Neuro-diversity in Your Church: Why it Matters

Diversity in the church is big today. With greater globalization and the desire to melt racial barriers, many pastors want their churches to become ethnically diverse. Many pastors intentionally seek to create such diversity through staffing, who gets on the worship teams, and who becomes the face of the church from the stage or on their web site. I laud that desire. However, I many have unintentionally limited my definition of diversity to ethnicity or language and missed one huge area of diversity that already exists in every church: neurodiversity. What do I mean when I say neurodiversity? Simply this.

Neurodiversity means that people think and process information differently. Not everybody thinks like you or me. I think more linearly, logically, and left brained. As a result, my preaching, leading, staffing, and volunteer selection has tended to reflect my thinking style. I may have unintentionally taught and led without taking into account that God gave us all unique thinking styles. I’m much wiser now and realize that I must take into account neurodiversity when I perform these pastoral functions.

Preaching and teaching: People learn differently and thus process teaching differently depending on their tendency as left-brained or right-brained. Below, I’ve contrasted a few left brained traits on the left with right brained traits on the right (notice how linear I am).

  • Process the familiar…process the novel
  • Detailed… holistic/big picture
  • Sequential…random
  • Logical…intuitive

If you want to read a great (and long) book on left brain vs right brain, read The Master and His Emissary by Ian McGilchrist. Also, here’s a great TEDvideo on the divided brain (over a million views).

Change management: People respond differently to change. Some people’s brain make-up makes them less fearful of change, and thus able adapt to it more quickly. Others perceive change as a huge threat and they dig their heels in to oppose it. (A great article on the 5 Fears of Change here.)

Encouraging healthy followership: Some will follow you simply because you present a compelling and logical reason to follow. Others will follow only when you move them emotionally.

Teams: If everybody on your team thinks like you, you can foster groupthink, when a team gets along so well or agrees so readily that nobody challenges ideas or the status quo. As a result, you can miss opportunities or even make poor choices. Susan Cain, author of one of the best books I’ve read in the past two years, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, talks about groupthink in this great article.

Every pastor who wants to move his church forward for Kingdom purposes should certainly seek to remove ethnic barriers to allow that church to be as diverse as God intends for it to become.

However, those in your church are already significantly diverse in one significant domain, neurodiversity. As you lead, teach, and develop others, heed and adapt to their diverse thinking and mental processing styles. You’ll become a more effective Kingdom leader.

Is this a new concept for you? How can you apply it to your church setting?


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8 Ways to Make Church Change Run Smoother

In your church you’re probably trying to bring change in some way or are contemplating it. Unfortunately, change in our churches often doesn’t go well. In fact, we’re not alone. In the business world some have estimating that the majority of organizational change either fails, underperforms, or makes things worse (Cope, 2003). I imagine that church change doesn’t fare much better. However, we don’t have to become a statistic. Consider 8 these insights the next time you try to bring change to your church, ministry, or organization.

8 Ways to Make Church Change Run Smoother

  1. Incorporate a change mentality into your church culture so that people don’t see it as a threat. The more you talk about, the less scary it becomes when it happens.
  2. Include change as a component in the church’s current strategy. When you create your annual goals and strategies, include a clearly defined component of change. Do this every year. Don’t make it a sporadic communication.
  3. Regularly teach on the Biblical basis of personal change so that change is more easily embraced. When training leaders, always include some component that teaches about change. Try to build change management into key staff and volunteers as a core competency.
  4. Help key players (staff, key volunteers, and church boards) embrace a philosophy of healthy change (see above). Seek to hire staff and recruit volunteers who aren’t change averse. When you recruit others, be sure to discuss their view about change and your expectations about it.
  5. Build forward thinking into the highest levels of your leadership conversations. Help leaders think about ways they can stay ahead of the change curve in culture rather than reacting to it when it inevitably comes.
  6. Involve as many people as reasonably possible into change initiatives. Give away small to medium-sized components of change to those lower on the leadership org chart. Get ownership as much as possible.
  7. Celebrate wins, both short and long-term ones. You can’t overdo this one.
  8. Reduce internal threat levels through building healthy relationships and a brain friendly working environment. Read this article that talks about what a brain friendly environment looks like. It’s based on the latest neuroscience research, a model called SCARF, an incredibly insightful way to build team collaboration and productivity.

In my most recent book, Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry I devote an entire chapter to church change.

What has helped you create change in your church, ministry, or business?


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References:

Cope, M. (2003) The Seven Cs of Consulting [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/355030.The_Seven_Cs_of_Consulting> [Accessed 2 March 2013].

