A Counter-intuitive Way to Manage Ministry Pain

Pain and ministry go together like peanut butter and jelly. Once you make a PB&J sandwich, there’s no separating the two ingredients. Neither can we isolate successful ministry from the pain it inevitably brings. I don’t like rejection, disappointment, or criticism. I don’t know any pastor who does. Sometimes, however, I do everything I can to avoid them. However, this woman approached pain in a counter-intuitive way.

Portrait of a man with fist and eyes closed on black background

A French nun who lived in the late 1800s, Thérèse of Lisieux (known as “the Little Flower”), practiced a simple way to draw closer to Jesus.

It is, in short, to seek out the menial job, to welcome unjust criticisms, to befriend those who annoy us, to help those who are ungrateful.

Thérèse didn’t allow those experiences to help her grow only if they came her way; she actually sought them out and embraced them. As difficult as that seems, perhaps the Lord would want you to consider this unusual tool to help you become a more effective pastor and follower of Jesus.

What are your thoughts on what Thérèse did? Does it seem too ‘out there’ or was she onto something?

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The Causes and Cure for Leadership Burnout

Leadership is tough. Good leaders understand this and manage their lives and leadership demands to avoid burnout. Sometimes, however, even the best leaders get burned out. If you’re now facing it, examine the cause list below to see what factors may be contributing to it. Then, take one proactive step this week from the cures list to take better care of yourself.

Hand holding a match burning at both ends

4 Causes of Leadership Burnout:

1. 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. 

2. Power stress.

Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, authors of Resonant Leadership, coined this phrase 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 organizations or churches that we get caught in a vicious cycle of unhealthy sacrifice for others that leads to burnout.

3. Continuous partial attention. 

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 to spend our time on. It happens when we ‘skim,’ and pay attention, only partially. When this happens to a leader, he will fail to focus on the most important tasks at hand and get further behind on mission critical issues. Then, he must rush to get the important things done which contributes to chronic stress.

4. Multi-tasking. 

“Many leaders have convinced themselves that multitasking leads to greater productivity. However, researchers have shown that when we try to process two mental tasks at once, our mental capacity can drop from that of a Harvard MBA to that of an eight-year-old. And it can reduce our mental capacities as if we missed a night’s sleep or smoked pot (Rock, 2009, pp. 34– 36). Multitasking can also diminish long-term memory (Foerde et al., 2006). Even college students who multitasked with their laptops while in a class scored lower on tests than did students who didn’t multitask. And students who could see others multitasking also scored lower. So multitasking decreases others’ productivity as well as our own (Sana et al., 2013).” (from People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership by Charles Stone).

In fact, research shows that multitasking can add up to a 40% loss of productivity in a day. This decrease in productivity is called task switch cost. 

So, what can we do to combat these factors that lead to burnout? Consider these steps.

4 Cures of Leadership Burnout:

1. Exercise.

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. The better we take care of our brains, the better leaders we will be. 

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. Read this post by Daniel Schroeder to learn more about statio.

3. Sleep.

“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 (Medina, 2009, p. 164) 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))

4. Get off the grid.

In our 24-7 connected world, our smart phones can actually keep us on high alert and in stress mode. I find that if I choose a 24-hour period (my Sabbath) when I don’t check email, I’m much more at peace. Getting off the grid helps disengage my mind and slow my internal pace. I’d also encourage you to turn off the automatic notifications function on your smart phone and on your computer.

What has helped you avoid burnout as a leader?

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Great Staff Meetings Require these 7 Rules

Leaders can’t lead without meeting with others. Sometimes meetings go well. Sometimes they don’t. Often team dynamics derail productive meetings simply because someone misspoke or misheard. As I began to realize this, several years ago I asked a psychologist to help me create some rules for talking in our staff meetings. I call them conversational ethics. Here are the 7 rules.

Teamwork concept. Isolated on white

CONVERSATIONAL ETHICS FOR MEETINGS

  1. Listen: let others say their piece; as Covey said, “Seek to understand before being understood.”
  2. Suspend judgment: don’t make assumptions about what others say.
  3. Share in the thought pool: everybody gives input; participate truthfully (how you really feel).
  4. Stay detached from your ideas: don’t take things personally; use “I” messages; own your personal view.
  5. Let others be inarticulate: help others articulate what they are trying to say by engaging.
  6. Privacy: if personal issues with you and another person potentially could affect a discussion and/or a decision, first deal with it 1-on-1 in private with the individual.
  7. Accountability: everybody helps hold each other accountable to this set of ethics.

What guidelines have helped you lead good meetings?

