Are you a Sleep Deprived Pastor? Take this quiz and find out.

Ministry demands never seem to end. There’s always one more person to serve and reach.

If you’re a pastor or work in a church in any capacity, our days often don’t end at 5 pm. Meetings and emergencies can take us into the late hours. Even if nothing specific demands our attention, in our off hours our minds often ruminate about the church.

Unfortunately, this causes many pastors to be sleep deprived. In fact 1/3 of all Americans are sleep deprived. I imagine pastors exceed that percentage.

Take this quiz and discover if you’re sleep deprived. Mentally check below the statements that apply to you.

Are you a sleep deprived Pastor? Dr. Charles Stone

  • After I get up I feel tired most of the day.
  • I often hit the snooze button in the morning.
  • I wake up a lot at night.
  • I often feel mentally sluggish during the day.
  • On weekends and vacations I sleep a lot longer than I normally do to “catch up.”
  • I tend to load up on caffeine through coffee, energy drinks, or sodas to “keep me going.”
  • Within a couple of hours before I go to bed I exercise or spend a lot of time in front of my computer monitor or my iPad.

If you checked at least three, there’s a good chance you’re not getting enough sleep.

And when you don’t, your brain doesn’t work at its peak…you increase the stress hormone cortisol in your body which damages it…and you’re more likely to react and be less self controlled when under stress.

Sleep deprivation does NOT help us become more productive pastors, even though we may think that extra hour of work that we get each day from sleeping an hour less helps. This Harvard Business Review article paints a compelling tie between decreased job performance and sleep deprivation.

So why is it such a problem for pastors? I have a few hunches.

  • Perhaps we’ve over emphasized productivity. What pastor hasn’t read or memorized Proverbs 6.10.A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest — 11 and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man. (NIV)
  • Perhaps we’ve too often compared ourselves with uber-successful pastors or famous leaders and have heard how they got by on little sleep.
  • Perhaps we’ve gotten used to being sleep deprived and don’t know what it’s like to get adequate sleep.

What can we do about it?

  1. If you are sleep deprived, admit it. Admitting a problem is the first step toward victory.
  2. Realize that sleep and rest is biblical. We see this in the creation account and God’s establishing Sabbath rest as a principle. We see this in Jesus telling His disciples to pull away from ministry and rest (Matt. 6.31). And we see Jesus sleeping, even in a storm (Matt 4.38).
  3. Re-adjust your schedule to get more sleep. Get an accountability partner to hold you accountable. It may not be easy.
  4. Go to bed earlier. This is a very effective way to regain that sleep.
  5. Ask your leadership to limit evening meetings.
  6. Give yourself some grace if you are in a season with a new baby. Most babies don’t respect your need for sleep. Give it time and this will pass.

What has helped you get adequate sleep?


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Are you a Bogie or a Birdie Leader?

I must confess upfront that I don’t play golf. I’ve only played it once, unless you count dinosaur carpet golf our family often played while on vacation. However, several years ago my father-in-law tried to interest me in the sport. He gave me a set of nice used clubs. But, I never used them. Three years later he asked me how my game was going. Chagrined, I had to admit that I never played with them. He asked me to give them back to him (he really did).

Although I don’t play the game, I know a few key terms such as birdie, bogey, and par. A golfer scores a birdie when he sinks the ball in one less stroke than par. He scores a bogie when he sinks it one stroke over par.

So what do birdies and bogies have to do with leadership?

Are you a Bogie or a Birdie Leader?

They provide a compelling visual metaphor for how some leaders miss great opportunities (birdies) because they act like bogey leaders. Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed over 2.5 million putts from the top 20 golfers on the PGA tour in 2007 and made a surprising discovery.[1] Prompted by fear of a ‘bogey,’ these golfers often played it safe in tournaments. Their fear resulted in an average one-stroke loss per 72-hole tournament with a combined annual loss of $1.2 million in potential prize money. “The agony of a bogey seem(ed) to outweigh the thrill of a birdie.”[2]

This dynamic, called loss or risk aversion, occurs when fear of loss stifles our attempts at gain. As a result, that fear can cause us to miss opportunities because we lead (or golf) too conservatively. In fact, our brains seem to be wired this way. Two thirds of the cells in the fight-flight structures of our brain (the amygdala) are wired to look for potential bad news. Personal experience tells us that we tend to more easily remember bad things than good. And we more quickly form bad impressions of others than good ones. Unfortunately, some leaders give in to this tendency too easily and make leadership decisions to avoid loss instead of achieving gain.

