How to Discover Your True North Values

Every leader should be clear on his or hear true north values. Such values aren’t the essential values every believer should embrace like keeping the ten commandments, obeying the golden rule, or living out Jesus’ great command and great commission. Rather they are more nuanced ones that deep down capture the essence of the real you. These values should so infuse our souls that nothing external can cause us to compromise them. Granted, they might be aspirational, ones not yet fully developed. Nevertheless, they would describe the authentic, Christ-honoring you to which you aspire. Here’s a way to discover them.

true versus false dilemma concept compass  isolated on white bac

3 initial steps to prepare:

  1. Seek input: Ask a few close friends, co-workers, and/or family members to write their response to this question. In your experience with me, what do you see are my core strengths, passions, gifts, and competencies?
  2. Plan a personal retreat: Block out a full half-day mini-retreat in your schedule to be alone. Better yet, schedule an overnight retreat for even more time to discern your values. Bring your Bible, pen, paper, and your computer. Also, bring any personality or leadership inventories you may have taken, as well as the above feedback from your friends and family.
  3. Pray: Recruit two or three prayer partners who will pray for you as you seek God’s will about your values.

Steps for your discernment retreat:

At your discernment retreat, you’ll notice eight parts to include. If you’ve scheduled a half-day, you can plan for about 30 minutes for each part. If you’ve scheduled an overnight retreat, you’ll probably want to take an hour or so for each part. The goal for each step is to create a list of ten or less themes, words, or concepts for each category. Then you’ll combine them into your final list.

  1. Delights: Ask yourself, “What truly delights me? What do I love doing? What do I do that I enjoy so much that I seem to lose track of time when I do it?” Write down less than ten thoughts and ideas on a piece of paper.
  2. Past: Think over your past. Write down answers to these questions.
    1. When you were a kid, what was fun? Where did you get your joy? What did you like doing more than anything else? What themes do see emerging?
    2. Move now to high school and then to college and ask the same questions.
    3. Combine your themes into a list of not more than ten.
  3. Peak Performance: Think now of when you are at your best. Write down your answers to these questions.
    1. Think of peak moments in your life or career, those moments when you feel that you did your very best work or made your greatest contribution or difference. Why were those peak moments? What was true about you? What was ignited in your soul? Do you see any themes emerging?
    2. Last week when were you at your best? Why?
    3. Last month when were you at your best? Why?
    4. Last year when were you at your best? Why?
    5. Approach this from the opposite direction. When are you not at your best?
    6. List words that describe you when you were at your best in your peak moments from your exercises above. List no more than 20. Now narrow that list to no more than 10. Play with those words a while until you get colorful, descriptive words that describe you when you are at your best.
  4. Heroes: Think of those in your past or present that you’d consider your heroes.
    1. What qualities about them prompted you to put them on your list?
    2. Narrow those qualities down to less than 10.
  5. Input from others: Look at the answers to the questions you posed to your co-workers, friends, and family. Make a list of themes, less than ten, that stand out from their comments.
  6. Scripture: Write down the key scriptures or Bible characters that have meant the most to you in your life. Create a list of less than ten themes from those verses and characters.
  7. Inventories:If you brought any personality inventories, make a list of less than ten themes you see from them.
  8. Values list: Finally, look at this list of words/phrases. Circle ten or less that resonate most with you. You may start with a longer list and then pare it down to less than 10.

Creativity   Accomplishment   Accuracy   Acknowledgment   Adventure 
 Aesthetics   Authenticity   Beauty   Balance   Challenge   Collaboration   Community   Compassion   Competition   Comradeship   Connectedness   Contribution   Directness   Diversity Diligence   Elegance   Empowerment   Excellence
   Fast pace   Focus
   Forward the action   Free spirit
   Freedom to choose   Full   Fun   Growth   Harmony   Health   Honesty   Humor
  Independence   Integrity   Joy
   Knowledge   Lack of pretense   Leadership   Lightness   Nurturing   Orderliness   Participation   Partnership   Peace   Performance   Personal power   Physical challenge   Precision   Productivity   Recognition   Reflective   Risk taking   Romance   Safety   Self-Expression   Service   Sensitive   Spirituality   Success   To be known   Tradition
   Trust   Variety   Vitality   Wisdom   Zest

Combine and reduce themes to 10 or less: So by now you have eight lists of ten or less themes/words per list. You’ve done a lot of great work. Now it’s time to prayerfully begin combining the lists into one final list of ten or so words and phrases. That final list will give you a great idea about your unique true north values. Wordsmith that final list into phrases or concepts that resonate with you.

Add key scriptures if you want. Prayerfully commit to the Lord to live out these values. Ask Him to help you hone them the rest of your life.

