Rejection: How if Affects Leaders

Disapproval and rejection can sting and wound. We’ve all felt it. What do we do when important people in our lives (or even those that we don’t deem important) reject us? How do we respond as did Jesus when he was rejected and scorned? In this post I unpack this painful thing called rejection.

One depressed person stands lonely, apart from the group

Years ago I experienced deep disapproval and rejection from some key church leaders in the church I was in. Essentially they told me that I wasn’t a good leader nor could I inspire people when I preached God’s Word. I was devastated and the effects lingered for months. At the time I didn’t process this rejection well. In retrospect, however, I now understand why this hurt so much and what to do about it.

God created our bodies and our mental command and control center, our brains, with two overall systems that profoundly impact how we think and feel. Our refleXive system (think X-system) is the one that acts without thinking. When it controls, our emotions often take over. The other system, our refleCtive system (think C-system) is the one that helps us think clearly and biblically when our emotions want us to do otherwise. When our X-system controls, we become highly emotional and reactive which dampens our C-system’s ability to think clearly and objectively. However, when we submit our C-system to the Holy Spirit, we are able to think more in line with the Apostle Paul’s command in Philippeans 4.8.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

Because I failed to appropriately filter their disapproval with the mind of Christ (His thoughts and perspective), my response prompted my brain to release neurochemicals, called catecholamines, that revved up my X-system. This in turn further diminished my ability to think and lead effectively in these three ways.

  • Mental exhaustion: My brain’s check engine light was always on. One part of our brain (the anterior cingulate cortex) senses inconsistencies we detect in verbal or non-verbal messages we get from others. Because those leaders often gave me mixed messages about my performance (you are a great guy… you don’t inspire people), that part of my brain was constantly ‘on.’ I become mentally exhausted which bred even more anxiety about the situation.
  • Easily defensive: My brain’s impulse control brake pads wore thin. I’m usually able to control my emotions and avoid defensiveness. However, because the stress had tired my brain and body, the part of my brain that helps control impulses and emotions (the ventral lateral pre-frontal cortex) had little ‘brake pad’ left. As a result, I was not able to carry on objective conversations about their perspective, which would have helped. Instead, I became defensive, didn’t listen well to their viewpoints, and reacted to small irritations at home.
  • Inability to concentrate: My brain’s mental etch-a-sketch could not hold a creative thought long without losing it. An important part of the brain (the dorsal lateral pre-frontal cortex) gives us the ability to plan, hold items in memory, and think abstractly. However, I could barely concentrate which impacted my ability to think creatively when preparing a sermon or when planning a new initiative. My brain felt like an etch-a-sketch constantly being shaken causing the picture on it to quickly dissolve. I often defaulted to mindless activities such as looking at Facebook several times daily rather than focusing on the more important mind-taxing tasks ministry demanded.

When leaders feel rejected, these internal processes will occur unless with the Spirit’s power we proactively take action to counter them. In my next post I discuss how we can counter these tendencies when we feel rejected.

When others have rejected you, what negative consequences have you seen in your leadership?

Related post:

The 7 C’s of Great Ministry Leaders

I recently read a great article by Brad Powell on the 7 C’s of great ministry leaders. I’ve heard of the three C’s before, but his 7 captured the essence of great leaders. Here are his 7 C’s.

Leadership concept
  1. Calling: we must have a sense of God’s call where we currently serve
  2. Character: perhaps the most important, there is no substitute for integrity and a pure heart
  3. Competence: we need the right gifts and abilities to match the needs in our ministry
  4. Confidence: our confidence in the Lord gives us what we need to lead without hesitation
  5. Courage: we must be willing to take unpopular stands sometimes and remind ourselves that we play to an audience of One
  6. Commitment: if we are going to last for the long haul we must be ‘all in’
  7. Continuous growth: a good leader must constantly be learning and growing

What C’s for great leaders would you add (or any other qualities that don’t begin with C)?

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Is this Leadership’s Missing Ingredient? (neuroleadership)

Whether we lead a church ministry, a para-church organization, or run a business, Christian leaders want to lead at our best. Books, leadership seminars, coaching, and mentoring can all help us grow our skills. I’ve used all three to develop mine. Recently, though, I’ve realized an emerging and rapidly growing field is filling a gap in spiritual leadership. It’s called neuroleadership. I explain it in this post.


So what is neuroleadership? Essentially, neuroleadership takes what neuroscience is discovering about the brain and applies it to the art of spiritually leading. You can see a cool animation here by clicking on “What is neuroleadership?” David Rock, author of a great book, Your Brain at Work, coined the term.

Interestingly, the bible affirms neuroleadership principles. The word ‘mind’ appears over 140 times in scripture. Solomon writes in Proverbs that as we think so we are. The Gospel writers tell us to love God with all of our hearts and souls and minds and strength. And the Apostle Paul reminds us that we experience true transformation when we renew our minds. Curt Thompson who wrote Anatomy of the Soul writes that neuroscience is much like a magnifying glass to help us see things we may not otherwise have seen. But a magnifying glass is only as good as the light that illuminates the object we are looking at. That light, for a Christian, is God’s Word.

When pastors and Christian leaders learn and apply neuroleadership principles, they will develop into competent leaders who . . .

  • stay cool under pressure.
  • improve relationships with others.
  • consistently make wise ministry decisions.
  • strategize and navigate change well.
  • learn to inspire others through their teaching.

