A pastor’s life is filled with both ups and downs. Sundays can be either. Good attendance, a message well-received, and positive people can make it an up day. Low attendance, poor offerings, and critical people can make it a down day. However, in my thirty plus years of ministry whether Sunday is up or down, I’ve found that most of us pastors often face the Monday morning blues. What can we do about them? Here are six suggestions I’ve learned through through the crucible of church life.
- Remind yourself that one down Sunday does not determine destiny. Sometimes my sermon is barely a bunt. Sometimes it seems the harder I preach, the more people’s eyes glaze over. Sometimes everybody decides to take their kids to Six Flags on the same Sunday and attendance tanks. Stuff happens. But I’ve discovered that when I take the long view of ministry, those down Sundays don’t loom as large.
- Refuse to second guess. Sometimes I’m tempted to dwell on how I could have organized my sermon to make it better. Or, I wish I had not preached so long. Or, I wish I had responded more tactfully to a critic. Potentially I could rehash the entire day and beat myself up for what might have been. But I’ve learned that second guessing in that way seldom solves anything. Yet, there is value in a healthy review which leads to my next suggestion.
- Develop a learning mindset. I’ve tried to create a learning environment at our church. I encourage staff and volunteers to learn at every turn. If something doesn’t go well or fails I ask the person involved, “What did you learn?” It’s just as helpful for us to ask ourselves that same question. Objectively review a Sunday service will yield good learnings. But the purpose is key. Review not to focus on what went wrong to then ruminate and regret. Rather, state what went wrong and ask yourself what you can learn from it to make things better next time.
- Realize it’s normal to feel a bit out of sorts. Sundays are usually stress-filled days and our body turns up the stress hormone, cortisol, and the neurotransmitter, dopamine, which is involved in reward and motivation. Usually Mondays don’t offer as much stimulation so your body is adjusting back to normal levels of these chemicals. As a result, you may feel a bit blue and unmotivated. There’s probably nothing wrong with you. Give yourself a day and you’ll feel back to normal.
- Never forget that feelings and thoughts don’t really mirror reality. When we feel down and discouraged, it’s easier to believe our feelings and the commentary we add to them. I’m a …. I just can’t …. I’ll never …. Our church will never …. Stepping outside our thought stream and reminding ourselves that our feelings are not reality is easy to do, but heard to remember to do. Yet, so very necessary to keep a healthy emotional life. The next suggestion has helped me do this.
- Think about what you are thinking about. The term for this skill is called metacognition. In other words, pay attention to your inner chatter that goes on when you daydream and think about what happened on Sunday. Neuroscientists tell us that we have five times more negative networks in our brains than positive ones so we naturally dwell on the negative. Because of this they’ve discovered that a wandering mind tends to make us unhappy. So during the day when you feel blue, periodically listen in to your silent, mental commentary and change it when it turns negative.
As I’m well into my second half of life, I’m realizing that managing the Monday morning blues actually gets easier. Perhaps it’s because after so many years of mishandling them, I’ve finally learning how to deal with them. Perhaps it’s because I’m more able to keep a big picture perspective. Perhaps it’s simply a result of growing wiser. Whatever the reason, I imaging the same will hold true for you, no matter what stage of ministry you’re in.
Remember these words from the writer of Hebrews, Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.’
What has helped you deal with the Monday morning blues?
As leaders, it seems we spend an inordinate time in meetings. However, we can’t lead well without face time with others. And face time means we must meet with our teams in person. At the same time, an unproductive meeting wastes time and creates frustration. What are some common meeting killers? Consider these 11 and potential solutions for each (some very obvious).
- You do more than 25% of the talking.
- Solution: monitor how much you talk and ask others off-line if they feel like you jabber too much.
- Team members regularly jump to conclusions and make pre-mature judgments about what others say.
- Solution: train your team that great listeners seek understanding first before being understood (a famous Covey quote)
- Some people seldom speak up.
- Solution: specifically ask the quiet ones what they think about an issue.
- Team members get easily hurt and offended when their ideas aren’t received well.
- Solution: if a staffer consistently does this, talk off-line and find out what root issues are causing the touchiness.
- There is too much happy talk. Seldom do you discuss emotional and/or difficult issues.
- Solution: don’t fear difficult conversations. Encourage them. Those can provide some of your greatest leadership learnings.
- Someone interrupts to complete somebody else’s sentences when he or she is having a difficult time formulating ideas.
- Solution: if that happens, ask the person who was cut off if she felt she was able to fully share her thoughts.
- Personal stuff comes up that should have been addressed off-line and 1-1.
- Solution: set expectations annually about how you expect meetings to go. Include the importance of discussing personal issues off-line.
- Too many rabbits get chased that have nothing to do with the agenda items.
- Solution: if you lead the meeting, again, set the expectation that as the meeting leader you have the prerogative to shoot the rabbit.
- You try to accomplish too much in a meeting and as a result feel rushed.
- Solution: schedule different kinds of meetings…perhaps some need to focus on weekly tactical items while others should focus on just one or two strategic items.
- Your meetings are waaaaay too long.
- Solution: Shorten your meetings. Meetings beyond 2-2 1/2 hours are seldom productive unless you break them up with lunch, dinner, or something that isn’t mentally draining.