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The Original Jesus

My friend Daniel Darling just released his latest book, The Original Jesus: Trading the Myths We Create for the Savior Who Is. Daniel is a great writer and provides an insightful look at the myths we create about Jesus. I highly recommend it. I’ve included an excerpt below.

orig jesus

Who is Jesus? The answer to this question is the foundation of Christianity. His deity is enshrined in all three major Christian creeds and has been held by the church for its two thousand years of history. Tozer says, “For more than sixteen hundred years this has stood as the final test of orthodoxy.” Theologian Michael Bird writes, “All in all, the testimony of the Christian tradition, based on its exegesis and experience, is that Jesus Christ is both fully human and divine.” John Frame says the deity of Christ is a “pervasive doctrine of Scripture,” and he sums up Scripture’s claims with three statements:

  1. Jesus bears divine attributes: holiness, perfect truth, wisdom, almighty power, immutability, glory.
  2. Jesus performs divine acts: creation, providence, miracles, forgiveness of sins, final judgment.
  3. Jesus in Scripture is an object of faith and worship.

Every generation faces new temptations to diminish or doubt Jesus’s deity. As you read this book, Newsweek and Time are likely working on the “Scholars Debunk the Supernatural Jesus” feature they run every Easter. This thin gruel of journalism will once again be answered by the most basic evangelical scholarship.

But red-faced skeptics and timid doctoral students are not the only ones tempted to flinch at Jesus’s unpopular claims. Even those who claim to be true believers have trouble grasping who Jesus is. It’s less hassle for us to just place Jesus where we want to, in a long line of inspirational religious figures. But for the Christian story to work at all, Jesus has to be more than a first-century Gandhi-like figure.

I’m guessing if you’re reading this book you’re a believer like me. Chances are you found this at a Christian bookstore or through an online review at a Christian blog or because millions of your friends posted on Facebook about how awesome it is.

But maybe, just maybe you are not a Christian and chose this book out of curiosity or boredom or because a Christian friend recommended it. If this is you, then for the rest of the chapter I’d like to make the case for why you might consider Jesus.

While more gifted apologists could give you in-depth answers as to who Jesus is, my aim is not only to fill your head with more information but to see God by his grace penetrate your heart with the truth of his Word.

I hope to show why Jesus is less compelling as a mere guru than he is as the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

Excerpted from The Original Jesus: Trading the Myths We Create for the Savior Who Is by Daniel Darling, Baker Books, 2014, by permission.

How Going to Church Benefits Brain and Body

As a committed follower of Jesus, I’ve gone to church literally my whole life. My parents took me when I was a kid. I wanted to go as an adult. And in another sense, I’d better go now. After all, I am a pastor. Most believers understand that church attendance does (or should) help us grow spiritually. But did you know that God wired our bodies and brains to benefit from both attending church and developing a healthy spiritual life? Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg notes that since the year 2000 over 400 papers have been published each year on this topic. Consider these ways science shows us that church attendance benefits both brain and body.

brain working out

How Going to Church Benefits Brain and Body

First, two caveats.

  • I’m assuming your church is a Bible-based, grace-filled place. If your church atmosphere is legalistic, harsh, and overall condemning, it can actually harm your body and brain.
  • These studies don’t necessarily show a causal relationship (attending church causes such benefits). Rather, most of the studies show a correlation. That is, attending church and these benefits are closely related. Nevertheless, science continues to discover more body and brain benefits from walking with Christ and being with His people

1. It decreases stress. The stress hormone cortisol is released by the adrenal glands that lie on top of our kidneys. Good stress (eustress) keeps us keep motivated and alert. So cortisol is not all bad. But prolonged stress that keeps unhealthy high cortisol levels in our body damages both it and our brains. Heart problems, a dampened immune system, and diminished memory result from prolonged stress. However, church attendance can decrease the stress response thus decreasing the amount of cortisol in your body.

2. It increases the trust hormone, oxytocin. Oxytocin is one of the ‘feel-good’ brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters). If the church you attend is filled with kind and caring people, your brain will release this chemical helping you bond with others. Biblical community is really good for you.

3. It may thicken your brain. One brain study discovered that those who place a high value on spirituality (though not necessarily tied to church attendance) showed thickening in some brain areas. Many other studies now show that reflective and contemplative spiritual practices grow several parts of your brain.

4. It can help lessen depression. A group of Canadian researchers discovered that those who attended church more regularly experienced less depression. They surmised that social support made the difference resulting in people being more resilient. (see number 2 above)

5. It may help you live longer. One study showed that attending church increased the lifespan for whites by an average of 7 years and potentially 14 years for African Americans. The more people go to church, the less likely they are to die sooner than those who don’t go to church.

6. Finally, church attenders commit suicide less often, deal with pain better, have less cardiovascular problems, and recover quicker from surgery.

A final word.

We follow Christ, not because of the pragmatic benefits, like taking aspirin for a headache. We follow Him because he created us with a soul thirst that can only be quenched in Him. However, when we do turn to Jesus and His Body, He gives us some nice brain and body benefits as well.

So the next time you are in church, thank God for these brain and body benefits.

What other practical benefits have you experienced from attending church?

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