The Lonely Pastor: 6 Ways to Dig Out

Loneliness is a deep ache in our soul and it doesn’t necessarily imply that we are physically alone. Some of the loneliest people in the world are surrounded by people. Even so, their deep ache of loneliness persists. If you’re a lonely pastor (or anyone from that matter) take heart from these thoughts.

Loneliness can make us feel…

  • isolated
  • sad
  • exhausted
  • unmotivated
  • unloved
  • even useless.

Pastors are no exception. Although our “job” is people and we’re around them all the time, we can be some of the loneliest people in the church. I once read that the man with the fewest male friends in the church is often the senior pastor.

So what can we do when loneliness overwhelms our soul? I don’t offer a neat prescription, but I’ve learned a few things that that have helped me.

  1. Admit it. When you feel lonely, tell somebody. First tell yourself. Then tell the Lord. And when appropriate, tell somebody else. Neuroscientists have discovered that admitting our negative emotions (labeling them) can actually lessen the strength of those emotions.
  2. Guard against ruminating over it. It’s natural to feel lonely sometimes. But if we mull over it for long periods of time the Enemy can turn it into depression, self-loathing, and self-pity. Rumination over negative experiences more deeply activates the emotional centers of our brains exacerbating the emotion and causing us to lose objectivity.
  3. However, the Lord may want to teach you something. Ask Him what lesson He wants you to learn through your loneliness.
  4. Read uplifting Scriptures and listen to uplifting music.
  5. Go and do something productive. Serve someone that won’t benefit your ministry. Smile at everyone you meet. Compliment the cashier at the grocery store. Take your son or daughter on a date. Invite someone in the church to lunch with you. When we do something productive the neurotransmitter dopamine increases in our brain and dopamine increases motivation and improves mood.
  6. Don’t do anything dumb. If you are married be careful about close relationships with someone of the opposite sex. Sharing your pain with someone of the opposite sex can lessen your inhibitions and unintentionally draw you into sexual activity that you will regret.

What has helped you move through loneliness?


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Neuro-diversity in Your Church: Why it Matters

Diversity in the church is big today. With greater globalization and the desire to melt racial barriers, many pastors want their churches to become ethnically diverse. Many pastors intentionally seek to create such diversity through staffing, who gets on the worship teams, and who becomes the face of the church from the stage or on their web site. I laud that desire. However, I many have unintentionally limited my definition of diversity to ethnicity or language and missed one huge area of diversity that already exists in every church: neurodiversity. What do I mean when I say neurodiversity? Simply this.

Neurodiversity means that people think and process information differently. Not everybody thinks like you or me. I think more linearly, logically, and left brained. As a result, my preaching, leading, staffing, and volunteer selection has tended to reflect my thinking style. I may have unintentionally taught and led without taking into account that God gave us all unique thinking styles. I’m much wiser now and realize that I must take into account neurodiversity when I perform these pastoral functions.

Preaching and teaching: People learn differently and thus process teaching differently depending on their tendency as left-brained or right-brained. Below, I’ve contrasted a few left brained traits on the left with right brained traits on the right (notice how linear I am).

  • Process the familiar…process the novel
  • Detailed… holistic/big picture
  • Sequential…random
  • Logical…intuitive

If you want to read a great (and long) book on left brain vs right brain, read The Master and His Emissary by Ian McGilchrist. Also, here’s a great TEDvideo on the divided brain (over a million views).

Change management: People respond differently to change. Some people’s brain make-up makes them less fearful of change, and thus able adapt to it more quickly. Others perceive change as a huge threat and they dig their heels in to oppose it. (A great article on the 5 Fears of Change here.)

Encouraging healthy followership: Some will follow you simply because you present a compelling and logical reason to follow. Others will follow only when you move them emotionally.

Teams: If everybody on your team thinks like you, you can foster groupthink, when a team gets along so well or agrees so readily that nobody challenges ideas or the status quo. As a result, you can miss opportunities or even make poor choices. Susan Cain, author of one of the best books I’ve read in the past two years, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, talks about groupthink in this great article.

