Serving as a pastor brings many joys as well as headaches and hurts. One of the biggest hurts comes when others disapprove of us. Neuroscientists have discovered that a disapproving look from a person actually hurts. A disapproving facial expression stirs up the flight-fight part of our brain and heightens anxiety, even more than an angry facial expression does. I’ve experienced those disapproving looks and have learned how to cope a bit better.
When the emotional part of our brain (the limbic system) takes over, we lose the ability to think clearly and lead well. When that happens, these behaviors surface.
- We react and act impulsively
- We assume the worst
- We get defensive
- We lose our creative ability to solve problems
- We grieve the Holy Spirit
- We lose perspective
- We can’t truly listen
- We can’t think as clearly
These kinds of behaviors show their ugly selves when the emotional brain takes over. Constant disapproval, especially from significant people in your church, can evoke these behaviors.
In a previous church several years ago, the most influential lay leader there was once my number one supporter. His words, body language, and facial expression would almost always encourage me. I could count on him to lift my spirits when I was down. However, something happened in our relationship and his demeanor took a 180-degree shift. He now became my greatest disapprover.
His view of me carried significant weight because he held a very high status in the church. When our paths crossed at church and I saw his disapproval, my anxiety level shot up. When I saw those disapproving looks, a brain dynamic kicked in in the flight-fight part of my brain that dampened my ability to think most clearly so I could preach at my best and compassionately relate to others on Sundays. Essentially, I stifled the Holy Spirit’s work in my life. Initially I was not consciously aware of this dynamic.
However, as I began to learn how my brain worked when I saw a disapproving expression, I started to make these choices that helped me cope with disapproval, especially his.
- I consciously took notice when his physical presence evoked anxiety in me. Instead of stuffing the emotion, I named it. I would breath a prayer under my breath, “Lord, I feel anxious right now after I saw _________. Please help me cope with this tension in my heart.”
- I sought out a coach/counselor to help me reappraise the situation quicker. Taking a different perspective helps calm the fight-flight part of our brain. Often we need an objective person to help us see the situation clearly.
- When I would preach, I would look for approving faces instead of his. I purposefully did not lock eyes with him in a sermon because I knew the toll it might take on my focus while preaching.
- I finally met with him for breakfast, shared my concerns, and asked him how I could regain his confidence. Essentially, his view of me as a leader had changed and I could not change it back. At least I cleared the air with him. However, through this experience the Lord helped me more consistently moderate the painful distraction I often felt when I saw his disapproval.
As painful as this experience was, it became a great learning experience. Now that I know what happens in my brain when I see disapproval in someone’s face, I’ve become quicker to more proactively moderate its negative effects.
How have you managed those who disapprove of you?
Source: Burklund, L., Eisenberger, N.I. & Lieberman, M.D. The face of rejection: Rejection sensitivity moderates dorsal anterior cingulate activate to disapproving facial expressions. Social Neuroscience, 2, pp.238-253.
Motivating staff and volunteer leaders in the church or in any organization begs the question: How can we do it better? I believe David Rock, author and speaker, offers fresh insight from neuroscience about how we can best motivate others. He developed a paradigm based on five domains that influence behavior that he coined with the acronym SCARF.
The letters in this acronym stand for these domains that affect brain functioning and thus performance in our jobs and ministries.
- Status: a feeling of importance relative to others around us
- Certainty: a sense of predictability about the future
- Autonomy: a sense of control over events
- Relatedness: a sense of safety with those around you
- Fairness: a perception of being treated fairly
When a staff person, employee, or volunteer experiences SCARF in his or her ministry it actually increases a chemical in their brain called dopamine which has a positive effect on our moods and our thinking. When a leader intentionally tries to meet the SCARF needs of those around him or her the more he will see positive results in these areas. The less these needs are met, the opposite will occur.
- intrinsic motivation
- change management
- healthy relationships
So how might a church leader meet some of the SCARF needs in his church or team? Consider these.
Status: Teach that every person has intrinsic worth and value in God’s eyes. Just because a person lacks certain skills does not mean his status in God’s eyes is anything less than someone who seems to be super talented.
Certainty: Keep your people informed about the future. Don’t spring new initiatives on them. Don’t blindside them. Give them sufficient time to process something new. Consistently do this.
Autonomy: Don’t micromanage. Give choices to your staff and volunteers within reasonable parameters. Let them own some decisions.
Relatedness: Provide plenty of time for your teams to do social stuff together. Encourage involvement in a small group. Intentionally build community.
Fairness: Make sure you treat everyone fairly. Don’t ever play favorites.
Motivating others will always test us as leaders. The SCARF model can help us become more intentional and effective in how we motivate them for Kingdom impact.
What have you found that has helped motivate those you work with?
Rock, D. (2008) SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others. Neuroleadership Journal, (1), pp.44-52.
Being a pastor is a high calling, yet pastors often face loneliness and discouragement. Surprisingly, some surveys reveal that up to 80% of pastors face regular discouragement in ministry. If that statistic even remotely reflects reality, then your pastor probably needs your encouragement. Yet, it seems so rare. The influential writer Henry Nouwen even wrote these insightful words.
… there is little praise and much criticism in the church today, and who can live for long in such a climate without slipping into some type of depression?
If your pastor needs encouragement, should you give it to him or should he just suck it up? If you do want to encourage him, what’s the best way to do it?
I’m convinced that we all need encouragement, even the strongest believer and most mature pastor. In fact, the Apostle Paul admitted he needed it and often referred to those who refreshed his and other people’s spirits, Philemon, Onesiphorus, and the Corinthian church. At times he even asked for it. A key character in the bible, Barnabas, was known as the son of encouragement.
Hebrews 13.17 speaks to this need and admonishes followers of Jesus to respond to their leaders in such a way as to make their work a joy. These translations bring out the meaning.
- So don’t make them sad as they do their work. Make them happy. (CEV)
- Let them do this with joy and not with grief … . (NASB)
- Give them reason to do this joyfully and not with sorrow. (NLT)
- Let them do all this with joy and not with groaning. (ESV)
In the research I did for my last book, 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them, I surveyed hundreds of pastors and asked them how people in their church encouraged them. These were the top six responses.
- You showed me tangible appreciation (such as small gifts like a gift card to a coffee shop).
- You let me know that I spiritually impacted your life (such as sending an email to him about a recent message that helped you grow).
- You prayed for me (such as sending a note telling your pastor that you prayed for him).
- You accepted and understood me, cared for me, and were there when I needed you (such as communicating in a genuine way that you know how difficult it is being a pastor and that you truly care).
- You supported my leadership, defended me, and trusted me (such as going out of your way to tell your pastor that you truly believe in him and trust him).
- You ministered to my spouse and/or my family (such as remembering his or her kids’ birthdays).
The pastors who responded to this survey shared many touching stories and sad ones as well. One pastor even wrote that he wasn’t sure anybody in his church really cared about him. I hope your pastor doesn’t feel that way.
If you’re a pastor, would sharing this statistic with your church in an appropriate way open the door for the encouragement you desperately need in your life right now?
If you aren’t a pastor, what is God prompting you to do this week to encourage your pastor?
 Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1989), 32.
Last Sunday night I attended an old fashioned Gospel sing at a church near our home. It was out of my comfort zone because the last 25 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.
However, 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.
- 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.
- 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 along with revivals and vacation bible schools had left an indelible imprint on my soul. Those hymns had deeply imbedded the truth of God’s word into my heart that I’d never forgotten.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
What are your thoughts on hymns? Do you believe we have neglected them? If so, how have you incorporated them into your services.