The 6 Biggest Leadership Gaps Pastors Face

In my research for my most third book on people pleasing pastors, I discovered 6 fundamental weaknesses or gaps that leaders in general and pastors in particular face in some degree. These are based on insight from a perspective on how we deal with our emotions called family systems. To which leadership gap do you tend to default?

GAP 1: EMOTIONAL REACTIVITY (low emotional restraint)

Description: The phrase emotional reactivity self-defines itself. It’s seen in pastors who either outwardly or inwardly emotionally react to others when under stress.

Metaphor: Porcupine

Characteristics: emotional outbursts, conflict, yelling, closed body language, relational distancing, triangling, sullenness, withdrawal

Biblical character with this gap: Moses showed reactivity several times. He killed an Egyptian (Ex 2.12) when he saw him beating a Hebrew. He reactively struck a rock out of frustration with the people instead of obeying God’s command to speak to it (Num 20.11). And he threw down the first set of  the 10 Commandments when he saw the people worshipping the golden calf (Ex 21.19)

GAP 2: LACK OF I-POSITION (low convictional stance)

Description: A pastor with this gap will stand on his convictions when he senses those around him would agree with him. When pressured to change his stand, however, he often gives in.

Metaphor: Jellyfish

Characteristics: fearful to take an opposing position with church influences like big givers or elders, lack of backbone, blaming others, holding others responsible for his happiness or his failures

Biblical character with this gap: Timothy. He probably faced this gap in his leadership early in his ministry life. We see this from inferences in the Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy. Paul encouraged him to not let others look down on his youth (1 Tm 4.12). He also encouraged him to not be timid with others (2 Tm 1.7).

GAP 3: EMOTIONAL CUTOFF (low connectedness in relationally tense situations)

Description: A pastor with this gap will distance himself emotionally or physically from others when his emotional anxiety rises.

Metaphor: A box turtle that retreats into its shell when afraid

Characteristics: pouting, giving the silent treatment, physically distancing, isolation, switching churches often to avoid dealing with difficult relationships and emotions, rigid boundaries, ignoring others, stonewalling, passive aggressiveness  

Biblical character with this gap: The prodigal son and his brother. The prodigal son physically and emotionally cut himself off from his father when he left home after receiving his inheritance. After blowing his money and ending up feeding pigs, he returned home repentant. Yet when his older brother learned that their dad was throwing a ‘welcome home’ party, he emotionally cut himself off from them both by whining to his dad and then refusing to attend the party (Lk 15.11-32).

Absalom also models cutoff. After his stepbrother Amnon raped their stepsister Tamar, he emotionally cut himself off from Amnon as he plotted his murder. Two years later he murdered Amnon and then physically cut himself off from David’s presence for five years (2 Sm 13-14). Ultimately his bitter heart lead to his untimely death (2 Sm 18).

GAP 4: FUSION (low healthy independence)

Description: A pastor with this gap gets glommed and enmeshed with others because he gets overly emotionally involved with them. In a parallel way this is what happens to metals when they are melted together and they lose their individual distinctiveness. An Oscar Wilde quote captures the essence of fusion, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions. Their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”[1]

Metaphor: Suckerfish (a small fish also called a remora that attaches itself to large fish through its sucker-like organ near its mouth). Another great metaphor is the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Borg were creepy extra-terrestrials that would assimilate humans into their collective hive.

Characteristics: driven to create one big happy family, super inclusive, consensus driven, easily swayed by groupthink, herd mentality, taking responsibility for another’s reactions, sense of losing self in another, intense togetherness when anxiety rises, emotional temperature rises and falls based on the temperature of others, greases the church’s squeaky wheel

Biblical character with this gap: Aaron. Moses left him in charge when he went up on Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments from God. Yet Aaron yielded to the people’s ‘herd mentality’ who were fearful that Moses would never return because he had been gone over a month. His enmeshment with the people prompted him to make the golden calf (Ex 32.1-4).

GAP 5: OVER-FUNCTIONING

Description: The pastor who over-functions is usually an over-achiever who takes ownership and responsibility for the emotional wellbeing of others, often trying to make up for the perceived deficiency in somebody else’s functioning.

Metaphor: Female worker bees. They do almost every task in a beehive while the male bees look on, present only to mate with the queen bee. The female worker bees literally work themselves to death when flowers bloom. They usually die within five weeks. They die alone, away from the colony they exhausted their lives for.

Characteristics: very hard worker, seldom asks for help, tries too much to help, assumes increasing responsibility for others, tells others what they need to feel/think/do, does for others what they should do for themselves, often demands agreement from others, can foster learned helplessness from others, often highly approval oriented

Biblical character with this gap: Moses. I don’t mean to pick on Moses again, but he was probably guilty of over-functioning when he tried to act as judge for all the disputes from the people (Ex 18). Fortunately he heeded the advice to delegate that his father-in-law Jethro suggested. Martha would be another example evidenced in her anxiety about preparing a meal for Jesus while Mary sat at His feet (Lk 10.38-42).