So what can a leader do to minimize risk aversion?

I suggest what I call the 3-C approach to minimize it: counsel, certainty, and confidence.

  • Counsel: seek it. When you feel you’re about to play it safe when faced with an important decision, seek counsel from wise people. You might choose your staff, your board, a close friend, or a coach. Often input from an objective person can give us what we need to pull the trigger, or not. The writer of Proverbs encourages us to do this. Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success. (Prov 15.22, NLT)
  • Certainty: get it. Our brains love certainty.[3] We want to know what lies just around the corner. But often we have no control over the future. Every decision brings with it some uncertainty because we can’t guarantee most outcomes. In response to uncertainty, the flight-fight part of our brain secretes chemicals that prompt the fear emotion, a big de-motivator. That’s where faith must come in. Faith is essentially confidence in the One who is most certain, God Himself. To overcome this fear prompted by the uncertainty of decision-making, we must place our confidence in the one thing we can be sure of, God’s faithfulness. He’ll give us that extra boost of certainty we need to make the decision.
  • Courage: live it. Courage counters fear. It doesn’t remove it. When fear rises before a decision, perhaps it’s a sign that we’re on the right track. Mark Twain said it well when he wrote, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear. John Wayne, the venerable cowboy of cowboys offers great advice when fear prompts us to avoid a reasonable risk, “Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.”

So the next time you face a leadership decision and fear attempts to derail you, consider what you could lose if you don’t move forward and saddle up anyway. Don’t bogey your decision. Birdie it instead.

How would you describe most of the leaders you know, bogie or birdie leaders?


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[1] David G Pope and Maurice E. Schweitzer, Is Tiger Woods Loss Averse? Persistent Bias in the Face of Experience, Competition, and High Stakes (2007), http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/papers/download/101009_Pope_Schweitzer_Final_with_Names_10_2009.pdf, accessed 1/8/12.

[2] Avoiding the Agony of a ‘Bogey’: Loss Aversion in Gold—and Business, Knowledge @ Wharton, (11/11/09), http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2380, accessed 1/8/12.

[3] David Rock, “Managing with the Brain in Mind,Strategy+Business, 56, (2009), http://www.davidrock.net/files/ManagingWBrainInMind.pdf, accessed 1/9/12.

Pastor, are You Hooked on Being Right?

You’ve been wrestling with a ministry challenge and you believe you’ve found the right answer. At the next elder meeting you share your idea and one elder begins to voice opposition. Because you feel so strongly that you’re right you begin to raise your voice, talk faster, and talk over others who want to engage in the conversation. Tension escalates. Anger rises. You think, “How dare they think I’m wrong. I know I’m right.”

What happened?

And what should a leader do?

Pastor, are you hooked on being right? Dr. Charles Stone

If this has ever happened to you, a small almond shaped structure called the amygdala has hijacked your brain. Located deep inside our brains, it (there are actually two of them) causes our fight-fight-freeze-appease response to danger.

So when you felt threatened from the elder’s pushback, your emotional side took over. And when that happened, the part of our brain that helps you think clearly, respond wisely, and listen carefully, the prefrontal cortex right behind your forehead, got shut down. You reacted emotionally rather than thoughtfully. And when you got too pushy, you probably put the other elder’s brains in the same fight-fight-freeze-appease mode which increased their resistance to your idea.

Unfortunately, many pastors and leaders get stuck in this unhealthy mode. They are driven to be right, to avoid appearing wrong, or to appease others. As a result, too much of the stress hormone, cortisol, courses through their bodies and brains and puts them in a state of chronic stress. Too much cortisol over long periods of time harms our hearts, decreases our creativity and memory, and actually kills brain cells.

When that happens, what can we do?

