The 6 Biggest Leadership Gaps Pastors Face

In my research for my most recent book on people pleasing pastors, I discovered 6 fundamental weaknesses or gaps that leaders in general and pastors in particular face in some degree. These are based on insight from a perspective on how we deal with our emotions called family systems. To which leadership gap do you tend to default?

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GAP 1: EMOTIONAL REACTIVITY (low emotional restraint)

Description: The phrase emotional reactivity self-defines itself. It’s seen in pastors who either outwardly or inwardly emotionally react to others when under stress.

Metaphor: Porcupine

Characteristics: emotional outbursts, conflict, yelling, closed body language, relational distancing, triangling, sullenness, withdrawal

Biblical character with this gap: Moses showed reactivity several times. He killed an Egyptian (Ex 2.12) when he saw him beating a Hebrew. He reactively struck a rock out of frustration with the people instead of obeying God’s command to speak to it (Num 20.11). And he threw down the first set of  the 10 Commandments when he saw the people worshipping the golden calf (Ex 21.19)

GAP 2: LACK OF I-POSITION (low convictional stance)

Description: A pastor with this gap will stand on his convictions when he senses those around him would agree with him. When pressured to change his stand, however, he often gives in.

Metaphor: Jellyfish

Characteristics: fearful to take an opposing position with church influences like big givers or elders, lack of backbone, blaming others, holding others responsible for his happiness or his failures

Biblical character with this gap: Timothy. He probably faced this gap in his leadership early in his ministry life. We see this from inferences in the Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy. Paul encouraged him to not let others look down on his youth (1 Tm 4.12). He also encouraged him to not be timid with others (2 Tm 1.7).

GAP 3: EMOTIONAL CUTOFF (low connectedness in relationally tense situations)

Description: A pastor with this gap will distance himself emotionally or physically from others when his emotional anxiety rises.

Metaphor: A box turtle that retreats into its shell when afraid

Characteristics: pouting, giving the silent treatment, physically distancing, isolation, switching churches often to avoid dealing with difficult relationships and emotions, rigid boundaries, ignoring others, stonewalling, passive aggressiveness  

Biblical character with this gap: The prodigal son and his brother. The prodigal son physically and emotionally cut himself off from his father when he left home after receiving his inheritance. After blowing his money and ending up feeding pigs, he returned home repentant. Yet when his older brother learned that their dad was throwing a ‘welcome home’ party, he emotionally cut himself off from them both by whining to his dad and then refusing to attend the party (Lk 15.11-32).

Absalom also models cutoff. After his stepbrother Amnon raped their stepsister Tamar, he emotionally cut himself off from Amnon as he plotted his murder. Two years later he murdered Amnon and then physically cut himself off from David’s presence for five years (2 Sm 13-14). Ultimately his bitter heart lead to his untimely death (2 Sm 18).

GAP 4: FUSION (low healthy independence)

Description: A pastor with this gap gets glommed and enmeshed with others because he gets overly emotionally involved with them. In a parallel way this is what happens to metals when they are melted together and they lose their individual distinctiveness. An Oscar Wilde quote captures the essence of fusion, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions. Their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”[1]

Metaphor: Suckerfish (a small fish also called a remora that attaches itself to large fish through its sucker-like organ near its mouth). Another great metaphor is the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Borg were creepy extra-terrestrials that would assimilate humans into their collective hive.

Characteristics: driven to create one big happy family, super inclusive, consensus driven, easily swayed by groupthink, herd mentality, taking responsibility for another’s reactions, sense of losing self in another, intense togetherness when anxiety rises, emotional temperature rises and falls based on the temperature of others, greases the church’s squeaky wheel

Biblical character with this gap: Aaron. Moses left him in charge when he went up on Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments from God. Yet Aaron yielded to the people’s ‘herd mentality’ who were fearful that Moses would never return because he had been gone over a month. His enmeshment with the people prompted him to make the golden calf (Ex 32.1-4).

GAP 5: OVER-FUNCTIONING

Description: The pastor who over-functions is usually an over-achiever who takes ownership and responsibility for the emotional wellbeing of others, often trying to make up for the perceived deficiency in somebody else’s functioning.