GAP 6: UNDER-FUNCTIONING

Description: Pastors with a gap of under-functioning seem always to need help but never seem to change. They don’t take appropriate responsibility and often want someone else to fix them.

Metaphor: Whipped puppy

Characteristics: highly dependent on looking to others to know what to do next, unnecessarily asks for advice, often passive, ask others to do what he should do for himself, easily sucked into groupthink, gives in most of the time

Biblical character with this gap: Saul. 1 Samuel 17 describes a pointed example of this gap. It describes the story when Goliath taunted Saul and his men. Saul should have taken responsibility and fought him. Instead, he gave the responsibility to the then shepherd boy David to fight him. Saul’s passivity was one of many kinks in his armor.

 I believe every pastor struggles with at least one of these gaps. Fortunately, God promises us that by His Holy Spirit we can rely on Him and He will fill those gaps. This verse encourages me when I struggle and I hope it does you.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Pet 1.3, NIV)

In my next blog I will suggest practical pointers in overcoming each gap.

What other leadership gaps have you seen in leaders?

Taken from People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership (Inter-varsity Press, 2014, used with permission).

Related posts:


[1] Oscar Wilde, De Profundis (1905).

Sticky Church Vision: a 4-step Process that Works

I’ve served in churches for over 35 years and I’m still learning how to craft a sticky church vision. In my current church I delivered our vision for my first year after being here for only three months. That may seem quick, but I sensed it was well received. In this post I explain the the four steps I incorporated that created greater involvement, buy in, and spiritual success.

Before I came to my new church, West Park Church in London, Ontario, I read extensively about how best to onboard (the term used when we transition to a new job). As a result, I created a six month learning agenda which essentially set my priorities for the first six months.

If you are new to your church or are considering a new church, I highly recommend the book The First 90 Days. It’s one of the best to help you navigate your first few months. You can also purchase an iPhone/android app that goes along with it.

Here are the four steps I took.

1. Wisely time the vision reveal.

I was a bit reluctant to share a big five year comprehensive vision. It would have been foolish to do so. Yet, it would have been equally foolish to wait until I thoroughly knew the church before casting a vision. So, after setting up multiple 1-1, group, and leadership listening sessions, I felt that I had sufficient knowledge to cast an intelligent one year vision to capture West Park’s current situation and reflect God’s plan for the church.

2. Collaborate extensively.

I received some wise counsel from a Canadian pastor the first week I arrived. I asked him for one bit of advice he’d offer me as an American pastor newly arriving in Canada. He wisely said, “Lead collaboratively. Many American pastors come here and fail because they try to lead with a heavy top down leadership style.” I took his advice and have built a close and great working relationship with our board. I have appraised them all along about what I’m learning and have often asked for their input. That collaborative mindset helped me craft that initial vision (and the ones that followed) that most closely aligns with reality and resulted in good buy-in from the board.

3. Sequence who you tell.

I intentionally rolled out the communication of the vision in this order.

  1. First the board heard it and approved it. It was not new to them because they had followed my learning the entire time.
  2. Then the staff heard it. They too, weren’t surprised as I had shared my learning along the way.
  3. Then a large group of our leaders heard it at a leadership gathering.
  4. Then the church heard it in a morning message.
  5. Finally, after my first 90 days I mailed out a progress report which repeated the vision for those who may have missed it on the Sunday I shared it.

4. Maximize the visual component.

Since one third of our brains are involved in visual processing, we hired an artist to translate the vision into a clear and compelling visual format. We visually reinforced the vision in several ways I’ve listed below.  I’ve include the logos the artist designed for us here.

unuque

  1. We incorporated it into my Sunday sermon presentation on the screen.
  2. We printed a bookmark that we gave to everyone as they left.
  3. We unveiled two large banners that we hung in the auditorium.
  4. We hung small posters of the vision in various places in the building and kept them there for the rest of the year.
  5. We posted the visuals on our web site.
  6. We incorporated the visuals into our bulletin on a regular basis.

These steps definitely paid off because four years later, we are a growing and vibrant multi-culture church.

If you are casting vision, whether or not you are new to your church, consider using these four steps to increase the buy-in for your vision.

What has helped you effectively cast vision?

Related posts:

8 Ways to Bust Leadership Discouragement

Discouragement is a universal experience for ministry leaders and the word actually self defines itself…dis-courage meaning no courage. Some of the Bible’s greatest characters faced it: Moses, David, Paul, Mary the mother of Jesus, and the apostles. Nehemiah, the great Old Testament leader faced it when he led the Jews to rebuild the wall. Yet, his response offers us hope when we face it.

