Hymns in a Contemporary Church: Bury them or Resurrect them?

Several years ago I attended an old fashioned Gospel sing at a church near our home. It was out of my comfort zone because the last 30 plus years I’ve served in churches that primarily used contemporary worship music in their services. Yet, from toddler age through college I attended churches that primarily used hymns. When the seeker movement became widespread, I and many other like-minded pastors classified traditional hymns as barriers to church growth. As a result, I seldom used them in the churches I served except for the occasional Amazing Grace. Here’s what I learned that night about hymns and their influence on my spiritual formation.

As I sat through the Gospel sing, something stirred deep within me. Had I neglected an important part of my Christian heritage by not incorporating them in the churh services? Should I reconsider them going into the future?

The Gospel sing worked like this. The song leader invited those who attended (a couple hundred) to pick a hymn from the hymn book. They then raised their hands and he’d pick someone. They’d call out the hymnal page number. We’d turn to that page. The pianist would start playing. We’d sing. After 30 minutes of suggestions and singing, probably 20 songs, we’d take a short break from singing. The pianist then played a medley of hymns and a duet sung a couple hymns. Then we sung another 30 minute, prayed, and dismissed for ice cream sundaes in the gym.

I thought I’d be bored and planned to surreptitiously follow NFL games on ESPN’s Gametracker on my iPhone. Was I surprised. Here are several lessons I learned that night.

  1. The majority who attended were clearly over 65, many in their 70’s and 80’s. As I watched these seniors sing, their faces glowed with a deep love for Jesus. God reminded me that preferred music styles don’t indicate a person’s love for Him. The builder generation, which is quickly declining, has shown incredible commitment and sacrifice to the cause of Christ the last several decades. Just because they prefer a different music style than my preference doesn’t mean I’m any closer to Jesus than they.
  2. I was surprised at how well I recalled these songs that I hadn’t sung in over 20 years. I seldom even needed to look at the hymnal for the words. I realized how grateful I was to my parents for the rich Christian heritage they gave me. Those many years they took me to Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night services and to revivals and vacation bible schools. Those experiences had left an indelible imprint on my soul. Hymns had deeply imbedded the truth of God’s Word into my heart that I’d never forgotten.
  3. I marveled at the magnificence of how God created our brains. Music increases our ability to recall truth because it enhances long-term memory. Even after decades of not reading the words or singing the hymns, my mind easily recalled them. This thought reminded me how important music should play in our services to imbed theology into the hearts of believers.
  4. I felt sad as I watched my youngest daughter who sat next to me. As my wife and I sang, she followed along as best as she could, yet she hardly knew a single hymn. Either my naivety or my pride (or both) had caused me to neglect this powerful medium to teach the essence of the Faith. My kids had become the losers.
  5. Finally, I resolved to bring hymns back into the churches I serve. While updating their tempo and style a bit, I want those young and old in the faith to encounter the living Christ through the power of God’s word hitched to the medium of hymn music.

That experience was a profound one for me that I will never forget.

What are your thoughts on hymns? Do you believe we have neglected them? If so, how have you incorporated them into your services.

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The Narcissistic Pastor: 10 signs that you may be one

Ancient Greek mythology offers an important lesson for anyone in ministry, or in any leadership position for that matter. As one fable goes, Narcissus was a beautiful hunter. As a boy his face looked as if it were chiseled from the purest marble. His beauty attracted others to him but he could never let anyone get close even though they tried to extend their love to him. He resisted because he had found another love. Here’s what happened in the story and the implications for someone who might have traits of a narcissistic pastor.

One day at age 16 as be walked along the mythical river Styx, he stopped to sip water from a calm pool. As he knelt, the image he saw in the pool transfixed him. He immediately discovered his new love, the image of himself. His obsession with his own image kept him from giving or receiving love from others. The story says that because he could not bear to leave his reflection, he lay down by the pool and pined away for himself. Eventually the earth absorbed him and he became the flower narcissus. Thus, the word narcissist came to mean a person who has a fixation with himself.

What are some indicators that a pastor or a leader may be a narcissist? And what are the dangers to his or her ministry and family?

Peter Steinki, a prolific author and church ministry consultant, has working with hundreds of churches and pastors in the last 40 years. He once worked with 65 pastors who had affairs and found that narcissism lay at the root of most of those failures. These pastors’ need for others to value them and their need to feel important led them to sexualize their desires. Their narcissistic tendencies led them to moral failure.