Metaphor: Female worker bees. They do almost every task in a beehive while the male bees look on, present only to mate with the queen bee. The female worker bees literally work themselves to death when flowers bloom. They usually die within five weeks. They die alone, away from the colony they exhausted their lives for.

Characteristics: very hard worker, seldom asks for help, tries too much to help, assumes increasing responsibility for others, tells others what they need to feel/think/do, does for others what they should do for themselves, often demands agreement from others, can foster learned helplessness from others, often highly approval oriented

Biblical character with this gap: Moses. I don’t mean to pick on Moses again, but he was probably guilty of over-functioning when he tried to act as judge for all the disputes from the people (Ex 18). Fortunately he heeded the advice to delegate that his father-in-law Jethro suggested. Martha would be another example evidenced in her anxiety about preparing a meal for Jesus while Mary sat at His feet (Lk 10.38-42).

GAP 6: UNDER-FUNCTIONING

Description: Pastors with a gap of under-functioning seem always to need help but never seem to change. They don’t take appropriate responsibility and often want someone else to fix them.

Metaphor: Whipped puppy

Characteristics: highly dependent on looking to others to know what to do next, unnecessarily asks for advice, often passive, ask others to do what he should do for himself, easily sucked into groupthink, gives in most of the time

Biblical character with this gap: Saul. 1 Samuel 17 describes a pointed example of this gap. It describes the story when Goliath taunted Saul and his men. Saul should have taken responsibility and fought him. Instead, he gave the responsibility to the then shepherd boy David to fight him. Saul’s passivity was one of many kinks in his armor.

 I believe every pastor struggles with at least one of these gaps. Fortunately, God promises us that by His Holy Spirit we can rely on Him and He will fill those gaps. This verse encourages me when I struggle and I hope it does you.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Pet 1.3, NIV)

In my next blog I will suggest practical pointers in overcoming each gap.

What other leadership gaps have you seen in leaders?

Taken from People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership (Inter-varsity Press, 2014, used with permission).

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[1] Oscar Wilde, De Profundis (1905).

Fasting in a Leader’s Life: the 8 Benefits

Fasting is a spiritual practice the Bible encourages. The Old Testament mentions it many times as did Jesus. We often hear and teach that fasting can help us deepen our walk with Christ, but I also believe that leaders should consider fasting to help them lead better. Taken from the book of Isaiah, fasting can bring these 8 spiritual benefits to the life of every leader.

Female hand refusing the fast food meal

The first 5 verses of Isaiah 58 describe a fast  the people had committed to. Although they seemed eager to know God more intimately, they weren’t truly eager for God. God chastised them for their false humility and in the verses that follow, I’ve gleaned from God’s response to them these 8 positive benefits that fasting offers every leader.

  1.  The Lord can use it as a tool to free you from personal weaknesses or sin areas. 
    • Isa. 58:6    “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
  2. It can help you become a more generous leader.
    • 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
  3. Jesus can bring emotional, relational, or even physical healing.
    • 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;
  4. It can help you become more aware of His protection over you as a leader.
    • …then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
  5. It can result in your seeing more answers to prayer as your prayers align more closely to God’s will.  
    • 9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
  6. You will become more confident in the dark times you face as a leader.
    • …”If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.   Your darkest hour will be like the noonday sun...
  7. It will remind you that Jesus will give you strength to lead well.
    • 11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
  8. You will see your leadership yield spiritual fruit.
    • …You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

Andrew Murray, a South African pastor/writer who wrote 240 books in the late 19th and early 20th century wrote these words.

“Fasting helps to express, deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, to sacrifice ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”

How has fasting helped your leadership?

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Leadership Margin: 6 Indicators you May Have Exceeded Yours

Almost four months ago I began serving a great church, West Park Church in London, Ontario, as their lead pastor. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my work there but recently realized I could not keep the pace I had set. I lacked what Dr. Richard A. Swenson, author of Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, calls margin. He defines margin as the “space between ourselves and our limits.” I had read the book years before, but had failed to heed its advice. Here’s what was happening in my leadership life.