Every pastor who wants to move his church forward for Kingdom purposes should certainly seek to remove ethnic barriers to allow that church to be as diverse as God intends for it to become.

However, those in your church are already significantly diverse in one significant domain, neurodiversity. As you lead, teach, and develop others, heed and adapt to their diverse thinking and mental processing styles. You’ll become a more effective Kingdom leader.

Is this a new concept for you? How can you apply it to your church setting?


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8 Ways to Make Church Change Run Smoother

In your church you’re probably trying to bring change in some way or are contemplating it. Unfortunately, change in our churches often doesn’t go well. In fact, we’re not alone. In the business world some have estimating that the majority of organizational change either fails, underperforms, or makes things worse (Cope, 2003). I imagine that church change doesn’t fare much better. However, we don’t have to become a statistic. Consider 8 these insights the next time you try to bring change to your church, ministry, or organization.

8 Ways to Make Church Change Run Smoother

  1. Incorporate a change mentality into your church culture so that people don’t see it as a threat. The more you talk about, the less scary it becomes when it happens.
  2. Include change as a component in the church’s current strategy. When you create your annual goals and strategies, include a clearly defined component of change. Do this every year. Don’t make it a sporadic communication.
  3. Regularly teach on the Biblical basis of personal change so that change is more easily embraced. When training leaders, always include some component that teaches about change. Try to build change management into key staff and volunteers as a core competency.
  4. Help key players (staff, key volunteers, and church boards) embrace a philosophy of healthy change (see above). Seek to hire staff and recruit volunteers who aren’t change averse. When you recruit others, be sure to discuss their view about change and your expectations about it.
  5. Build forward thinking into the highest levels of your leadership conversations. Help leaders think about ways they can stay ahead of the change curve in culture rather than reacting to it when it inevitably comes.
  6. Involve as many people as reasonably possible into change initiatives. Give away small to medium-sized components of change to those lower on the leadership org chart. Get ownership as much as possible.
  7. Celebrate wins, both short and long-term ones. You can’t overdo this one.
  8. Reduce internal threat levels through building healthy relationships and a brain friendly working environment. Read this article that talks about what a brain friendly environment looks like. It’s based on the latest neuroscience research, a model called SCARF, an incredibly insightful way to build team collaboration and productivity.

In my most recent book, Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry I devote an entire chapter to church change.

What has helped you create change in your church, ministry, or business?


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References:

Cope, M. (2003) The Seven Cs of Consulting [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/355030.The_Seven_Cs_of_Consulting> [Accessed 2 March 2013].

Are you a Transactional Leader or a Transformational Leader?

In a seminar I was privileged to hear Dr. James Galvin speak on leadership. He’s authored many books on the subject and has consulted with such organizations as the Willow Creek Assocation, Zondervan, and Wycliffe. He explained a concept called “The Full Range Leadership Model” which contrasts transactional leadership from transformational leadership. In this post I contrast these leadership styles. You can find a really cool visual that describes the two here.

Essentially transactional leadership is “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” At times we must lead as transactional leaders. For example, we set a ministry or organizational goal and when a staffer helps that goal get met, a reward comes. In contrast, however, we should seek to grow our leadership so that we lead more often as transformational leaders.

Based on the descriptions below, how would others describe your default leadership patterns? The first four represent transactional leaders. The last five characterize transformational leaders.

TRANSACTIONAL LEADERS:

  • I often avoid getting involved. I tend to be passive.
  • I loosely monitor what’s happening in the ministry and step in only if things go really bad.
  • I set clear goals and standards and closely monitor the staff and step in when things begin to get off track.
  • I set clear goals, provide needed support, and praise good performance.

TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERS:

  •  I listen to others and coach them to bring out their best.
  • I ask others for their thoughts and perspectives.
  • I’m genuinely positive, enthusiastic, and cast a compelling vision.
  • I often talk about shared mission, vision, and values with the team.
  • My simple presence can inspire others’ confidence.

Find a few trusted friends and ask them to share with you where they’d place you on this scale.