Nehemiah had been hammered with criticism and it was taking its toll. Discouragement had set in. Nehemiah 4.10-21 tells us what Nehemiah did in response to it. This part of the rebuilding story gives us 8 discouragement busters.

Buster 1: Monitor your thoughts.

This buster is perhaps the most important one. An unconscious chatter is always active inside our minds because our mind simply wanders a lot. When we are not thinking about anything else, it wanders off into worry, fear, anxiety, or discouragement.

A key concept gaining greater prominence today is something called metacognition which simply means thinking about what you are thinking about. To battle discouragement we must discipline ourselves to be aware of this constant chatter that often leads us into discouragement. I believe the Apostle Paul understood that when he wrote this verse.

Phil. 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.

So, to bust discouragement stop and ask yourself, “What am I thinking about?” Monitor your thoughts, your self-talk, the inner chatter. Change you thinking if it’s going negative.

Buster 2: When you feel discouraged call it what it is, don’t stuff it, ignore it, or rehearse it.

Nehemiah didn’t ignore the discouragement the people felt.

When we name our negative emotion we actually decrease its power, contrary to what we often tell ourselves, “Just ignore it or stuff it.” Neuroscientists have discovered that when we stuff our emotions it actually reinforces them over the long term. But when we actually name them, it decreases the power of our emotional centers and engages the thinking centers of our minds.

Buster 3: Guard against emotional pig-pens.

Pig-pen, one of the characters in the Peanuts cartoon was always dirty and carried around a cloud of dust wherever he went. And, he seemed to spread his dirt everywhere he went. Pig-pen is a great word picture for some people who carry around a cloud of discouragement with them wherever they go. In Nehemiah’s day some of the Jews living in the surrounding areas would come into town and bring their discouragement. When you know someone around you is an emotional pig-pen, keep your distance.

Buster 4: Do nothing.

Nehemiah had to stop the building for a time to re-group and re-focus the Jews. Sometimes as leaders we get so tired or sleep deprived we simply need to stop, rest, sleep more, or simply take a break.

Buster 5: Do something.

Nehemiah responded to this discouragement and resistance by getting the people to be intentional about doing something to get them off their negativity. He gave them a common goal. He did something constructive by setting new plans in place to deal with his enemies. So, when discouragement comes, don’t wallow in it. Rather, do something constructive.

 Buster 6. Be specific with your plan.

Nehemiah was specific in what he did in response to the discouragement. He made many changes in how the work was done. The same holds true for defeating discouragement. We know that discouragement will come our way, so be prepared. When it comes, act upon your predetermined plan. Such a plan may include calling it what it is, going for a walk, calling a friend, doing something nice for someone, or spending 10 minutes on a short term project you’ve been avoiding (like cleaning off your desk).

Buster 7: Count your blessings, not your burdens.

Nehemiah often reminded the people of God’s faithfulness to them. In doing so he was helping them count their blessings. Neuroscientists are learning that when we count our blessings and shift our attention from the negative we actually decrease the chemicals in our brain that make us feel blue. By counting your blessings you are intentionally shifting your attention off the source of and the emotion of discouragement. The Psalmists counsels us with these words.

Psa. 77.11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

Buster 8: Don’t face your discouragement all alone.

Nehemiah would keep his trumpeter at his side and if he saw the enemy marshaling forces in the distance, he’d sound the alarm to bring everybody together. The beauty of the body of Christ remind us that we don’t have to bear our burdens alone. When you face discouragement, take the initiative to be a friend, get into a safe small group, or see a counselor. Don’t bear it alone.

Every ministry leader will face discouragement. Nehemiah’s response gives us hope in our discouragement.

What has helped you battle discouragement?

Related Posts

8 Signs You May be an Anxious Leader

In my third book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I combine three sources of insight, the Bible, Bowen Family Systems, and Brain research. The second ‘B,’ Bowen Family Systems, refers to insights from a psychiatrist who practiced during the 60’s-80’s, Dr. Murray Bowen. His research revealed that each of us handles our anxiety, a general word for negative emotions such as fear or worry, in different ways. He and others have applied his insight to how leaders lead. And when a leader leads as an anxious leader, he stifles his leadership effectiveness. So, what might indicate that you are an anxious leader?

These seven signs might indicate that your leadership is being negatively affected by how you handle your anxiety. Mentally check which ones are sometimes true of you.

  1. I can mindlessly yield to others’ opinions to avoid more anxiety.
  2. I sometimes blow up at others too easily.
  3. I tend to focus on others’ reactions and responses to me.
  4. I can be easily and quickly hurt.
  5. I often see myself as a victim.
  6. I resort to either/ or, yes/ no or black/ white thinking.
  7. I sometimes cast blame or falsely criticize others.
  8. I often entertain threats from others (for example, “I’m going to leave the church unless you . . .”).*

How many did you check? If you checked two or more, your leadership may be hindered by how you handle your anxiety.

