How to Overcome Spiritual Vertigo

My friend Dwayne Mercer, pastor of CrossLife Church, one of the largest churches in central Florida, just released his book Overcoming Spiritual Vertigo. He writes from the perspective of a seasoned pastor and a believer who has faced personal challenges in his life. Today he is my guest blogger. I highly recommend reading his book.

It was the middle of a typical hot summer night at our home outside Orlando. My wife, Pam, and our two younger children were visiting family in Georgia while our oldest son and I stayed behind. We were sound asleep after a long day of golfing in near 100-degree temperatures when I suddenly woke up in a cold sweat. The room appeared to be spinning. I tried to get up but each attempt made me feel sick to my stomach. To make matters worse, my brain felt like it was moving around inside my heard and my eyes seemed to be dancing. I had lost all perspective of direction and I was scared. I thought, Am I dying? Should I call for help? I tried to cry out to my son, who was sleeping in his bedroom, but my voice wouldn’t carry. Every time I tried to reach for the phone, I felt like the ceiling was attacking me.

Eventually, I mustered the determination to turn, grab the phone and dial 911. By the time the paramedics arrived, I was so disoriented that they had to wake my son to unlock the front door because I couldn’t move from the bed. They immediately strapped me to a gurney and whisked me away to the hospital. When I got there, the doctors administered intravenous fluids to hydrate me. They diagnosed me with a severe case of vertigo due to dehydration.

The high temperatures during our golf outing earlier that day left me exhausted by the end of the round. I’d also been drinking diet soda all day instead of water, which caused me to become extremely dehydrated. That night, I experienced vertigo because of it. The best way I can describe this condition is that your brain and eyes have a functional disconnect and your brain is unable to process what your eyes are seeing.

You may have never had physical vertigo, but most of us have experienced spiritual vertigo. This is a condition of severe doubt, when our faith cannot process what we see, hear, or experience. We know what the Bible says but we feel real life does not match what our faith teaches us.

As a result we live in a world of doubt and often discouragement. We are challenged by sermons and books to be a giant-killer, a lion-tamer, a conqueror in Christ. However, we cannot seem to gather the faith we need to meet the everyday challenges of life.

How do we reconcile life and faith? How do we win over our doubts? That’s why I wrote Overcoming Spiritual Vertigo.

You can follow Dwayne’s blogs here.

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When Ministry Knocks you Down, How to Get Back Up

If you’re a pastor, a missionary, or serve in a church, you can’t avoid discouragement, disappointment, and hurt from ministry. The Bible even uses the not-so-complimentary metaphor “sheep” to describe those we serve. And sheep get dirty and smelly and often kick and bite. Sometimes those sheep in the church do the same to their shepherds. So when you  get kicked, forgotten, disrespected, ignored, mistreated, gossiped about, or misunderstood, how do you move forward?

The story recorded in 1 Samuel 30 gives great insight. David had just begun his career to fight the bad guys. Early on he faced a huge defeat. While he and his army were in battle far from home, the bad guys, the Amalekites, attacked the city where his family and the families of his army lived. They burned the city and kidnapped their wives and children. When David’s men discovered this, they considered removing him from his position, not by a vote of a board or a congregation, but with big rocks to the head by stoning.

The Scriptures then record one of the most beautiful verses every written. The old King James Version captures it well.

David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.  (1 Sam. 30.6)

It worked because his guys didn’t stone him but marshaled their energy and once again pursued the bad guys under his leadership.

As I’ve faced discouragement in ministry, these simple choices have helped me encourage myself in the Lord.