Finally, record these in a way that will remind you to often revisit them. Print them and put them in your bible, on the refrigerator, or store them in a computer file that you review regularly.

What has helped you discover your true north values?

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Taken with permission from People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, IVP, 2014, Charles Stone.

11 Traits of a Foolish Pastor

When you think of a ‘fool’ often a humorous movie character comes to mind like the Three Stooges, Don Knotts, or Jerry Lewis. But Proverbs gives a different slant on a fool. We are to avoid them, not argue with them, or refuse to employ them. Proverbs describes fools as unwise, unteachable, proud, and blinded to their foolishness. But can pastors sometimes act like fools? I think so. Consider these 11 traits of a foolish pastor.

Making faces
  1. Foolish pastors live in a black or white world.
    Very little is gray for them.
  2. Foolish pastors think they have all the answers. Because of their education, experience, or “God’s anointing,” they believe God made them the repository of all correct answers and good ideas.
  3. Foolish pastors are blind to their own weaknesses. When someone tries to help them see their blind spots they often respond with, “Yea, but….” They seldom receive correction well. They give an excuse for everything.
  4. Foolish pastors shift blame and minimize responsibility instead of owning up to their mistakes and errors of judgment. They often defensively react.
  5. Foolish pastors take credit instead of giving credit to others. 
  6. Foolish pastors see themselves as victims… of misunderstanding from others (they just don’t know what it’s like being a pastor), a bad church situation, or a resistant board they inherited when they came to their church.
  7. Foolish pastors think they deserve special treatment like discounts at stores or deference from others because of their position.
  8. Foolish pastors resist accountability. They like to make their own loosey-goosey schedule. Since they are “always on” they justify not keeping a reasonable office schedule.
  9. On the other hand, some foolish pastors think they are at the beckoned call of everyone in the church. They take pride in being available to others 24/7. Unfortunately, their family and personal life suffers.
  10. Foolish pastors don’t see how they suck the life from others with their demands, passive aggressiveness, or whiney attitudes.
  11. Foolish pastors ultimately flame out, burn out, or compromise their morals and integrity. They simply will not last in ministry.

Fortunately, I’ve only met a few foolish pastors. One foolish pastor I knew destroyed two churches, his marriage, and sullied the reputations of the good pastors in his community (guilt by association).

Most pastors are men and women of integrity who sacrifice greatly for a call greater than themselves.

I applaud you.

I love you and hope my blogs and books encourage you.

But…if you are a foolish pastor, please turn from your foolish ways and find someone who will help you before it’s too late.

What are some other traits you’ve seen in foolish pastors?

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When you Feel Beaten Up

Life and ministry can sometimes beat you up. And when that happens, we don’t need a kick, we need a lift. Read a part of this old children’s story first published in 1922 and be encouraged. They are wise words offered by the Skin Horse to the Velveteen Rabbit taken from the book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.

small bunny soft toy withdaisy flowers, Author's work with prope

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else.

For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse.

“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

If you’re going through a tough time and feel shabby and it seems like your eyes are dropping out, remember the wise words of the Skin Horse. Once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. 

Remember, no matter how you feel, God sees you not as bruised and broken baggage, but as a beloved child of God, cherished and accepted beyond measure.

Related posts:

  • 8 Ways to Bust Leadership Discouragement
  • How to Make a Pastor’s Job Joyful

Arresting Anxiety when Spiritual Practices Fail, part 2

In my last blog post, Arresting Anxiety when Spiritual Practices Fail, part 1, I shared an insight that helped me deal with anxious thoughts and emotions when spiritual practices like prayer and fasting didn’t seem to work. I realized that when I prayed for God to take away my anxiety, I was often asking God to do a miracle, to suspend his created laws of nature. I came to realize that often He wanted me to respect His natural created order (i.e., my anxiety may be due to me not taking care of my body). I had to be OK if He chose to work in ways other than a miracle. In today’s post, part 2, I share a simple A-B-C process that God has used to give me greater internal peace.

anxiety cartoon

In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul intuitively understood how our internal world works long before we knew anything about hormones or neurotransmitters that profoundly affect our emotional life.

In verse 6 he commands us do not be anxious about anything, something easier said than done. In the verses that follow, he tells how we can turn down our anxious thoughts and emotions.

Here’s the simple outline that verses 6-9 suggest.

Don’t fret.  

Instead, re-direct your…

Attention

Brain/thoughts

Conduct

Redirect your attention.

He says in verse 6 that instead of fretting and worrying, we should redirect our attention…

from the problem (do not be anxious): whatever is the source of your anxiety

by prayer (by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present yours requests to God): to the Lord, who is the problem solver.