Based on my experience with others and upon the insight of others like Steinki, I believe that if a pastor shows signs of narcissism and doesn’t admit them and seek help, he has doomed himself to failure. The narcissistic pastor lives with an inflated sense of self-importance and an insatiable drive to be liked and to be at the center of attention. Satan will capitalize on these traits and tempt him to compromise his morals and values. A narcissistic pastor will create a false self to cover his fear of humiliation. Exposure to the real person is anathema to him. Steinki says that a narcissistic pastor’s drive to avoid disclosure often results in these kinds of behaviors.[1]

  1. Rage if he experiences shame for shame exposes his true self.
  2. An inordinate need for praise in order to feel important.
  3. The feeling of entitlement to special treatment.
  4. The immense need for continual feedback of how important she is.
  5. The feeling of superiority and its reinforcement from others.
  6. Strong reaction to rejection and disapproval, sometimes with intense rage.
  7. The lack of the capacity to mourn, a defense against depression.
  8. Calculating and conniving behavior to “maintain” supplies of continuous adulation.
  9. An impaired capacity for commitment.
  10. No capacity for self-focus or self-examination.

Unfortunately, ministry can give rise to narcissism. We are often in the limelight and get kudos and compliments from others that feed our egos. In the past two decades it seems that annually some well-known pastor commits adultery or fails in some public moral way, often rooted in narcissistic tendencies. Unfortunately, narcissists often exude qualities we laud: self-confidence, a magnetic personality, strong platform skills, and the ability to motivate others. Narcissism is deadly. Perhaps that’s one reason the bible often speaks against pride and for humility.

I’d like to hear about your experience with a narcissistic leader. Would you add any traits to this list? Have you ever seen a narcissistic pastor change? What helped him change?

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[1] Peter L. Steinke, “Clergy Affairs,” Journal of Psychology and Christianity Vol. 8 No. 4 (1989), pp.60-61.

5 Biggest Mistakes Pastors Make on Sundays (and how to avoid them)

For pastors, Sunday can be the most draining day of the week. Intense people interaction, teaching or preaching, seeing our critics, trying to remember names, and attempting to put our own problems aside to listen to other peoples’ problems add up to a stress-filled day. The very day we want to be at our best requires more from us than any other day. As a result, we can easily make one or more of the 5 biggest mistakes pastors make on Sundays. Evaluate this list to find out how many you make. I follow the list with some suggestions on how to avoid them.

5 Biggest Mistakes Pastors Make on Sundays

  1. Failure to recognize allostatic load.
    • This term describes the wear and tear on our body from chronic stress. Our bodies have limits. Yet, when we are under stress for long periods of time, our bodies suffer. Prolonged stress causes sustained high levels of the stress hormone cortisol which, along with an overabundance of other neurotransmitters and hormones, can cause heart problems, weight gain, impaired immunity, decreased memory due to brain cell atrophy, and diminished brain functioning. If we don’t manage our stress during the week, we will limit our ability to function at our best on Sundays.
  2. Too much emotional labor.
    • Psychologists call the emotional work necessary for any job emotional labor. It’s the effort required to put on a public face when we interact with others. Unless you’re a grump or you hole up in your office until right before the Sunday service, your role requires considerable emotional labor as you interact with people on Sundays. However, when we surface act too much, put on a fake smile, we’ll quickly use up the energy stores God gave us for the day.
  3. People pleasing.
    • I based my third book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, on extensive research of over 2000 pastors. I discovered that over 70%  of pastors self-assessed themselves as being affected in some way by people pleasing. As humans, we have a basic drive to be liked. Rejection actually physically hurts because social pain registers in the same part of our brains as does physical pain. On Sunday when we get sucked into trying to make everybody happy (by saying yes too much and/or saying what people want to hear) we will quickly get drained.
  4. The sacrifice syndrome.
    • Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, authors of Resonant Leadership, coined a concept called power stress to describe a kind of stress unique to leaders. “Power stress is part of the experience that results from the exercise of influence and sense of responsibility felt in leadership positions.” McKee and Boyatzis explain that when the demands of leadership get so high and leaders fail to manage it, they risk becoming trapped in what they call the Sacrifice Syndrome. Sometimes we leaders feel so overly responsible for the success of our churches that we get caught in a vicious cycle of unhealthy sacrifice for others that leads to burnout. And often that weight drains us on Sundays.
  5. Continuous partial attention (CPA).
    •  Linda Stone, author and consultant, developed this phrase to describe the mental trap we easily fall into when we constantly scan our surroundings to look for the best opportunities upon which to focus our attention. It happens when we ‘skim,’ and pay attention, only partially. When this happens to you, you won’t focus on the most important tasks at hand and will get further behind on mission critical issues. Then, you must rush to get the important things done which in turn contributes to chronic stress. On Sundays when we are listening to someone and we try to scan the crowd to see who else may want to talk to us (CPA), our energy stores get burned up faster than if we paid full attention to one person.

So what can we do to avoid these Sunday traps? I’m still learning to wisely manage myself on Sundays, but I’ve found that 4 practices help me avoid those 5 mistakes.