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Cotton Candy Sermons: Every Pastor Needs Them

The phrase “cotton candy preaching” is a derogatory term that implies that sermons lack depth. And of course no pastor wants to be considered a “cotton candy preacher.” On the other hand I’ve heard pastors say that Christians need “meat and potatoes” preaching which they define as sermons with depth. Such pastors often begin their sermons with, “Please turn in your Bibles to today’s text.” Once they read the Scripture, they’re off to the races to give a deep, theological sermon, a meat and potatoes kind. But, is that the right approach?

After spending 15-20 hours per week preparing a sermon, how do we really know if it connected with the listener?

Is the test of a good sermon simply that we delivered a deep, theological, sound talk?

Is it all about good content?

Is it up to the listener to get it and figure out how it applies to his or her life?

Or is this the true test of a great sermon: that we truly connect to the listener’s heart and mind so that the Holy Spirit changes attitudes and behaviors?

I think it’s the latter. That’s where cotton candy preaching comes in.

One of my passions is intersecting neuroscience with ministry and I’m learning how important the brain plays in persuading others to change. I wrote my last book on the subject, Brain-Savvy Leaders, the Science of Significant Ministry. You can purchase a copy here. Understanding brain insight has helped me be more OK when others have criticized my preaching, saying that my preaching did not connect with their  heart.

The old sage Aristotle helped us when he described three domains that affect persuasion (and preaching).

  1. Logos: persuasion through reasoning and logic.
  2. Pathos: persuasion by appealing to emotions.
  3. Ethos: persuasion through the force of character or personality of the speaker or writer.

People in your congregation are largely persuaded through these factors. Either reasoning or emotion moves them. I tend to be more of a thinker, so I’m persuaded more by thoughtful, reasoned sermons rather than ones that I might classify as cotton candy (more emotion based). I’ve tended to be more of a meat and potatoes preacher. But I’m in the minority because emotions persuade many more people than does logic.

Consider TV commercials. Most commercials don’t list the benefits of their products. They tell a story or evoke emotion or move the heart. Dodge Ram’s God Made a Farmer commercial with Paul Harvey beautifully illustrates how emotion moves the heart. I tear up every time I watch the commercial, yet it does not lack depth.

In the past I’ve wanted to avoid being pegged a cotton candy preacher. But I now realize that for any meat and potatoes sermon to stick, we must incorporate some cotton candy techniques, those that we may think don’t contribute much to a message’s depth.

Consider these cotton candy preaching ideas the next time you prepare and deliver a sermon.

  • Remember that because most of the people in your congregation came from hectic and difficult weeks, they aren’t in a mindset to listen to you. It’s your job to help them get ready, along with the other elements of the service.
  • During the week live a life of integrity and authenticity. Love people and spend time with them so that your ethos (force of character) works on your behalf. People must believe you are a credible person before they will believe you have a credible message.
  • Start your message with pathos (emotion) and then move to logos (logic). Use emotion, within reason, because it grabs attention. Remember, nothing is learned that is not paid attention to.
  • Use novelty. The brain loves novelty (Eide, 2006). Start, illustrate, and deliver your sermons creatively. Don’t become so predictable that people can guess what you’re going to do next.
  • Use humor. Humor makes people feel good and when they feel good they learn more.
  • Make sure you provide lots of application. Neuroscience tells us that self-referent information (that which we can apply to ourselves) is more easily learned and retained (Rogers, Kuiper, & Kirker, 1977). After all, we teach and preach so that God can take His Word to change people’s lives.
  • Keep your messages simple. Less is often more.

What cotton candy ideas have worked in your preaching?


Related posts:


Eide, D.F.A.B. (2006) Eide Neurolearning Blog: Shake Things Up – Novelty Boosts Learning. Eide Neurolearning Blog. Available from: <http://eideneurolearningblog.blogspot.com/2006/11/shake-things-up-novelty-boosts.html> [Accessed 8 June 2012].

Rogers, T. B., Kuiper, N. A., & Kirker, W. S. (1977) Self-reference and the encoding of personal information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, (35), pp. 677-688.