“Prayer consists of attention,” and “the quality of the attention counts for much in the quality of the prayer.” [Laird, Martin (2011-06-29). A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation (Kindle Locations 232-233). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition]

for peace (and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and mind)

We must do this because often we get caught in an infinite thought stream and these thoughts and feelings become our identity because we have reinforced them through rehearsing them and ruminating over them. It’s like a video constantly playing in our minds that we can’t seem to pause. These thoughts can actually become the themes in our mind… I’m ugly, fat, skinny, she hates me, life is hopeless, my church will never grow, I can’t do anything, they are talking about me, my preaching does not connect with others, etc.

When we constantly rehearse these anxious thought and emotions, our brain actually rewires itself. It’s called neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to rezone itself. Those themes become rivers of neuronal networks in our brain and form much like how a river forms. A river starts as a small stream but the more water that flows into it, the deeper the channel the water creates and the wider its banks grow until it becomes a river.

The only way to divert the river’s flow is by starting another small channel that comes off the river. Over time the new stream digs a deep channel and widens its banks until it becomes the main river and the former river becomes a stream.

Our brains work in a similar manner. When we re-direct our attention, our brain creates new networks that reflect more healthy thinking. And as we continue to redirect our attention from the problem to the Problem Solver, we create new networks that diminish the power of those anxious ones (make that river smaller). As we do that, God sets His peace like a sentry over our minds and hearts.

The key is to keep redirecting, even when the anxiety comes back. Repeatedly redirecting our attention is crucial. The re-zoning process takes time.

Redirect our brain/thoughts.

Next Paul speaks directly about our thinking.

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.

When he writes, think about such things, he means a deliberate, prolonged contemplation. Intention is crucial… to deliberately choose to think a different way. And to do that we must be aware of what we are thinking about. This is easy to do, but hard to remember to do. Often our inner mental chatter goes on and on without our conscious awareness. Our minds are often stuck on autopilot.

Yet, as we repeatedly redirect our thoughts/brain to such things, God will create a new river of truth and joy and peace in our minds. He will transform our minds (Romans 12.2).

Martin Laird gives one of the most helpful metaphors about our anxious thoughts and emotions, weather around a mountain.

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. (Ps 125.1)

Mt Zion symbolizes God’s power, blessing, and protection. So, when we trust in the Lord and redirect our thinking and our attention, we are like a mountain and how it responds to weather.

A mountain has weather around it all the time. The mountain does not become the weather. It simple observes it. In Christ we are like that mountain with all kinds of external and internal weather around us. Now we may prefer certain kinds of weather, but we are not the weather.

Your anxious thoughts and emotions are not you. They are simply the weather.

The marvelous world of thoughts, sensation, emotions, and inspiration, the spectacular world of creation around us, are all patterns of stunning weather on the holy mountain of God. But we are not the weather. We are the mountain. Weather is happening—delightful sunshine, dull sky, or destructive storm—this is undeniable. But if we think we are the weather happening on Mount Zion (and most of us do precisely this with our attention riveted to the video), then the fundamental truth of our union with God remains obscured … When the mind is brought to stillness (what Paul calls thinking on these things) we see that we are the mountain and not the changing patterns of weather appearing on the mountain. [Laird, Martin (2006-06-07). Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation (Kindle Locations 287-293). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition]

So, paying attention to our thoughts is essential to spiritual and emotional well being.

Without paying attention to our thinking, we become captive to the changing weather patterns of our lives, our emotions, moods, thoughts, experiences, anything, everything that we have little awareness of, this constant chatter. These thoughts can blind us and victimize us. We can let them become us, or convince ourselves that they are us when in reality they are just the weather in our minds.

We must see our thoughts and emotions like weather and remind ourselves that we are hidden in Christ in God… our rock, our fortress, our sure foundation. We are like Mt Zion.

As Mark Twain once said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

 Re-direct our conduct.

The Apostle Paul then writes in verse 9, Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me put it into practice.

Ultimately, as we pay attention to and redirect our thinking from anxious thinking to that which is good and wholesome, we will develop Godly character and virtues which will show up in conduct.

So, the next time anxiety strikes, heed the counsel of the Apostle Paul.

Don’t fret. Instead, re-direct your…

Attention

Brain/thoughts

Conduct

What has helped you deal with anxious thoughts and emotions?

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Arresting Anxiety when Spiritual Practices Fail, Part 1

The Apostle Paul commands this in Philippians 4.6, Do not be anxious about anything. Unfortunately, that’s easier said that done. Anxiety, an inner mental and emotional state, often feels like we’re being pulled in a zillion different directions in our soul and in our mind. Anger and regret about the past and fear and uncertainty about the future breed it. An old English word for it captures its essence: strangulation. Anxious thoughts and emotions often seem like a incessant video playing its strangulating messages over and over and over in our minds with seemingly no way to press ‘Pause.’ What do we do when we can’t turn it off? I think I may have stumbled upon how.