  1. Exercise on Sunday morning.
    • For years research has shown that exercise benefits our body. But recent research has discovered that it benefits our brains as well. When we exercise it causes our brains to release a protein called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which has been called the Miracle-Gro for the brain. It encourages new neuronal growth and protects brain cells from stress. Exercise also releases pain dampening neurotransmitters, endorphins, which trigger positive feelings in our bodies, similar to what morphine does. On Sunday mornings I usually exercise 30 minutes about two hours before our service begins. This positive mood benefit can last a few hours.
  2. Statio.
    • Statio describes a Christian monastic practice that we might call a mini-transition between events of the day. It’s a moment between moments when we pause from once task before going to the next. It allows us to break our hurry, obtain closure from the prior task, and prepare our hearts and minds for what comes next. Leaders who practice this can turn down their body’s fight-flight system (the sympathetic nervous system) and engage the rest and digest system (the parasympathetic system) which makes us calmer. Try to practice this between tasks and interactions with people on Sunday mornings. When I remember to do it, my racing mind calms down. Read this post by Daniel Schroeder to learn more about statio.
  3. Adequate sleep the night before.
    • “When we don’t get enough sleep, we rob our brains of important neural functions because the brain is actually very active during sleep. Although the brain never really shuts down, it’s only truly at rest during non-REM sleep, which accounts for only 20 percent of our normal sleep cycle. During the other 80 percent, sleep helps the brain encode, strengthen, stabilize, and consolidate our memories from the day. Our brain replays what we have learned during the day  to make our memories stick. Sleep also plays an important role in learning.” (from Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry by Charles Stone (Kindle Locations 1671-1675). I can’t overestimate the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep the night before. It works wonders in my ability to be at my best on Sundays.
  4. Strategic use of caffeine.
    • Yep, I wrote caffeine. Moderate use of caffeine brings several benefits including blocking the sleep neurotransmitter adenosine (that’s the mechanism behind caffeine as a waker upper), increased energy, and a better mood. You can read my post here about caffeine.

Sunday is great day because it reminds us that Jesus rose from the dead. Yet, it’s also a draining day. Consider applying one or two of these pointers this Sunday and see if it helps you be your best.

What has helped you be your best on Sundays?

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Staff Performance Reviews: Do they Help or Hinder?

As a senior pastor I’ve performed annual staff performance reviews for years thinking that I was helping those leaders improve their performance. But recent neuroscience has shown that negative feedback (including such feedback given in evaluations) may actually hurt the self-esteem of those we evaluate. If staff evaluations potentially hurt the cause rather than help, should we eliminate the evaluations or make some other changes? In this post I answer that question.

The researchers in one study performed a simple experiment on college students. The students first performed a mock interview. Afterwards as they lay in an MRI, they received evaluation on their performance through 45 separate words given by someone who observed their interview. The words were equally divided into 15 neutral ones, 15 positive ones, and 15 negative ones. Even though the positive and neutral words outweighed the negative ones 2 to 1, over 40% experienced lower self esteem. And, the part of the brain that feels rejection from others lit up in the scanner. Negative feedback apparently diminishes our self-esteem.

I understand this insight from personal experience. Years ago a key leader told me numerous times that although I possessed great character, my preaching didn’t connect with other people’s hearts nor did I have sufficient leadership skills to bring the church to the next level. After reading about this study, I now understand why I felt so bad after his comments.

In light of this and other similar studies, how should we approach staff reviews to avoid diminishing the esteem or confidence of those we review? I suggest five ideas that can help us maximize reviews while minimizing their potential negative effect.

  1. Constantly affirm those who report to you. Catch them doing something good and tell them. Create an environment filled with affirmation.
  2. Seek to know the personality of the staff person you are evaluating. The study implied that some personalities ruminate and mull over negative comments more than others. If you know a staffer tends toward introspection, give the feedback with an extra dose of grace. Follow up a few days later to see how they are processing it.
  3. Teach your staff to build their self-esteem around their relationship with Christ rather than around their performance. Doing so doesn’t minimize high performance standards. Rather, it maximizes where we should center our self-esteem and frees us to do our best.
  4. Couch your feedback with positive steps the staff person can make. Help him see that positive corrective steps can make him a more fulfilled person and a more effective employee.
  5. Discover how well you affirm others. Ask your staff to tell you how well they feel you affirm them. If you get negative feedback, re-read this article.

What have you discovered that helps moderate negative feelings from staff reviews?

(Source of study: Eisenberger et al, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, November 2011)

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Do You Problem Solve too Much as a Leader?

Good leaders help team members solve their own problems with their own insight. Average leaders tend to solve their team members’ problems, thus truncating their opportunity to grow themselves. So, how do we help our team members learn to problem solve on their own? In this post I begin with a story and then suggest ways to problem solve in a balanced way.

