6 Soul Care Essentials for Pastors

Some time back I attended a two-day retreat with Keith Meyer sponsored by the Cornerstone Pastor’s Network. Keith is a pastor and author of several books on soul care including one honored in 2010 as one of the five best books for the leader’s inner life, Whole Like Transformation: Becoming the Change Your Church Needs. Keith challenged us with several great practices to take care of our soul. Here are the top five that grabbed my attention the most.

  • Our longing for Him must supersede our love for His ministry. So often our passion for Christ gets buried in our passion for our church or ministry. When that happens we stifle that vital connection to the Vine, our true source of joy and strength.
  • We must slow down enough to go God’s speed. And what is God’s speed? The speed of love and relationships. This one really struck me. Too often in my drive to accomplish my daily goals, I move so fast that I breeze by the relational connections that Jesus most wants me make.
  • When we pay attention to God throughout the day, we’re most open to divinely arranged interruptions. One way we can become more sensitive to Him is to ‘pray our day’ and ‘pray our events.’ That is, use your calendar items and task list as cues to pray for your meeting, lunch appointment, study time, or whatever you have planned for the day. When we do this everything becomes a cue to go to Him.
  • Memorize long transformative passages like Colossians 3, John 15, and Romans 12. Sometimes we memorize single Scripture verses and use them simply as ‘pills’ to treat our daily problems. Longer passages, however, can best transform our thinking.
  • Grace is not opposed to effort but to earning. This one originally came form Dallas Willard, USC philosophy professor and writer of some of the best books on spiritual formation. One of my favorites he wrote is Renovation of the Heart,a must-read for every pastor.
  • The acronym VIM captures the non-negotiables for spiritual transformation. ‘V’ stands for vision. ‘I’ stands for intention. ‘M’ stands for means. Again, Dallas Willard was the first to suggest this process. Here’s a great article that unpacks VIM.

What practices have most helped you care for your soul?


Related Posts:

How to Keep Your Brain Sharp

Weighing a mere 2-3% of our body weight, yet requiring 20% of our body’s energy, the brain is a masterpiece of God’s creation. It grows rapidly from birth until the mid-twenties. Unfortunately, it’s downhill from there. Even though you can’t avoid getting older, you can take some simple steps to keep your brain sharp. In this post I suggest 6 simple ways to stay mentally sharp well past your twenties.

Neuroscientists have coined a phrase, cognitive reserve, to explain our brain’s resistance to its normal decline. It’s the way the brain builds resilience against the natural loss of cognitive abilities due to aging.

When one neighborhood of our brain slows down, cognitive reserve helps another neighborhood take over to compensate for the loss.

As we age, though, certain brain process inevitably occur.

  1. Our brain’s overall volume decrease 5% per decade after the age of 40.
  2. Dendrites at the end of our brain cells (think of the roots of a tree) begin to decline starting in our twenties. The more ‘bushy’ our dendrites, the better and more efficient our brain processes information.
  3. Gray matter (brain cells called neurons) begin to decline starting in our mid-20’s.
  4. The insulation (called myelin) that wraps around the tail of a neuron (called an axon) thins as we age. The thicker the myelin the faster the electrical impulses travel along the axon. And, faster is better.
  5. The receptors for the neurotransmitter chemical called dopamine decreases. This chemical plays a major role in attention, learning, and reward.

So, what can we do to build our cognitive reserve and minimize cognitive loss, especially since you will probably live longer than your parents will or did?

These five “use it our lose it” brain hygiene steps have been scientifically shown to build cognitive reserve.

  1. Learn, learn, learn. Researchers have discovered a relationship between years of education and greater cognitive reserve. You don’t need to go back to school for a PhD, though. Just be curious. Challenge your brain. Learn new things. Read challenging books, magazines, and blog posts. Although I’m 62 and have 4 degrees, I’m planning on getting another degree for the sheer pleasure of learning (and to keep my brain sharp). Check out adult education courses community colleges offer, usually at a good price. Also, many colleges (even Harvard) offer free courses online, the same ones you’d pay for.
  2. Prioritize friendships. The Bible often speaks to the value of healthy community with others. Building healthy relationships helps us deepen our walk with God, but also provides a brain benefit. Friendships keep your brain sharp, partly because when we interact with others we learn new things and see different perspectives which stretches our thinking. So, don’t be a hermit.
  3. Exercise your brain with brain games. Although a recent lawsuit against one of the brain game companies has given brain games a black eye, a recent metastudy (a study of studies) has shown significant cross-over value in some of these games. That is, playing them doesn’t just make you better at playing them, but playing them actually boosts brain power and cognitive reserve. I use BrainHQ (I don’t work for them) five days a week and these games challenge my brain in a way that nothing else does. This company was rated highest from the study I cited above.
  4. Get adequate sleep. Lots of good stuff happens when you sleep. Scientists are discovering more and more benefits from getting a good night’s sleep. So, don’t skimp on your sleep. In this post I explain three important brain benefits from sleep. One important function of sleep is that it clears out a deposit called beta amyloid that accumulates in the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease.
  5. Learn a foreign language. Learning a new language helps make more efficient use of our brains and encourages something called neuroplasticity, the ability the brain has to change itself. At one time scientists believed the brain was more like porcelain – once we reached a certain age we were stuck with what we had. However, they’ve discovered that the brain is malleable, like putty. What we do with our lives and what we put into our minds can change our brain. I’m now learning Spanish. I use a free, nifty iPhone app called Duolingo. It’s easy and lots of fun. I try to practice on our Spanish language pastor at church. I think he gets lots of laughs.
  6. Keep you devotional life strong. At the end of our chromosomes lie tiny end caps called telemeres, much like the plastic sleeves at the end of our shoe laces. Scientists have discovered a positive correlation to the length of these end caps and longevity. In studies of those who regularly mediate, their chromosomes consistently have longer telemeres. So, a daily quiet time can help keep your brain sharp.

If we take care of our brain, it will serve us well. Since the brain is part of the body, we should heed the words of the Apostle Paul.

1Cor. 6.19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (NIV)

If you are interested in how brain insight can help improve leadership, check out my most recent book, Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry. 

Related posts:

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?


Related posts:

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?


Related posts:

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?


Related posts:


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].