To-Do List Everything Dry Erase Board Overworked Stress
  1. I left no white space in my Outlook calendar. I had packed every minute of my workday with some task or meeting, leaving no margin or white space for unexpected time demands.
  2. I was getting home late every day. I had planned to leave the office at 5.30 several days of the week to get home in time to exercise and then have dinner with my family at 6.30.  I found myself working until 6.30 or later on many of my non-meeting nights (Wednesday is the night I reserve for meetings).
  3. I felt exhausted when I got up each day, even after 8 hours of sleep.
  4. I found myself wishing  I didn’t have to go into work some mornings, although I thoroughly enjoy my work.
  5. I could not even stay awake to watch an entire episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, one of my favorite TV programs. After dinner I usually watch TV to wind down but I was so tired I couldn’t even make it half way through one episode.
  6. I began to experience mental exhaustion during my Sunday sermons, even after getting a full-night’s rest.

When I began to experience these symptoms, I knew that my leadership would soon suffer, if it hadn’t already. So what am I now doing different to bring myself back into balance? I’ve done or am working on these seven behaviors.

  1. I first had to admit that I was wrong and that what I was doing bordered on sin. .
  2. I shared my struggle with our board.
  3. I readjusted my schedule to include white space into at least two afternoons each week for unexpected issues.
  4. The elders asked me to take one full day at my home office for study, so as to minimize interruptions to my study at the office. This will increase my study efficiency.
  5. I had to give away some responsibilities. We are currently short-staffed so more ‘stuff’ now falls on my plate. I shared some of these projects with the elders and they graciously consented to deal with those issues.
  6. I increased the time I spend each morning in activities that make deposits in my soul, my quiet time and reading. I scheduled one hour each morning for this.
  7. I watched this short video where Bill Hybles explained how he replenishes his soul. He motivated me to become more serious about personal replenishment.

I still work 50 plus hours each week in the ministry and love the work, but I believe I’ve set myself on a sustainable path.

What has helped you keep healthy margins?

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8 Signs You May be an Anxious Leader

In my latest book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I combine three sources of insight, the Bible, Bowen Family Systems, and Brain research. The second ‘B,’ Bowen Family Systems, refers to insights from a psychiatrist who practiced during the 60′s-80′s, Dr. Murray Bowen. His research revealed that each of us handles our anxiety, a general word for negative emotions such as fear or worry, in different ways. He and others have applied his insight to how leaders lead. And when a leader leads as an anxious leader, he stifles his leadership effectiveness. So, what might indicate that you are an anxious leader?

Anxiety

These seven signs might indicate that your leadership is being negatively affected by how you handle your anxiety. Mentally check which ones are sometimes true of you.

  1. I can mindlessly yield to others’ opinions to avoid more anxiety.
  2. I sometimes blow up at others too easily.
  3. I tend to focus on others’ reactions and responses to me.
  4. I can be easily and quickly hurt.
  5. I often see myself as a victim.
  6. I resort to either/ or, yes/ no or black/ white thinking.
  7. I sometimes cast blame or falsely criticize others.
  8. I often entertain threats from others (for example, “I’m going to leave the church unless you . . .”).*

How many did you check? If you checked two or more, your leadership may be hindered by how you handle your anxiety.

So, if traits of an anxious leader play out in your leadership. what can you do?

Here are four simple suggestions that might help.

  1. Everyday do an emotional check in. In other words, during your devotional time each morning, check in with your emotions. Ask yourself, “What emotions am I currently feeling?” Simply being aware of them will help you moderate their influence. The term is called meta-cognition, thinking about what you are thinking about and feeling.
  2. Name the negative emotion you feel. Unlike what our culture sometimes subtly encourages us, “keep those negative emotions from leaking out,” naming your negative emotions actually quiets the emotional centers of the brain (the limbic system), thus allowing our thinking centers to take charge (the pre-frontal cortex). Healthy leaders lead from a clear mind, not from muddy emotions.
  3. Memorize scriptures that speak to anxiety. When you feel anxious, quote Scripture. The more we memorize Scripture the more our brain connections and networks actually change to reflect the truth of Scripture. It’s called neuroplasticity. Here’s one of my favorite scriptures I’ve memorized that I often quote when I feel anxious.
    • Phil. 4.6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
  4. Share your feelings with someone else who is/has faced a similar situation.  A recent study revealed that when we share anxious emotions with others facing similar issues, the emotions are moderated. So, having a network of pastors who face similar challenges as you, and sharing with them your struggles can help you deal with your own anxiety.

