11 Ways to Use Email to Make Things Worse

Email has become endemic to our culture. Without it, it would be difficult to communicate as much as it seems that ministry and the marketplace require. I receive scores of emails every day and I know some pastors and leaders who get over 100. YIKES! It can be a useful tool if used correctly. But it can also be a deadly tool if used poorly. If you want to make matters worse with people you know or within your organization or church, these 12 practices will definitely get the results you want.

AT symbol on a black bomb.
  1. When you are emotionally charged about something or someone, fire off your email right then. Make sure you are honest in what you say. Share your true feelings. Remember, honesty is the best policy.
  2. If you want to add emotion to your email to emphasize your point, WRITE YOUR EMAIL IN ALL CAPS. IT IS THE BEST WAY TO MIMIC A REAL SCREAM, ONLY YOU ARE USING PIXELS.
  3. To further make a point, use an exclamation point! Even better, use lots of them!!!!!!!!!
  4. Never, never, never let someone objective read a difficult email before you send it. Remember, honesty is the best policy and you would not want anyone to edit out your honesty.
  5. It’s best to send email in sticky situations rather than calling someone or meeting them face to face. That way, you save precious time at the moment, even though your email may be misunderstood. If it’s misunderstood, it’s the recipient’s fault.
  6. Always assume that people who read your emails will perfectly understand what you intended to say. After all, it is in black and white.
  7. Make sure that your emails are long enough so that the reader has to scroll down to read the entire email. After all, you took the time to write it. The other person should take the time to read it.
  8. When you need something, don’t write “please” in the email or the reader may think you don’t mean business. Just demand it.
  9. When you get an email sent to several people, use “reply all” so that everybody gets to read your email.
  10. If someone does not respond back to your email in a timely manner, assume that they are a slovenly slob. Never assume that the email could have gotten blocked, accidentally sent to the junk file, or inadvertently trashed.
  11. Don’t believe the email golden rule: Type unto others what you would have them type unto you.

What email practices have you discovered that makes matters worse?

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12 Brainstorming Ideas that WILL Improve Team Creativity

Brainstorming can often improve creativity when you need many possible ideas. Consider these 12 suggestions the next time your team needs to generate solutions to a problem.

brainstorming concept
  1. Encourage debate, dissent, and healthy criticism of ideas. Healthy debate has shown to produce more ideas than the traditional, “don’t criticize any idea” mentality (Nemeth et al., 2004).  Set these rules beforehand, though, to keep the debate healthy and the ideas coming.
    • Don’t personally attack people.
    • Use such phrases like, “I have a different view,” “I see things differently,” or “What about this?”
    • Reiterate the other’s person’s viewpoint before offering your own.
    • Clarify the other person’s viewpoint first.
  2. Keep your creative teams diverse. Include new people and women and men.
  3. Make sure the brainstorming leader is affirming and not overbearing and that he doesn’t unintentionally drive his personal agenda.
  4. Create spaces in your office area that encourage frequent and spontaneous interactions.
  5. Don’t allow one person to dominate brainstorming sessions. Sometimes a ‘know-it-all’ can shut down creativity.
  6. Be observant of something called ‘social loafing,’ our tendency to feel less responsible for a project in a group than when doing a project alone. Some on your team may sit back and let the rest of the team generate the ideas. Guard against that. Studies with a rope tug-of-war showed that blindfolded people who believed they were pulling a rope alone pulled 18% harder than those who thought they were on a team (Karau & Hart, 1998). However, the more cohesive the group, the less social loafing.
  7. When beginning a creative session, the leader should acknowledge that everyone is on equal footing and that she wants everyone to feel that they can contribute.
  8. Before your brainstorming session, ask the team members to generate ideas on their own and to submit them in writing before the session.
  9. Be wary of too much group harmony in creative sessions. Artificial harmony that fosters a ‘too nice’ atmosphere can stifle appraisal of alternatives.
  10. When trying to solve a problem in a brainstorming session, challenge the group to present counterintuitive solutions (i.e., what’s obviously not the solution to the problem). This approach can foster even more creativity.
  11. Provide an incubation period to let ideas simmer. If you give the team a brain break and encourage daydreaming, when they come back to the problem, solutions often arise (Sio & Ormerod, 2009). Sometimes ideas come to us while doing something moderately taxing and daydreaming at the same time (i.e., taking a shower or walking on a treadmill). It’s called unconscious thought theory, UTT, (Dijksterhuis & Nordgren, 2006) that proposes that solutions to complex problems often come when we are intentionally not trying to solve them.
  12. When trying to solve problems, encourage your team to imagine themselves a year from now instead of imagining themselves tomorrow. Studies show that this time perspective fosters more creativity (Förster et al., 2004).

What has helped your brainstorming sessions be more productive?

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Reference notes

  • Nemeth, C.J., Personnaz, B., Personnaz, M. & Goncalo, J.A. (2004) The liberating role of conflict in group creativity: A study in two countries. European Journal of Social Psychology, 34 (4), pp.365–374.
  • Karau, S.J. & Hart, J.W. (1998) Group cohesiveness and social loafing: Effects of a social interaction manipulation on individual motivation within groups. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 2 (3), pp.185–191.
  • Sio, U.N. & Ormerod, T.C. (2009) Does incubation enhance problem solving? A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 135 (1), pp.94–120.
  • Dijksterhuis, A. & Nordgren, L.F. (2006) A Theory of Unconscious Thought. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1 (2), pp.95–109.
  • Förster, J., Friedman, R.S. & Liberman, N. (2004) Temporal Construal Effects on Abstract and Concrete Thinking: Consequences for Insight and Creative Cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87 (2), pp.177–189.

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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