6 Ways to Add Interest to your Leadership Training Meetings

There are good meetings and there are bad meetings. I’ve been in and led both kinds. I once attended a webinar lecture that was definitely a ‘good’ meeting. The facilitator used a technique that leaders can use to increase attention and retention in their leadership training meetings. Here’s what she did in that training meeting that you can try to improve yours.

First, some background about my state of mind as the meeting began. Drowsy from a poor night’s sleep and in a brain fog because of too many carbs for lunch, I forced myself to log in for my class. Had I been given a choice, I would have taken a nap instead. My attention level was low. However, the professor used several simple techniques to rouse my attention. As a result, I learned a lot from the lecture.

On one power point slide she printed a single URL. She cued up the slide in this way. She said we were about to do an exercise that required us to focus for 30 seconds on people in the video who wore white shirts and were throwing a ball to each other. We were to count the number of times they passed the ball. She also commented that most people’s attention span lasts only 12 seconds.

Immediately part of my brain alerted other parts to pay attention because something was about to happen. These internal dynamics helped elevate my attention with a shot of norepinephrine, a brain chemical related to adrenalin. In this 30 second exercise she literally used 6 techniques that woke me and helped me learn better.

  1. Curiosity: The exercise woke up the part of my brain that is drawn to novelty. Novel things get our attention more easily than common things.
  2. Challenge: I was drawn into the lecture by the prospect of competition with others and with myself. I now wanted to learn.
  3. Motivation: The 12-second rule motivated me. I thought to myself, I know I can pay attention longer than that.
  4. Relevance: Related to the challenge, not only was I good with numbers but the exercise was relevant to the current topic about attention.
  5. Anticipation: In anticipation I sat up in my chair, opened my eyes wider, and felt my heart rate elevate.
  6. Satisfaction: After the exercise, I felt good because I had beaten the odds and gotten the right answer. This good feeling was due to the increase of another neurotransmitter, dopamine, which makes us feel good when it enters our brain’s pleasure center.

The next time you schedule a leadership meeting, try to use several of these simple techniques to increase attention and thus improve learning.

What techniques have you tried that have helped enhance your leadership meetings?

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Are you a Mary or a Martha Leader? Take this Quiz to Find Out

One of the most famous stories in the Bible describes Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. The story contrasts two kinds of living and leading: one a frenzied, driven style shown by Martha and the other a reflective style seen in Mary whom Jesus commended. In this post I include a personal inventory a leader can take to discover his or her leadership style.

Greg McKeown who authored the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less captures Mary’s style with his definition of what he calls an essentialist.

“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless (p. 7).”

I’ve included Luke’s account of Jesus’ visit below and follow it with a 10 statement self-assessment you can take to discover which of the two styles your leadership is most like. I’ve based the assessment from insights I drew from the story.

Luke 10:38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Martha or Mary Leadership Style Inventory

As you take the assessment, grade yourself in this way.

  • If the statement is never true of you, give yourself a ‘0.’
  • If it’s sometimes true of you, give yourself a ‘1.’
  • If it’s often true of you, give yourself a ‘2.’
  1. The urgent often crowds out the important. 
    • Martha’s busyness in the kitchen caused her to miss what was most important.
  1. Projects often take precedence over people. 
    • Martha’s project and busyness to make a meal trumped being present with Jesus. Author and pastor Chuck Swindoll writes, “Busyness rapes relationships. It substitutes shallow frenzy for deep friendship. It promises satisfying dreams, but delivers hollow nightmares. It feeds the ego, but starves the inner man. It fills the calendar, but fractures the family. It cultivates a program, but plows under priorities. (Killing Giants, Pulling Thorns, p. 79)
  1. Everything has to be done perfectly.
    • A simple meal would have sufficed for Jesus, but not for Martha.
  1. You feel a nagging feeling of oughtness.
    • Martha had to attend to the details that had to be made.
  1. You often show insensitivity and impatience toward other people.
    • Martha yelled at Jesus for not sending Mary into the kitchen to help.
  1. You feel resentment about others who aren’t as driven.
    • The story reveals Martha’s resentment toward Mary’s lack of helping her prepare the meal.
  1. You convey a demanding spirit with others.
    • Martha demanded that Jesus tell Mary to help.
  1. You have difficulty concentrating on one thing at a time.
    • The scripture uses the word worried to describe an agitated state of mind which certainly inhibited her ability to concentrate and focus.
  1. Delays easily frustrate you.
    • Ditto what I’ve written above about Martha’s response.
  1. You often experience sunset fatigue.
    • This term sunset fatigue comes from John Ortberg. He describes it as coming to the end of your day with no energy for important things like being present for your family. Martha must have been exhausted after Jesus’ visit, not because of Jesus’ presence, but because of her misplaced priorities.

How did you do? Here’s the scoring key.

  • If you scored 0-3, you’re in good shape.
  • If you scored 4-6, take 2 baby aspirin.
  • If you scored 7-12, take 2 extra strength Tylenol.
  • If you scored 12-20, you might need Valium.