  • Acknowledge your pain and emotion to the Lord but don’t wallow in it. Neuroscientists have discovered that when we name our emotions, it turns down the volume in our brain’s emotional centers.
  • Journal your thoughts. Writing them down helps me stop the tendency to incessantly mull over the hurtful situation. Writing therapy been scientifically proven to help us process pain.
  • Read God’s Word, especially those verses that speak of hope and victory. Every time you read the Bible, you are actually re-configuring the circuits in your brain and reinforcing Biblical values and truth.
  • Do something pro-active. Take action to move forward. In David’s case he took specific action to resolve the problem. He rallied his troops to chase down the Amalekites.
  • Stop condemning yourself and remind yourself that you are a child of God, loved by Him with great intrinsic value regardless of whether  your church is growing or whether people treat you with respect.
  • Pray for those who have hurt you. I’m amazed how God defuses looming bitterness in my heart when I pray for the sheep that bite me.

How have you dealt with your ministry pain?

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What Walmart Greeters Taught me about Leadership

Looming over six feet tall with a scraggly beard, wire-rimmed glasses, a 12 inch ponytail tied with a rubber band, and a vest dotted with military patches, George would be at home riding a Harley with a motorcycle gang. Instead, he holds a clear plastic jug plastered with yellow smiley-face stickers and filled with dollar bills. And he enthusiastically says, “Welcome to Walmart. Have fun! Want a sticker?” George is my favorite Walmart greeter. I’ve learned a lot about leadership from George.

My second favorite greeter is Jimmy. Unlike George who stands, Jimmy sits…in his motorized wheel-chair. His physical disability keeps him from standing or even holding one of those charity jugs. Yet, with the same exuberance, he makes you feel good with his, “Welcome to Walmart. Thanks for coming.”

I don’t know how well the following statement would hold up under a scientific study, but I believe it to be true. Shoppers who meet George and Jimmy as they arrive buy more stuff at Walmart than those who meet other greeters who, for the sake of not being too harsh, come across with much less enthusiasm.

Both George and Jimmy use their leadership mirror well.

What is a leadership mirror? It’s a concept rooted in science and in the bible.

In 1995 an Italian neuroscientist  discovered what are called ‘mirror neurons’ in our brain. Essentially, a part of our brain lights up when we sense intention behind another’s action. When that part of our brain turns on, we feel a connection to that person. Their actions activate our mirror neurons. For example, when someone smiles at us, it drives the same motor response on my face. We smile. That experience then sends signals to our emotional center so that we share a positive emotion with the person. The strongest emotions we portray ripple out to others, whether those emotions are good or bad.

Before scientists discovered these mirror neurons, the bible already had. Remember what the writer of Proverbs wrote?

Prov. 15.1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

That explains that if when I go to Walmart and either George or Jimmy is on duty that day, I have a better experience shopping. They have used their leadership mirror well, even though they probably don’t even know it. Their body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice have become a mirror to me that I subconsciously reflect back to them which in turn affects my behavior and emotions.

This concept profoundly impacts our ability to lead as well. When we use our leadership mirror effectively, team attitudes and performance improves. When we don’t, the opposite occurs. Just think about how you feel the next time you go to Walmart and encounter a dumpy, negative, sleepy-faced greeter versus a George or a Jimmy greeter.

Consider these questions and ask yourself if you need to polish your leadership mirror.

  • Am I keenly aware of how I come across to those I lead with my body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice?
  • Do I consistently portray a positive upbeat tone to others?
  • What is my default facial expression… a scowl or a smile?
  • Do I consistently show up the same way each day at the office or do I leave people asking, “I wonder which boss is showing up today, the mad, sad, or happy one?”
  • Do I attempt to truly be present with others in the moment or do yesterday’s events, today’s task list, and tomorrow’s problems distract me from fully engaged interactions?

If we as leaders pay a bit more attention to our leadership mirror and use it well, we not only can increase team performance, but can actually bless those on our team as we help them activate their mirror neurons for the good.

Lately, how have you used your leadership mirror?

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When People Compare Pastors

Many pastors secretly struggle with measuring up to very successful pastors and churches. It’s tough, but it comes with ministry. People compare pastors. In this post I suggest a few ways to deal with this “measure up mentality.” I begin with one pastor’s experience. He received this e-mail from someone in his church. The names are changed to protect the innocent (uh, I mean the guilty).