Are you a Transactional Leader or a Transformational Leader?

In a seminar I was privileged to hear Dr. James Galvin speak on leadership. He’s authored many books on the subject and has consulted with such organizations as the Willow Creek Assocation, Zondervan, and Wycliffe. He explained a concept called “The Full Range Leadership Model” which contrasts transactional leadership from transformational leadership. In this post I contrast these leadership styles. You can find a really cool visual that describes the two here.

Essentially transactional leadership is “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” At times we must lead as transactional leaders. For example, we set a ministry or organizational goal and when a staffer helps that goal get met, a reward comes. In contrast, however, we should seek to grow our leadership so that we lead more often as transformational leaders.

Based on the descriptions below, how would others describe your default leadership patterns? The first four represent transactional leaders. The last five characterize transformational leaders.

TRANSACTIONAL LEADERS:

  • I often avoid getting involved. I tend to be passive.
  • I loosely monitor what’s happening in the ministry and step in only if things go really bad.
  • I set clear goals and standards and closely monitor the staff and step in when things begin to get off track.
  • I set clear goals, provide needed support, and praise good performance.

TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERS:

  •  I listen to others and coach them to bring out their best.
  • I ask others for their thoughts and perspectives.
  • I’m genuinely positive, enthusiastic, and cast a compelling vision.
  • I often talk about shared mission, vision, and values with the team.
  • My simple presence can inspire others’ confidence.

Find a few trusted friends and ask them to share with you where they’d place you on this scale.

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What Every Leader Needs: Silence and Solitude

In my last blog post I suggested that the cure to our noisy, frenzied, busy world lies in practicing silence and solitude. I shared some quotes and key Scriptures that relate to these spiritual disciplines. In this post I suggest reasons why we should practice silence and solitude and some ways to begin to build that practice into your life.

In essence, silence and solitude are tools God uses to restore our souls by breaking engagements with the world. This discipline is really more of a state of heart than a place. Granted, it does include away-ness from others, but as you mature you can actually be in a huge crowd and experience the rejuvenating power of solitude. It can create the ability to carry around with you your own portable sanctuary, sacred place, place of rest, connection to God even in a loud, distracting world.On the other hand you can become a hermit and never experience the power of solitude.

Before I give you my suggestions, read this funny story.

A monk newly initiated into his order was told that he’d have to spend the initial 20 years of training in complete silence. He was told that he would only be allowed to say two words every three years. After 3 years of studiously keeping this vow he was summoned before the Abbot and asked if he had anything to say, in two words or less. He replied, “Food bad.” Three more years went by when he was again summoned before the Abbot. “Well, do you have anything to say now,” the monk was asked. “Bed hard,” was the answer. After three more years the Abbot found our friend and asked him if he’d like to speak. “I quit!” said the monk. “Well, I’m not surprised,” said his Abbot. “You’ve done nothing but complain since you arrived.” (source unknown)

Now, the practical benefits of practicing silence and solitude and tips for building it into your life.

Practical benefits of practicing silence and solitude

1. It breaks the power of hurry.

It breaks the adrenalin addiction, the “have to do” mentality of life. Willard explains it this way. The person who is capable of doing nothing might be capable of refraining from doing the wrong thing. And then perhaps he or she would be better able to do the right thing.[1]

2. It brings spiritual renewal.

Francis de Sales said (1500’s), “There is no clock, no matter how good it may be, that doesn’t need resetting and rewinding twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. In addition, at least once a year it must be taken apart to remove the dirt clogging it, straighten out bent parts, and repair those worn out. In like manner, every morning and evening a man who really takes care of he heart must rewind it for God’s service . . . . Moreover, he must often reflect on his condition in order to reform and improve it. Finally, at least once a year he must take it apart and examine every piece in detail, that is every affection and passion, in order to repair whatever defects there may be.[2]

3. It reminds us that life will still go on without us

It interrupts the cycle of constantly having to manage things and be in control. It breaks us from a sense of being indispensable.

4. It clears the storm of life and mind for wise decision making and planning.

Jesus illustrates this in Luke 6:12-13 before he chose his disciples. “And it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him; and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles.”