- You don’t start or end your meetings on time.
- Solution: start and end on time.
What meeting killers have you seen in your experience? How have you killed those killers?
In Richard Swenson’s seminal book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, he defines margin this way. Margin is the space between our load and our limits.
He says it is related to our reserves and resilience. He calls it a buffer, a place where we can recharge our batteries, and a space where we can focus on what matters most. I highly recommend the book. Unfortunately, those in ministry often lack margin. Here are 10 signs that may indicate you lack margin and 5 steps to gain more of it.
- I’m always mentally and physically exhausted.
- Small things more easily get under my skin. I can’t turn my anxious thoughts off.
- I don’t seem to have the joy for ministry I once did.
- I count down the days until my day off. Yet even on my day off I’m still anxiously thinking about ministry stuff.
- Those who love me most tell me to slow down yet I always have a comeback excuse.
- I often worry about what others think of my performance.
- I too easily take things personally.
- I find that I can’t focus as well as I once did.
- I get easily distracted and try to multi-task more often.
- My devotional times with God are mostly dry.
If a few of these are consistently true of you, you may need more margin in your life.
If that’s so, what should you do?
When I’ve found myself with little margin, it hasn’t been easy to change things, but these steps have helped.
- Admit that you life is too full and that it’s not good, pleasing to God, or healthy for you.
- Learn the art of mindfulness, being aware of and in the present moment without being harsh on yourself or worrying about what happened yesterday or fretting about what might happen tomorrow. Meditate on the words of Jesus in Matthew 6.
- Take a day off, really. Turn off your phone and don’t check email. Do something that refreshes your soul.
- Turn your mind off earlier in the day than you do now. Perhaps you need to decrease night meetings. Maybe you need to establish hard stops for those evening meetings.
- Remind your self that if you don’t take care of you, you can’t take care of others.
After all, Jesus did say something about loving yourself.
What has helped you gain better margin?
Recently I heard Malcolm Webber speak about leadership. With a PhD in organizational leadership and author of over 30 books, he understands the current leadership culture like few others I’ve heard. He leads an organization called LeaderSource and speaks to and trains leaders all around the world on the subject. As one of the brightest and most innovative leaders/leadership consultants today I had difficulty taking notes fast enough because most everything he said was worth remembering. Here are some highlights.
- Great leaders must say yes to the right things.
- Leaders must not confuse activity with results or size with success.
- Leadership development is not discipleship. A discipled leader is assumed.
- The three parts of the leadership process are:
- Identification (what John Maxwell calls Discovery)
- The biggest problem in leadership today is working with the wrong people (a paraphrase from the great missiologist, Ralph Winter)
- Jesus’ men did not sign up. They were chosen.
- Damaged leaders damage others.
- There are two fundamental, foundational issues that must be in place for prospective leaders:
- They can think. They…
- think ahead and outside normal patterns
- learn from mistakes
- remain teachable and adaptable
- think conceptually and holistically
- embrace ambiguity.
- They act. They…
- don’t wait for someone else to act
- are probably already leading somewhere
- take responsibility and initiative
- challenge the status quo
- energize others.
- When choosing leaders, keep these four ideas in mind.
- Look for people who think.
- Look for people who act.
- Look for people about whom you can observe their lives.
- Look for people who deeply depend on God.
- Potential is not performance.
What insights about leadership have helped you lead well?
Casting vision is a key role every pastor must fill. Yet sometimes corporate attitudes and unhealthy cultures can get in the way. I’ve discovered five attitudes that will stifle even the best cast vision. See if you agree.
- Consumer Christianity reflected in the attitude, What’s in it for me?
- Healthy churches realize they can’t consume their way into discipleship. Following Jesus is not all about us. Great churches rally around a unified cause centered in Jesus and move forward for the good of the whole and the glory of God even it means some people won’t get their preferred way. Good leaders will teach that flexibility and a deferential spirit are crucial ingredients for prevailing churches.
- Losing sight that the church gathers on Sundays to scatter the rest of the week.
- Leaders and churches must not lose sight that we live in a troubled world desperately in need of the Gospel. Attending church was never meant to be an end in itself.
Rather we should gather to be transformed, taught, challenged, discipled, and inspired so that we then can scatter into our respective worlds as salt and light for the Gospel.
- Risk aversion.
- Minimizing risk and maximizing safety can becomes a trait for risk averse leaders. J Oswald Chambers who authored the devotional My Utmost for His Highest wrote, “The frontiers of the kingdom of God were never advanced by men and women of caution.” Great churches can’t play it safe, huddle and cuddle, strive for safety and security, nor guarantee comfort and convenience. While not throwing caution to the wind, great leaders and churches must take bold steps of faith
- Programs and processes that trump passion and people.
- It’s easy to assume that great plans and strategies will automatically and easily reach people. They are important, but without a driving passion for God and a love for people, they are, well, only plans.
- The barrenness of busyness.
- Busy pastors often struggle with this one. I know I do with what seems to be a limitless to-do list. However, busyness can make us miss God. And it does not always translate into productivity. As Bill Hybels has famously said,”Doing the work of Christ was killing the work of Christ in me.” When that happens, our hearts become calloused and cold, we lose our leadership edge, and vision gets stifled.
What have you experienced that can stifle a God-directed vision?