If you found yourself more like Martha than Mary, consider three ways to counter a Martha driven leadership style.

  1. Slow down your pace of leadership. Once when the pace got too frenetic, Jesus told his disciples to get away to a quiet place and rest (Mark 6.31). Slowing down involves not just slowing our physical pace, but our mental pace as well.
  2. Reflect more often to discover what is most essential. Martha was in such a rush that she failed to reflect upon what was most important at that very moment, being with Jesus. Jesus preferred her company over her service at that moment. Life will not automatically arrange itself into the correct priorities. We must regularly stop to reflect so we don’t miss what’s most important.
    • McKeown tells a story in his book that illustrates this idea. He tells about a man whose three-year-old daughter died. In his grief the dad put together a video of her short life. But as he went through all of his home videos he realized something was missing. He had taken video of every outing they had gone on and every trip they had taken. He had lots of footage. That wasn’t the problem. He then realized that while he had plenty of footage of the places they had gone— the sights they had seen, the views they had enjoyed, the meals they had eaten, and the landmarks they had visited— he had almost no close-up footage of his daughter herself. He had been so busy recording the surroundings he had failed to record what was essential (p. 236).

  1. Put first things first. Jesus told Martha that “One thing is needed.” Sometimes we simply must narrow our choices to put first things first. The word priority kept its singular focus until the 1900’s when we pluralized the term. We often need to step back from the pace of life and leadership to make sure we have prioritized what is truly most important, keeping ourselves moored to Jesus as we lead.

As Jesus said, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What has helped you become more of a Mary leader?

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Generosity and the Brain

I believe my leadership calling is to bring insight about the incredible gift from God called the brain into conversations about Christian leadership. So, many of my blog posts reflect this bent from my current learning. Since we’re to honor God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6.20) and the brain is part of our body, we need to honor God with our brains. In this post I explain two significant processes in our brains that influence generosity: the sense of reward we personally experience when we give and the empathy we feel toward the recipient of our gifts.

I grew up in the church and I tithed even before I was a Christian. I go beyond a tithe because the bible says I’m supposed to be generous. We certainly must preach and teach about generosity, but we also must recognize how people make decisions. Emotions are a vital part of our decision making. In fact, neuroscientists are discovering that people whose emotional centers of their brains are damaged (called lesions) can’t make wise decisions. Often they lack discretion because they can’t emotionally connect that a decision could bring a bad outcome. So, it makes sense that we pastors have some sense of how the brain works.

I’d like to think that Christians give solely from obedience, not on the basis of a reward they will get. They don’t. People give partially because it makes them feel good and gives them a sense of satisfaction. I believe that in many cases, such giving is biblically justified because the bible often speaks about serving God for reward. In fact, when people give, it increases a neurotransmitter in their brains, dopamine, that makes them feel good.

Secondly, neuroscientists have discovered that a key component that increases giving lies in the degree the giver empathizes with the recipient of the gift. If their hearts are touched and they feel empathetically drawn to the need, they usually give more frequently and more generously.

So, in light of what we know about the brain and generosity, I suggest four simple ideas to incorporate into your stewardship plans.

  1. Put a tangible face on giving to increase empathy. Certainly provide budgets, but translate those dollar figures into tangible, heartfelt needs. For example, I’ve sometimes explained that giving helps us do even the small things like buying pampers for the nursery.
  2. Tell stories to connect with people’s hearts (empathy). When I’ve promoted giving we’ve often told stories how their giving has changed someone’s life.
  3. Regularly report financial status to build trust. Trust builds favor and connects with the brain’s sense of fairness. Use clear, concise, and frequent reporting to keep people in the know.
  4. Appeal to personal satisfaction to connect with the reward motivation. Share biblical stories that model how when bible characters gave sacrificially, they experienced personal pleasure and the pleasure of God.

God gave us the incredible gift of our brains. He’s also given us smart people who sit around in laboratories peering into people’s brains with brain scanners to explain how they work. We need to stay teachable and to learn more about his magnificent creation called the brain. If you are a geek, you can read the report I’ve referenced below.

How about you? What insights have you learned that have encouraged people to give more generously?


Hare, T., Camerer, C., Knoepfle, D., O’Doherty, J. & Rangel, A. (2012) Value Computations in Ventral Medial PFC during Charitable Decision Making Incorporate Input from Regions Involved in Social Cognition. The Journal of Neuroscience, 30 (2), pp.583-590.


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Pastors Who Make $25 a Month: What I Learned about Leadership from them

I just returned from a trip to Cuba with a team of 8 from our church. We spent 7 days serving pastors and serving a local church there. It was an incredibly profitable trip on multiple levels. Although we came to serve them, I believe I learned more from them. Cuba is a very poor country with wages averaging about $25 US,  including pastoral salaries. Here’s what I learned about leadership.

First, a bit about what we did. The pastors there tell us that their greatest need is leadership development. So, we focused on working with their leadership and providing leadership development for them.