5. It creates inner space to hear the voice of God.

After Elijah’s power encounter on Mt Carmel with the Baal worshippers he fled because he heard that Queen Jezebel had a price on his head. He hid in a cave and whined to God. God told him to step outside the cave and cover his face because he was about to speak to him. A storm and wind and earthquake and fire appeared, but God was not in any of those. Rather, God spoke in a whisper. 1Kings 19.2…And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

6. It helps us disconnect from the world and deeply connect to our soul.

Henry Nouwen said, “In solitude, I get rid of my scaffolding.” Scaffolding is the stuff we use to keep ourselves propped up, friends, family, TV, radio, books, job, technology, work, achievement, our bank account, etc.[3]

7. It helps us control our tongue

If frees us from the tyranny we hold over others with our words. When we are silent, it is much more difficult to manipulate and control the people and circumstances around us. Words are the weapons we lay down when we practice silence. We give up our insistence of being heard and obeyed.

8. It helps us with the other disciplines

It enhances the other disciplines.


Practical tips to incorporate silence and solitude into your life.

1. Plan for it.

2. Find a quiet place.

3. Be considerate of those who will be affected.

4. Zip it

James 1:26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

5. Expect some apprehension.

Our busy world often hinders us from looking within, so don’t quit if deep things in your soul begin to surface

6. Length?

Walk before run.

7. Realize that this discipline comes more easily to some.

I recommend a great book to understand your particular spiritual pathway. It’s a book called Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas.

What do you find most difficult about silence and solitude?


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[1]Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 359.

[2] John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, p. 94.

[3]ibid,p. 92

How to Break the Power of Hurry

We live in a world that bombards us with incessant visual stimuli and noise. It’s easy to become addicted to that noise without realizing it. We often turn the radio on in the car when we drive. We leave the TV on, even though we aren’t watching it. And our cell phones are seldom silenced. Not only do we live in a noisy world, but we live in a busy one as well. Our time saving devices (cell phones, computers, faster internet connections) relentlessly remind us that we should get more done in less time so that we have more time to get even more done. As a result we are addicted not only to noise, but to hurry. John Ortberg says that, “Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.”[1] So, what do we do?

Ortberg also writes about an article that appeared in a newspaper in Tacoma, Washington, a few years ago about Tattoo the basset hound.

Tattoo didn’t intend to go for an evening run, but when his owner shut his leash in the car door and took off for a drive with Tattoo still outside the vehicle, he had no choice.

Motorcycle officer Terry Filbert noticed a passing vehicle with something dragging behind it, “the basset hound picking them up and putting them down as fast as he could.” He chased the car to a stop, and Tattoo was rescued, but not before the dog had reached a speed of 20-25 miles per hour, rolling over several times.

He then observes that often we live like Tattoo, “our days mark by picking them up and putting them down as fast as we can.”

Hurry, noise, and incessant busyness are enemies of a healthy spiritual life. I can attest to that in my life. It easily sneaks up on you. But God does not want us to conform to a superficial lifestyle marked by incessant noise and busyness. The Apostle Paul wrote these familiar words.

Rom. 12.2 (NIV) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I believe the cure for this malady lies in two related spiritual disciplines: silence and solitude. In this blog I quote some famous people who wrote about these disciplines and list some key Bible verses on the subject. I hope this blog will stir your thoughts about building this practice into your life.

In my next blog I will list ways that silence and solitude can help us become better leaders and Christians and I suggest a simple plan that can help incorporate silence and solitude into your life, if you’ve not yet done so.

But first, some simple definitions.

Solitude: The practice of temporarily being absent from other people (in isolation or anonymity) and other things so that you can be present with God.

Silence: The practice of voluntarily and temporarily abstaining from speaking so that certain spiritual goals might be sought.

Powerful quotes on silence and solitude:

Henri Nowen: “Without (silence and solittude) it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life.”[2] “It is a good discipline to wonder in each new situation if people wouldn’t be better served by our silence than by our words.”? (The Way of the Heart)

Dallas Willard: “… this one (silence and solitude) is generally the most fundamental in the beginning of the spiritual life, and it must be returned to again and again as that life develops.”[3]

Pascal: “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they are unable to stay quietly in their own room.”[4]

Austin Phelps (a pastor in the1800s): “It has been said that no great work in literature or in science was ever wrought by a man who did not love solitude. We may lay it down as an elemental principle of religion, that no large growth in holiness was ever gained by one who did not take time to be often long alone with God.”[5]

Significant Scriptures on silence and solitude:

Eccl. 3:7 there is. . . a time to be silent …

Eccl. 5: 2 Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

Psa. 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God…

Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Luke 5:16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Mark 6:31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

How has silence and solitude helped you become a better leader?

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[1] John Ortberg, The Life Youve Always Wanted, p. 84.

[2]Devotional Classics, p. 95.

[3]Dallas Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 161.

[4]Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 358.

[5] Whitney, The Spiritual Disciplines, p. 194.