Archimedes was a brilliant Greek scientist. He lived 250 years before Christ and is best known for inventing a method to determine an object’s volume. A goldsmith had forged a crown of gold for the Greek king, King Hiero II. The king was concerned, however, that the goldsmith has substituted the cheaper metal silver for some of the gold. He asked Archimedes to find the truth without melting the crown.

This stumped Archimedes until a flash of insight hit him. One day as he took a bath he noticed the water level rise as he stepped into the tub. Suddenly he realized that by making a few mathematical calculations he could use water volume displacement from the crown to determine if it were made of pure gold. In his excitement, so the story goes, he ran into the streets naked crying, “Eureka, Eureka!” which means in Greek, “I have found it.”

Thus, we use the word “eureka”  for personal insight. Through this insight he discovered that the goldsmith had indeed substituted silver for some of the crown’s gold, a not-so-good discovery for the goldsmith.

Leaders tend to be tellers.

  • We cast vision by telling.
  • We communicate goals and strategies by telling.
  • We recruit leaders by telling.
  • We manage staff by telling.
  • We teach by telling.
  • And we tend to solve our team’s problems by telling.

When a team member comes to us with a problem, it’s often expedient to give a quick answer if we see the solution. We tend to be more experienced so it can be easy to see the solution. But when we solve their problems too quickly, we can create other problems.

  1. We can inadvertently foster dependency on us to solve their problems and diminish their motivation to follow through because people are less likely to act on somebody else’s ideas.
  2. We can rob them from learning how to problem solve, an important leadership quality.
  3. We can diminish opportunities for them to experience the joy of those ‘eureka’ moments.

I believe this is the key to helping your team learn to solve their own problems: ask questions.

Jesus often asked questions when he wanted to teach important concepts. The Gospels include 135 questions Jesus asked. He asked questions to create readiness to learn and to get his listeners to think for themselves.

Consider five compelling reasons to ask your team more questions.

  1. Questions help your team see reality more clearly. One more well-placed question may surface an important issue about their problem they are trying to solve that they otherwise might have missed.
  2. They help foster innovation. Questions can spur new ideas and solutions to problems.
  3. They help your team self reflect. Telling someone an answer may stifle her need to thoroughly think through the answer for herself.
  4. They provide perspective. A good question can open up a fresh perspective to a perplexing dilemma.
  5. They help your team focus on the real issue.

Asking good questions can become a potent team development tool to put into your leadership toolbox. 

An interesting brain process occurs when we get a eureka insight.

Several different brain waves course through our brains every day. During sleep, your brain produces delta and theta waves. When we’re awake and our brains are at rest (i.e., during daydreaming), alpha waves occur. When we are awake, alert, and focused on something, the beta wave is most prominent. But the fastest wave is called a gamma wave that sweeps through our entire brains over 40 times per second through a process called synchrony. Similar to what happens to an orchestra when a conductor raises his baton and brings the whole orchestra to attention, the gamma wave sweeps through our brains and brings it to attention when we experience a eureka insight. Several benefits occur from the gamma wave.

  • New brain maps get formed in the eureka moment.
  • The brain’s right hemisphere which processes information intuitively and holistically increases its activity by making subtle connections. This fosters insight by connecting disparate bits of information which otherwise may have seemed inconsequential.
  • The brain produces the feel good neurotransmitter dopamine. As a result, a eureka insight actually feels good which makes us want more insight experiences.
  • The solution to the problem, the eureka insight, gets stamped deeper into our brains creating greater ownership to the solution and more motivation to follow through on it.

So what can you do to ask more and better questions to foster eureka insights in your team. Consider three suggestions.

  1. Practice the art of the W.A.I.T.
    • WAIT is an acronym for this question. “Why Am I Talking?” In meetings and conversations with others when you sense you may be dominating, mentally ask yourself this question. It has helped me listen more carefully and talk less.
  1. Ask the question, “What do you think?”
    • This handy question helps when you sense a team member wants you to solve his problem. You may immediately know the answer, but if you answer it too quickly you may foster unhealthy dependency on you that you want to avoid. So when a team member asks you to solve his problem, first respond with, “What do you think?” Remember, self generated insights create better buy-in than quick answers.
  1. Use the AWE question.
    • Michael Stanier suggests this question in his great book, The Coaching Habit. AWE stands for, “And What Else?” He suggests we use this question 3-5 times in a coaching or problem solving conversation. He calls it the best coaching question in the world. It helps pull out insight from a team member that might be missed if you end the conversation too soon.

Try one or more of these suggestions when a team member wants you to solve his or her problem.

What kinds of questions have helped you develop your team?

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