaders last. Perhaps you will agree. (adapted with permission from People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership).

Compass

I believe the key for prevailing leaders lies in clarity of and commitment to their core values.

Do this exercise right now. Quickly, without thinking much, answer this question.

  • What core values and convictions guide your life and ministry? If you haven’t memorized them, go to the document on your computer or in a file where you’ve listed them. 

Were you able to easily recall them? Were they fuzzy or hard to locate? Or was this the first time you’ve even considered what they were? When I say values, I don’t mean the essential values every follower of Jesus should embrace, like keeping the Ten Commandments, obeying the Golden Rule or living out Jesus’ great command and Great Commission.

Rather I’m speaking about more nuanced ones that capture the essence of the real you.

Such values so infuse our soul that nothing external can cause us to compromise them. Granted, they might be aspirational, ones not yet fully developed. Nevertheless, they describe the authentic, Christ-honoring you to which you aspire.

It’s like the difference between a compass and a gyrocompass. A compass points to true north because it relies on magnetic north—unless, that is, you bring a magnet close to it. Even a small magnet can cause a compass to give wrong directions. A magnet external to it affects the north arrow so that it gives a false reading. Metaphorically, the magnet makes it compromise. For some so-called values, all it takes is criticism or the oppositional voice of a significant board member (an external force) to cause a leader to compromise. However, a gyrocompass is a device used on ships that is a compass “plus” so that a magnet can’t cause it to give a false reading.

Samson was a leader with simple “compass” values. As a Nazarite, he had made a vow (swore to a list of “values”) to avoid certain behaviors. Usually in that day a person’s joy and a desire to set himself apart for God prompted such a vow. In his case, however, it was prophesied that he would be a Nazarite from birth (Judg 13: 5). But from the very beginning Samson found it difficult to live up to those values. He became involved with three different Philistine women, one ultimately leading to his downfall.

Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima write,

“Samson had a deep need to please others. It was very hard for him to disappoint anyone. In fact it was nearly impossible for him to say ‘No’ even when saying yes was in his best interest and ultimately was self-destructive.” (McIntosh and Samuel Rima, Overcoming the Dark Side of LeadershipGrand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007, Kindle ebook, loc. 1176.

When something (or someone) exerted pressure on his values, his compass didn’t keep him fixed on his true north.

Our true inner values, our gyrocompass values, play a very significant role in how well we last in our leadership.

Do you agree? Why or why not?

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From People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership (Kindle Locations 1278-1297). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition by Dr. Charles Stone