  • Evaluate whether or not you are under chronic stress.If you often feel anxious, react easily, people-please too much, or have difficulty concentrating, your amygdala may be controlling you instead of the Holy Spirit. Your body may be telling you that you need a cortisol break. Ask a close friend or a counselor to help you determine if you’re under chronic stress. Even better, ask him if he feels like always need to be right. Of course, you may not even need anyone to tell you that. You may already know it. A good dose of self-honesty will go a long way toward healing. If you are under chronic stress, create a plan to lessen your stress.
  • Remind yourself that God is in control. When the brain experiences uncertainty, (i.e., Will the elders approve my idea?) it feels threatened. When we feel threatened, our emotional side driven by the amygdala tends to take over. Yet, God is the most certain reality in the universe and He tells us to have faith in Him. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Heb. 11.1, NIV) Even with the uncertainty that comes with leadership, we can rely on God’s steadfastness certainty and His Spirit can override our human tendency to become fearful when things seem uncertain.
  • Learn to listen more empathetically (i.e., when you present your idea to your board). Empathy, being able to step inside another’s shoes, is a key competency for successful pastors and leaders. One study even showed that empathetic doctors got sued less than non-empathetic ones (Ambady, 2002). It doesn’t mean that you don’t hold to your convictions. It does mean, however, that you try to listen with your heart. Empathy, kindness, and caring can actually help activate the trust hormone, oxytocin. When that happens, when others feel that you care and that you really listen, they will endear themselves more to you and to your leadership.

So, if you have to get hooked on something, don’t get hooked on being right about your ideas, but about being right with others and with the Lord.

What do you think? Am I on target with my thoughts?

Here’s another greatblogposting on the subject by Judith Glasser.


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References:

Ambady, N. (2002) Surgeons’ tone of voice: A clue to malpractice history. Available from: [Accessed 27 March 2013].

Brain-friendly Change: Sticky Tip 5

I’m in a 5-part blog series that gives a brain-friendly tip that you can use to make your organizational changes brain-friendly so that they stick. Today’s is Sticky Tip 5:Seed your culture with a change mentality

Brain-friendly Change: Sticky Tip 5 Dr. Charles Stone

Seed your culture with a change mentality

Change evokes fear in our emotional centers because it implies threat and the brain is wired to avoid threat and danger. However, the more familiar something becomes to us, the less threatened it will appear to us. So the more you familiarize you team with change, especially before you initiate a major one, the more likely they will receive it. How can you do that?

  • First, begin with your leadership. Incorporate a change mentality into your leadership culture so that your core team or influencers don’t see it as a threat. Regularly include conversations about change into staff meetings, retreats, and leadership training. Encourage your leaders to think about it. Make change management a core competency you expect from your staff. Hire staff and recruit key volunteers who aren’t averse to change. Seek to make the concept less foreign.
  • Second, include some aspect of change into your annual plans. Make it a core component in every planning cycle, not just when you face significant changes. Keep the conversation about change on the front burner. Help leaders think about ways to stay ahead of change rather than reacting to it when it becomes necessary.
  • Finally, if you lead a church or ministry, regularly teach about the Biblical basis of change. Share stories of great heroes of the faith who embraced change and furthered the Kingdom as a result. Abraham obeyed God and moved to a foreign land. God blessed him with a new nation. Ruth left her home, family, and nation to follow Naomi into a strange land. As a result, she became part of the lineage of Jesus. And the disciples gave up their livelihoods to follow Jesus into uncharted waters as the Apostles. They were responsible for spreading the Gospel after Jesus ascended to heaven. Stories move and motivate others to embrace change.

To summarize my last 5 posts, I’ve included the 5 brain-friendly sticky change tips below.

  1. Step into their shoes
  2. Envision the benefits
  3. Manage expectations
  4. Invite input
  5. Seed your culture with a change mentality

What would you add to this list?

What are you currently doing or what can you do to seed a change mentality into your organization’s culture?


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Brain-friendly Change: Sticky Tip 4

I’m in a 5-part blog series that gives a brain-friendly tip you can use to make your organizational changes brain-friendly so that they stick. Today’s is Sticky Tip 4:Invite input

Brain-friendly Change: Sticky Tip Dr. Charles Stone

Invite input

Creating a change buy-in plan infers that you want to help people own the change. Why should they own it? Because people don’t like being told what to do (i.e. “you need to change”). They would rather come up with their own ideas.

Within reason, provide your team significant opportunities to give input into how the change will look. Give away small components of change to those lower on the leadership org chart. Although upper management and leadership must decide the what of change, providing options and opportunity for your team to fashion the how because the brain loves freedom and autonomy. Allowing others to create components of that change helps create a feeling of autonomy.

Also, give your team real, tangible, and easy channels through which they can give you feedback about the change. Simply knowing that you are serious about listening will decrease your team’s threat response and fear about the change.

What mechanism can you set up to solicit input from your team?


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