So, if traits of an anxious leader play out in your leadership. what can you do?

Here are four simple suggestions that might help.

  1. Everyday do an emotional check in. In other words, during your devotional time each morning, check in with your emotions. Ask yourself, “What emotions am I currently feeling?” Simply being aware of them will help you moderate their influence. The term is called meta-cognition, thinking about what you are thinking about and feeling.
  2. Name the negative emotion you feel. Unlike what our culture sometimes subtly encourages us, “keep those negative emotions from leaking out,” naming your negative emotions actually quiets the emotional centers of the brain (the limbic system), thus allowing our thinking centers to take charge (the pre-frontal cortex). Healthy leaders lead from a clear mind, not from muddy emotions.
  3. Memorize scriptures that speak to anxiety. When you feel anxious, quote Scripture. The more we memorize Scripture the more our brain connections and networks actually change to reflect the truth of Scripture. It’s called neuroplasticity. Here’s one of my favorite scriptures I’ve memorized that I often quote when I feel anxious.
    • Phil. 4.6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
  4. Share your feelings with someone else who is/has faced a similar situation.  A recent study revealed that when we share anxious emotions with others facing similar issues, the emotions are moderated. So, having a network of pastors who face similar challenges as you, and sharing with them your struggles can help you deal with your own anxiety.

What have you found that helps you deal with anxiety?

Related posts:

*Source: Stone, Charles (2014-01-01). People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership (Kindle Locations 2983-2987). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. Permission granted for use.

5 Essentials Necessary to Build Church and Team Unity

Unity is a powerful force in God’s Kingdom, in our lives, in our families, in a business, and in the local church when it includes five essentials, seen in the great leader Nehemiah.

Every leader wants his or her organization, team, or church to be unified. Without it teams lose, churches flounder, and businesses drift. However, when your group is unified it’s fun, refreshing, invigorating, motivating, and productive.

The great leader Nehemiah could not have completed his massive building project of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall without unity. Nehemiah 3 lists scores of projects and people involved in the project and gives insight into these 5 essentials necessary to build unity. I use the acronym UNITY to make it easy to remember them.

Understanding: clarity about its true meaning.

Unity does not imply uniformity, meaning everybody is the same or likes the same thing. Unity doesn’t mean that we embrace selfish, divisive, abstinent, or irresponsible people for the sake of unity. It is not peace at any price. Rather, unity implies that we all embrace the same purpose and that purpose overrides our personal preferences. Nehemiah’s purpose was to obey God’s prompting to rebuild the wall.

Nattitude: how true unity shows itself .

I needed an ‘N’ to make the acronym work, so I stuck it before attitude :). In chapter 3 we see several key attitudes necessary for lasting unity. Those attitudes include these.

  • A whatever it takes attitude instead of “it’s not my job.” Many came from outside Jerusalem to work on the wall even though its completion would not directly benefit them.
  • An extra mile attitude. Several people listed in the building project worked on more than one area.
  • Finally, passion, optimism, and zeal. One builder, Baruch, worked with great zeal.

Ronald Reagan was probably one of the best presidents the U.S. ever had and he was an eternal optimist. He often told this, his favorite joke.

The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities – one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist – their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears.

‘What’s the matter?’ the psychiatrist asked, baffled. ‘Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?’ ‘Yes,’ the little boy bawled, ‘but if I did I’d only break them.

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist.

Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist.

‘With all this manure,’ the little boy replied, beaming, ‘there must be a pony in here somewhere!’ (source: http://www.mondaymorningmemo.com/page/got-to-be-a-pony-in-here-somewhere)

Unified teams need more people with “looking for ponies attitudes.”

Intentionality: alignment around a common mission

Their common mission was to rebuild the wall. By restoring the wall, it would point to God’s glory.

Team: together everyone accomplishes more

You’ll find a common phrase mentioned 14 times in this chapter, “next to him.” They worked as a team, shoulder to shoulder, with arms linked to complete this great project. The gaps in the walls were filled because each person and group filled in a gap.

This chapter lists 38 names and 42 building projects. Those who worked on the project included men and women, priests, city guards, temple servants, merchants, and people from the public sector.

Yieldedness: it’s not all about me

Many groups helped even though they would not directly benefit from it as greatly as others. Yet, they chose to leave their homes in the countryside and come to Jerusalem to help for the greater good. And, Nehemiah didn’t let “what’s in it for me” people play a significant role or dictate direction. A what’s in it for me person only cares about what he wants, his agenda, and his preferences.

Yieldedness is an attitude that conveys that I want what’s best for the group and the mission.

What other aspects of unity have helped you build it?

Related posts: