The iPhone App that Improved my Ability to Concentrate

One of the most precious commodities a pastor has is time. Ministry always beckons us to do more than time permits. I once heard a researcher state that most people have 35 hours of unfinished work ahead of them. However, if we use the time we have most effectively, we’ll become more fruitful for the Kingdom. This app has helps me concentrate better which has improved my time management.


Preparing sermons, at least for senior pastors, is one of the most time consuming Kingdom commitments. Although I don’t preach every week, I still must prepare over 40 original messages each year. Each week I study 15-20 hours to prepare one sermon. That’s a good chunk of my week which requires concentration.

Some time back I purchased a $2.99 iPhone app that has proved invaluable to help me concentrate when I study. When I fully concentrate, I make much more progress than when my mind gets distracted.

That app, Ambiance, is a simple collection of natural (and man-made) sounds that I play on my iPhone through my headphones. They call it an “environment enhancer.” In case you are wondering, I don’t make money on the sale of this app and I’m not connected in any way to the company.

The standard iPhone earbuds work ok, but I purchased a pair of noise canceling headphones (Audio Technica) that block out most ambient noise. You can purchase more expensive ones, but this set works great for me. This would make a great Christmas present. They’re not Bose, but a third the price.

So when I study, I plug in, play a repetitive waterfall or beach sound, and become totally oblivious to the people and sounds around me. My ability to concentrate skyrockets. Science confirms that white noise helps us concentrate.

As Paul the Apostle wrote in Ephesians 5.16, … make every minute count. (CEV)

This simple $2.99 purchase has helped me put that command into practice.

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How to Deal with Ministry Pain

We all carry baggage not only from our family of origin, but also from our previous ministry experiences. For some, that baggage may feel like a light daypack. For others, it may feel like a 100-pound duffle bag. How can we deal with this pain so that it doesn’t affect our families, ourselves, and our ministries? Consider these insights.

young desperate man suffering with hands on head in deep depression, pain , emotional disorder, grief and desperation concept isolated on black background with grunge studio lighting in black and white

First, recognize that these factors influence how heavy your baggage feels.

  • Your overall emotional health. If it’s not good, you’ll ‘spill over’ more easily when jostled by ministry demands and conflict.
  • Your personality type influence by your genetic makeup. Some people are more genetically pre-disposed toward anxiety and depression than others. Our genetic makeup accounts for about 1/3 of our ability to be happy and enjoy life.[1] The remaining 2/3’s, however, gives us lots of leverage to change, manage stress, and bounce back from difficulties. 
  • Your previous ministry setting.

Second, look to Jesus.

If dealing with your pain seems self serving, look to the words of Jesus Himself. In response to a Pharisee’s question about the greatest commandment, Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matt 22.37-39, NIV) So Jesus’ own words remind us we should love ourselves and be kind to ourselves which encompasses processing our own hurts and pain. Research indicates that pastors who are kinder to themselves when they fail or don’t meet others’ expectations, are less prone to burnout.[2]

I learned this insight several years ago when I transitioned to a church in California from a church in Atlanta. After we moved I was surprised when I began to grieve. I recall one day as I assembled an outdoor tool shed how deep feelings of sadness swept over me. I wasn’t sad about my new role as teaching pastor. The new possibilities exited me. However, my emotions reminded me that I must deal with my feelings of loss from leaving the church that my wife and I had planted 14 years earlier.

Third, admit that some leftover baggage from your prior ministry may still be weighing you down.

These questions may help bring to the surface unresolved issues that could potentially derail your new start.

  1. With whom did you experience the greatest conflict or the greatest hurt?
  2. How did you deal with those conflicts? Passively, aggressively, biblically?
  3. When you think of that person(s) do you feel significant anger, rage, or bitterness rise to your awareness? Or are the emotions more like mild disappointment or sadness?
  4. Do you feel that any of those conflictual relationships lie unresolved and that resolution remains possible? Or do you feel that you did what you could to resolve the issues?
  5. How would you rate where you stand in relation to this person(s)/issue(s): distraught, hurting but managing, coping OK, or in good shape with occasional twinges of loss or pain?
  6. Is God prompting you to do anything to resolve this pain?

 Fourth, take specific steps to deal with the emotional baggage.

When I’ve faced ministry pain, I’ve sought professional help though psychologists and hired coaches who have helped me process my woundedness. An objective third party can help you see issues to which you may be blind. 

As you process your pain, God may want you to initiate an act of kindness toward the person(s) who may have hurt you in your prior ministry. God prompted me to do that after I heard a sermon from a pastor friend.

Years ago I heard a sermon that dealt with turning the other cheek toward your enemies and loving them despite the pain they may have caused you. Like a lightning bolt, I felt God impress me to send a restaurant gift card to two leaders who had hurt me in a prior church. I included a nice note with each card. After I took that simple obedient step, I felt God begin to close that painful chapter in my life, although sometimes I can still feel a tinge of emotion when I recall those experiences.

God has used my pain to teach me much. He can use your pain to teach you as well. However, we must never allow pain to fester in our souls. I encourage you to inventory your life and bring out into the open any stuffed or hidden pain and process it. If you don’t deal with it now, it will leak out, insidiously drain you, and quite possible derail you and your ministry.

What has helped you process your ministry pain?

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[1] “Can Happiness Be Genetic?,” Psychology Today, accessed November 20, 2015,

[2] Laura K. Barnard and John F. Curry, “The Relationship of Clergy Burnout to Self-Compassion and Other Personality Dimensions,” Pastoral Psychology 61, no. 2 (May 21, 2011): 149–63, doi:10.1007/s11089-011-0377-0.

8 Decisions Leaders Should Make During a Crisis

One of the best books I’ver every read on leadership is A Failure of Nerve by Edwin H. Friedman. It’s a challenging read, but well worth it. The author was a Jewish counselor who wrote extensively on a counseling philosophy called Bowen Family Systems. The more I read about this way of looking at church leadership through ’systems’ eyes, the more I wish I had understood these principles 25 years ago. It would have saved me a lot of angst. Friedman lists 8 principles that leaders should practice when facing a crisis. I’ve paraphrased them and adapted them to pastoral leaders below.

Concept of crisis - the word crisis in the background cracks

What leaders should do in a crisis.

  1. Don’t let the crisis become the axis around which your world revolves.
  2. Develop a support system outside of your church such as counselors or other pastors.
  3. Stay focused on long-term goals.
  4. Practice spiritual disciplines.
  5. Listen to your body.
  6. Work out the balance between being responsible for yourself and being seen as difficult and self-centered.
  7. Keep a sense of humor.
  8. It’s time to make decisions when the same question brings no new informati0n.

When you’ve faced a crisis, what has helped you weather it?

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12 Questions your Leaders Wish You’d Ask Them

In the book First, Break all the Rules written by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, they list 12 core questions the Gallup organization discovered that give organizations the information they need to attract, focus, and keep the most talented employees. Pastors and church leaders would do well to regularly ask their leaders, volunteers, and staff these questions.

Speech bubble with the word questions on white background.
  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company/church make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

What questions do you find helpful to ask those who work with or for you?

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4 Questions Leaders Should Ask to Avoid Burnout

For my second book I commissioned Barna Research, Lifeway Research, and Christianity Today to survey almost 2,000 pastors to discover what issues can cause a ministry or a leader’s passion for ministry to die. I based my book on those findings. Out of those findings, four key questions emerged that every spiritual leader should ask him or herself at least once a year. stressThese questions can help us face up to areas, that if left unchecked, have the potential to kill our ministries or at best, drain the passion from our souls. Here they are.
  1. Do you have a safe person in your life with whom you can process ministry problems and pain?
  2. Have you looked deep enough inside to discover what truly bothers you about your ministry?
  3. If those who see how you respond to ministry problems were asked to tell you what they thought, would they say you need to make some major changes?
  4. To whom and how should you communicate your frustrations (your board, your staff, the church)?

You can learn more about my four books here.

You can also get a free chapter from my latest book, Brain Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry, by signing up in the right panel on this page to receive my blog posts. You have the option for signing up for them as I post them (usually 2 a week) or you can get a compilation delivered to your mailbox on Saturday.

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