Hi Pastor Jim:

Sharon S. here. How are you? I have been meaning to send you a note for quite some time and tell you about a pastor in California that I thought you might be interested in. Yeah, I know. If I were you I’d be rolling my eyes about now. But I must say, this guy is awesome and has challenged me personally in my life over the last year.

He has pastored [God’s Favorite] Church just outside [Utopia] for about three years and has grown it from 150 people to over 3,500. I have never seen a young guy with such a passion and a heart for God, willing to go against the “appropriate” evangelical grain and just teach the scriptures.

He just started a new series a week and a half ago. I am going to attach the first message because I would love for you to listen to him.  I can’t tell you how many people I know listen now. His name is [Gabriel, the archangel]. He has some of the best teaching I have ever heard on leadership in the church, justification, and some other tough subjects. He is a lot like [another famous pastor], who is his friend and a Facebook “fan” of his. Anyway, I have felt led to connect you with [Gabriel] for a long time. I’m not really sure why. Take it for whatever it is worth. 

Sharon

Pastor Jim emailed this response back.

Dear Sharon,

Thanks for reminding me that my preaching is subpar. It’s great to know that people in my church are making sure they get podcasts from somebody who will never know their name or answer their encouraging emails.

You’ve really made my day. I was studying for this week’s message when I got your note (I’ve already spent twenty hours on my sermon). I immediately stopped to download his magnificent sermon. It’s also wonderful to know that his church has exploded in growth; as you know, our attendance declined by 3% last year because people like you stayed home to watch guys like him on TV!

Gotta go finish my shallow sermon.

God’s blessings on you,

Pastor Jim

Pastor Jim didn’t really send this e-mail. He only wished he had.

I admit that at times this ‘measure up mentality’ has sucked my joy out of ministry, especially when I served in the U.S. I serve in Canada now and find this less of an issue here.

I’ve applied some simple ideas below that have helped me keep my joy even when I felt that I didn’t measure up in the eyes of others. Perhaps they will encourage you as well.

  • God made me who I am. I may not be a world-class leader, a ‘blow you a way’ preacher, or as creative as most, but I must appreciate, embrace, and faithfully use the gifts and competencies He has given me.
  • He has placed me where He wants me to be. I must accept that and do my best with the opportunity He’s provided.
  • I must not dismiss or cutoff those with whom I don’t measure up. We will never please everyone and such people will probably stay in our churches.
  • It’s ok to take care of my valid needs. I can’t change what other people think about me, make them like me, or force them to approve of me. I can, however, take care of the body, soul, and spirit God has entrusted to me. In doing so, I then become the best pastor and leader He has created me to be.

This old King James Version verse has encouraged me as I’ve faced the ‘measure up mentality.’

Psa. 62.5 My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Thee. 

In my third book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I deal extensively with how to manage this ‘measure up mentality’ as it relates to the temptation to people please.

How have you handled this ‘measure up mentality?’

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5 Benefits of Working Outside the Office

Although I’ve been a pastor 35 years, only in the last few years have I discovered the value of studying/working outside my church and home office. I’ll either go to McDonalds (cheap food) or when I lived in Chicago, Panera (good atmosphere and the place I preferred). Both provide free Wi-Fi. While I don’t advocate spending all your time working outside the office, I’ve found that doing so once a week benefits me and the ministry in these ways.

5 Benefits  of Working Outside the Office

  • Productivity: Less interruptions from others.
  • Creativity: A different environment spurs it.
  • Focus: Less distractions help me concentrate better (like being tempted to clean up my office or play with something on my desk).
  • Energy: A different ambiance/atmosphere gives me more.
  • Stress management: I feel less of it in a neutral environment.

When I do work outside the office, I use an app I play into my sound suppressing headphones. It’s called Ambiance which offers zillions of nature sounds to listen to. I use Audio-technics active noise-cancelling headphones. They’er cheaper than Bose and about as good.

If you can, try working outside your office a day or so a month and see if it benefits you as it does me.

What other advantages of studying outside the office have you discovered?

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