Anxiety

For years I struggled with turning off the anxious worry video replaying in my mind. I tried every spiritual practice in the book: prayer, Bible reading, Scripture memory, fasting, confession, spiritual warfare, and even more of the same. But often the anxiety still remained. I wondered…

  • What’s wrong with me?
  • Do I have some hidden sin?
  • Is God punishing me?
  • Am I not doing the spiritual disciplines right?
  • Has anxiety hopelessly trapped me forever?

I struggled with it until I learned this insight that is slowly changing my life: I had subtly missed how God usually works.

First, I believe that all truth is God’s truth, including science and the laws of nature that He Himself created, whether those laws be gravity, electromagnetism, physics, or the biology of how our bodies and brains work.

What I realized, however, as I unsuccessfully dealt with my anxious thoughts and emotions through increased spiritual practices, was this:  Often I expected God to bypass his own created laws of the universe about how my body and brain works when I prayed/fasted/quoted Scripture/etc. for relief. I realized that I was asking God to suspend his created laws of nature. And what do we call it when God suspends the laws of nature? A miracle. I was often asking (or demanding) God to give me a miracle to end my incessant and distracting anxious thoughts and feelings.

I do believe God works miracles. But He more often works through His designed nature of things.

For example, I have no problem NOT praying for God to miraculously transport me to work from my home without driving, à la a Star Trek transporter. Most of us never ask God for something like that. Yet, when I asked God to relieve my body of its anxiety, I was actually asking him to bypass how He created my body and brain to work.

Consider this example.

Let’s say my annual review is coming up soon and for the next two months I incessantly worry about, rehearse all the worst case scenarios, and daily ruminate about how bad my review will be. The result is that the fight-flight part of my brain, the amygdala, sensing threat, signals my adrenal gland to release the stress hormone cortisol. For short periods of stress and danger cortisol is a good thing for our survival and response to danger. After danger passes, however, it will settle back to a healthy blood level. However, since I’m continually worrying for two months, my body has become stuck on an high level of cortisol and other blood and brain stress chemicals. And in those cases it takes days or weeks for those levels to drop to a healthy level. Only when those levels come down will the feeling of anxiety go away.

Yet, as I pray for God to make the anxiety go away and plead for Him to give me peace, will He do the following?

“Ah, Charles, I hear your prayers and see your predicament. I will answer your prayer. I choose to suspend my established laws about the biology of your body and brain and give you an instant miracle of no anxiety. I immediately eliminate all the cortisol that has built up for the past two months. I now force your amygdala to go off-line. I fill the thinking center of your brain, your pre-frontal cortex, with positive thoughts about your meeting with your boss. Additionally, I now force your mid-brain to produce an extra boost of the feel good neurotransmitter dopamine and flood your nucleus accumbens, your brain’s pleasure center, with that chemical to make you feel perfectly at peace.”

And poof! I feel great. No more worry. No more fear. No more anxiety. At perfect peace.

Were God to do that, bypass His created laws of biology by instantly lowering those chemicals to remove my anxiety, we’d call it a miracle, on the order of transporting me to work through the Star Trek transporter (well, maybe not that extreme). God could have done it that way. But most of the time He will not suspend the laws He Himself created that work in our bodies and our brains. He often works through His established natural order.

In order to get relief, I had often subconsciously prayed for a miracle. Yet, I’m learning that every answer to prayer does not have to circumvent His natural laws to make it a God thing. 

When I prayed for relief from these emotions, I was not taking into consideration that God may have simply wanted me to respect his biological laws of nature and slowly change my thought life in response to whatever was fueling my anxiety. And by doing so, He would gradually bring down those unhealthy chemical levels, thus reducing my anxiety.

I’m learning that debilitating, difficult, and even pesky emotions may not actually have spiritual roots or direct spiritual solutions (i.e. just pray more and have more faith). Rather, they may lie in a lack of understanding of, a lack of cooperation with, and a lack of respecting how God designed our bodies and brains.

God made hormones that flow through our blood stream and neurotransmitters that traffic in our brain. Both profoundly affect our emotional and mental well being. And our thought lives affect how much they flow in our bodies and brains.

So, as I began to learn this insight a few years ago I began a quest to understand how our brains impact our walk with God, life in general, and leadership. I even have a book coming out next year on this subject that shares my journey, Brain-Savvy Leadership: the Science of Significant Ministry.

When the Apostle Paul commands us to not be anxious, what he says following that statement indicates His intuitive understanding how God designed our bodies and brains, far before science had any idea.

In my next post this week I explain a simple A-B-C process that is helping me more consistently press the ‘Pause’ button on my anxious mental videos.

Do you agree that sometimes spiritual practices won’t give us emotional peace? Why or why not?

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