  • Working alongside a local church’s children’s leadership team to carry out a community VBS. We didn’t lead it. We simply helped train and resource them so they could lead it. This experience gave them ideas about how they could lead one themselves in the future without our help.
  • Visiting churches for three half-day training sessions for local pastors. To reach one church, we actually walked up a mountain for three miles after our truck got stuck in a river. 30 pastors and church leaders were waiting for us to encourage and train them. At the other two locations 30-40 pastors eagerly awaited our time with them.
  • Training a group of about 80 pastors and leaders in an intensive 3-day training session focusing on leadership skills.
  • Working with the men’s leadership at a local church to carry out a men’s retreat that included 25 believers and 25 unbelievers. 23 of those man came to faith during the retreat. Amazing.

By focusing on leadership development, we leveraged our short time there by pouring into the pastors themselves. All together, we served about 150 pastors that represented conservatively over 8,000 people in their churches.

Here’s what I learned.

  • Where there is a will there is a way.
    • You won’t find Wal-marts or Christian bookstores in Cuba. Neither do Cubans enjoy the convenience of Amazon.com. Few stores are available for simple supplies that we often take for granted (like crayons for the kid’s ministry). But the pastors there find ways to make do with what they have and God has blessed them. The churches are rapidly growing and they have a vision to plant a new church for every 1000 people.
    • Question  for reflection: Do you let obstacles hinder your vision or do you find a way?
  • Limited resources made them appreciate even the small things.
    • As part of the intense 3-day training, the pastors took a final exam and created a 90-day action plan where they recorded what they would apply during the next 90 days. I brought a few extra single sheet paper copies that I offered to them if they wanted them. They quickly snatched them up because even finding paper is difficult in Cuba. A simple piece of paper, even with copy already on it would get used in some way.
    • Question for reflection: Have you lost appreciation for the small things God has provided for your ministry (like internet access, bible resources, and paper)?
  • Ministry success really does rise and fall on leadership.
    • The church in Cuba has dramatically grown the last decade or so. The denomination we worked with has prioritized a well-organized leadership development plan that includes a seminary, extension sites, in-church computer labs with bible software, and on-going training through intense seminars like the one I taught. They recognize that leadership is a powerful lever to move Kingdom purposes forward.
    • Question for reflection: Do you have a leadership development plan at your church?
  • I’m not sure I really know what sacrifice is.
    • This is my second trip serving pastors in Cuba. I used to think that since I’m an American serving in Canada I was making a great sacrifice for the Kingdom. After spending time with Cuban pastors, however, my ‘sacrifice’ pales into insignificance. The pastors at the 3-day intensive slept in non-airconditioned rooms with little air flow. Yet, they were alert and hungry to learn each day.
    • Question for reflection: Do you ever feel sorry for yourself that ministry is a ‘sacrifice’ rather than a privilege?

As our church considers making ministry to Cuba a permanent part of our focus, I look forward to continuing to learn from a passionate group of leaders who love Jesus in difficult circumstances.

If you have experienced cross-cultural ministry, what have you learned?

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The ADHD Church: 8 Signs You May be Leading One

Every parent knows a child who has ADHD. My son, Josh, was diagnosed with it when he was in elementary school. He couldn’t pay attention or stay focused. And he couldn’t quit talking in class. Today we joke that he spent more time in the hallway than in the classroom because the teachers kept sending him there to keep him quiet. Neuroscientists believe that an imbalance of brain chemistry in the brain’s pleasure center contributes to the inability to sit still, listen for any length of time, or delay immediate gratification.

Some churches, too, are afflicted with traits similar to someone with ADHD. What does an ADHD church look like?

I’ve listed 8 qualities that characterize one.

  1. Leaders quickly embrace the latest church growth fad they learned at their last church conference.
  2. Leaders look for the next church “killer app” they believe will take their church to the next level. A leader once told me he was looking for such a “killer app.”
  3. Subtle expectations for each Sunday service to out-shine, out-excite and out-spirit the prior service.
  4. A flavor-of-the-month mentality that results in constant change to its vision, focus, and programs; an inability to stay the course for any length of time.
  5. People who silently compare their pastor to uber-successful, charismatic pastors in large churches.
  6. A church with a history of either short pastorates or a history of pastors terminated for various reasons.
  7. The expectation from people is, “what did I get out of today’s service,” versus “what did I add to the service.” In other words, ADHD churches are filled with people who subconsciously believe, “It’s all about me.”
  8. Parents who expect a perpetual whiz-bang youth ministry.

I don’t mean to appear cynical, but our consumer-focused society has influenced our church culture. Many expect their churches to immediately entertain and gratify, rather than challenge to holiness and discipleship. Sometimes we leaders have fostered this consumer mentality. Sometimes it’s simply a result of our culture’s influence.

I plan to write a future blog on how we can counter ADHD in our churches. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What have you discovered that has helped your church become less of an ADHD church?


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