To maximize our minds and brains, consider these three essentials.

  1. Learn how the brain works. Without trying to become an anatomy expert, take a few minutes to Google “brain” and read a few articles about how the brain works and its anatomy. You’ll also find several good YouTube videos as well. This four-minute video summarizes the techniques scientists are now using to learn more about the brain. This 55-minutes video by David Rock explains how understanding the brain can make a big difference in your leadership.
  2. Practice good brain care habits. Adequate sleep, healthy food, and regular exercise all help keep your brain sharp and functioning well. Scientists have also discovered that managing stress also protects the brain.
  3. Learn the art of self-awareness. Often our brain focuses on negative thoughts that take up precious brain space we need to think and lead well. When we “think about what we are thinking about” we have begun to win the battle against negative thinking. The Apostle Paul speaks to this issue in Phil. 4.8 when he writes,Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

So, as you grow in your leadership, consider how to use your brain to maximize your life and leadership.

In your education and experience, how have your insights into how the brain works helped your leadership?

I unpack this concept in detail in my latest book, The Brain-Savvy Leader: the Science of Significant Ministry.

Related posts:

  1. When Pastors Lead from their Lizard Brains
  2. 9 Signs Your Hormones May be Hijacking Your Leadership

Pastors Who Lack Close Friends: 5 Reasons Why

Barna Research discovered that 61% of pastors are lonely and have few close friends. The loneliest people in churches are often pastors. Why is this so?

One depressed person stands lonely, apart from the group

The experts say that five key factors inhibit pastors from developing close friendships.

  • lack of formative modeling: in families of origin some weren’t close to their parents and/or their parents never modeling for them how to create intimate relationships.
  • some pastors developed a loner tendency: they’d rather be alone.
  • personality: some personalties can unintentionally push people away.
  • wounds from the past can compel some to put up walls with others.
  • fear of sharing loneliness with others: some pastors think that if people knew they struggled, hurt, or had problems, it might lessen the respect they would give and therefore hinder that pastor’s leadership effectiveness.

Number five can be very powerful. Certainly we shouldn’t publicly display all our dirty laundry, or we would diminish our influence. But actually I’ve found that when I have appropriately shared my struggles with others, most people endear themselves to me and respect me even more.

I’ll never forget a story I heard Bill Hybels share years ago in a conference. The specific details are hazy, but the impact on me remains.

On one of his study breaks he told about a Sunday night visit to a small church. After the sermon, the pastor stood before his flock and in tears shared a heartbreak he had experienced from his son. He said he felt like a failure and wasn’t sure what to do. He then closed the service. Spontaneously the people rushed to the front and surrounded him, hugged him, and wept with him. Bill then used a term to describe the scene: “the circle of brokenness.” As he drew thousands of us into this story, with misty eyes I realized that every pastor yearns for that kind of acceptance.

If fear of rejection, looking less like a pastor, or worry that you might diminish your influence keeps you from inviting safe people in, realize the danger in which you can put yourself. Without safe people, ministry can overwhelm us.

A psychologist friend of mine once explained that isolation can set up a pastor on a slippery slope toward sexual compromise. In isolation, Satan can exploit his vulnerability. He can then begin to compromise and live a secret sexual life that may ultimately lead to ministry and/or marriage failure. My friend reminded me that sin grows easiest in the darkness.

So, if you are a pastor, don’t minimize the importance of friends in the ministry and in your church. Push through your loneliness and find some friends.

What other factors have you seen that can create loneliness in pastors?

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What NOT to Say to Someone in Pain

Several years ago at a physical therapy appointment I was getting some kinks worked out of my back. As the therapist torqued my left leg into a pretzel, she told me about a friend who recently got news about a life threatening medical condition. As my therapist shared, she felt unsure about what to say to her friend facing such sadness. Even though I’ve been in ministry over 35 years, the right thing to say to a person in pain still eludes me. What should we say to someone like her friend? Or better yet, what should we not say?

young desperate man suffering with hands on head in deep depression, pain , emotional disorder, grief and desperation concept isolated on black background with grunge studio lighting in black and white

Since our youngest was diagnosed with a brain tumor 28 years ago (and is now doing well), what people have said to us through the years has run the gamut from perfect to really bad. Most people really want to encourage when we hurt, but often they say exactly what you don’t need to hear.

Here’s a few statements to NEVER say to someone in pain, no matter what kind of pain.

  • Every thing will be all right. God’s in control. (Yes, God is control, but everything may not turn out all right.)
  • Just have more faith and you will be fine. (Platitude.)
  • God told me that you’d be healed/your problem will go away. (Why did he tell you and not me?)
  • Could there possibly be some sin in your life? (Sounds like one of Job’s friends.)
  • My (aunt, uncle, grandmother, etc.) faced the same thing and they were healed. (I’m not your aunt, uncle, grandmother, etc.)
  • Well, I’m facing such and such…and then this person prattles on and on about himself or herself, seemingly oblivious to our pain. (You really didn’t hear me, did you?)
  • Just let us know what we can do. (Often this really means nothing or else they would have gotten specific on the spot.)

Words carry great power. The book of Proverbs tells us they have the power of life or death and that a well-placed word is very valuable. This verse is a great one.

Prov. 25.11 The right word at the right time is like precious gold set in silver.

I’d love to hear words that you’ve heard or said that were like gold in times of pain.

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