What have you found that helps you deal with anxiety?

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*Source: Stone, Charles (2014-01-01). People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership (Kindle Locations 2983-2987). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. Permission granted for use.

Sticky Church Vision: a 4-step Process that Works

I’ve served in churches for over 30 years and I’m still learning how to craft a sticky church vision. In my current church I just delivered our vision for 2014 after being here for only three months. That may seem quick, but I sense it will be well received. Of course, I may say something different in six months. But I believe the these four steps I incorporated this time will result in a sticky vision that will effect greater involvement, buy in, and spiritual success.

vision

First, a quick history. I served a great church in Aurora, IL from July 2004 to April 2012. For the next year and a half I then consulted with churches, trained pastors internationally and nationally, and wrote two books. One book just came out, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership. The other one to be titled The Brain Savvy Christian Leader intersects brain insight with Scriptural insight and will release in 12 months.

Then, last November I began as lead pastor at a really cool church in London, Ontario, West Park Church. The church is 50 years old, has a rich history, faces some unique challenges, is located in a fast growing area, and is blessed with a great facility.

Before I came I read extensively about how best to on-board (transition to a new job well) and created a six month learning agenda which essentially set my priorities for the first six months. Last Sunday I shared with the church our vision for 2014.

If you are new to your church or are considering a new church, I highly recommend the book The First 90 Days. It’s one of the best to help you navigate your first few months. You can also purchase an iPhone/android app that goes along with it.

Here are the four steps I took.

1. Wisely time the vision reveal.

I was a bit reluctant to share a big five year comprehensive vision. It would have been foolish to do so. Yet, it would have been equally foolish to wait until I thoroughly knew the church before casting a vision. So, after setting up multiple 1-1, group, and leadership listening sessions, I felt that I had sufficient knowledge to cast an intelligent one year vision to capture West Park’s current situation and reflect God’s plan for the church.

2. Collaborate extensively.

I received some wise counsel from a Canadian pastor the first week I arrived. I asked him for one bit of advice he’d offer me as an American pastor newly arriving in Canada. He wisely said, “Lead collaboratively. Many American pastors come here and fail because they try to lead with a heavy top down leadership style.” I took his advice and have built a close and great working relationship with our board. I have appraised them all along about what I’ve learned and have asked for permission and for their input often. That collaborative mindset has helped me craft the vision that most closely aligns with reality and resulted in good buy-in from the board.

3. Sequence who you tell.

I intentionally rolled out the communication of the vision in this order.

  1. First the board heard it and approved it. It was not new to them because they had followed my learning the entire time.
  2. Then the staff heard it. They too, weren’t surprised as I had shared my learning along the way.
  3. Then a large group of our leaders heard it at a leadership community.
  4. Then the church heard it in last week’s morning message.
  5. Finally, I’m mailing out a 90 day progress report this week which repeats the vision for those who may have missed it Sunday.

4. Maximize the visual component.

Since one third of our brains are involved in visual processing, we hired an artist to translate the vision into a clear and compelling visual format. We did and will visually reinforce the vision in several ways I’ve listed below. And, I’ve include the logos the artist designed for us here.

unuque

  1. We incorporated it into my Sunday sermon presentation on the screen.
  2. We printed a bookmark that we gave to everyone as they left.
  3. We will unveil two large banners this coming Sunday that we will hang in the auditorium.
  4. We will hang small posters of the vision in various places in the building and keep them there for the rest of the year.
  5. We will post the visuals on our web site.
  6. We will incorporate the visuals into our bulletin on a regular basis.

Although the verdict is still out, I believe these four steps will increase the chance that our vision will become reality in 2014.

What has helped you effectively cast vision?

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