When the Ministry Honeymoon Wears Off

The ‘honeymoon’ concept dates as far back as the 5th century. After getting married, a newlywed couple would often drink lots of mead, a honey-based alcoholic drink thought to have aphrodisiac properties. So, their inebriation made everything between the two early on appear overly positive. And then when they got sober they faced reality. In a similar way, when we take a new job or assume a new ministry role in a church (paid or volunteer), the honeymoon effect can mask the realities of this new role. So what do we do when the ministry honeymoon wears off? I suggest five ideas that may help.

honeymoon

First, what might be some signs that your ministry honeymoon is over?

  1. You may hear more rumblings and criticism than you did when you first came to your new church.
  2. People may become more overt in their criticism. In one church I delivered a message series with which a small group took issue. They boycotted the series.
  3. Mental fatigue may give way to chronic negative thinking. When we start in a new ministry, we bring dreams, excitement, and anticipation that all will go well. When things don’t go as planned, you may find yourself dwelling more on the negative rather than on the good things happening. This leads to mental fatigue which in turn leads to more negative thinking. This negative thinking loop is called rumination.
  4. You may question the decision you made to move into the new ministry role. You may begin to have second thoughts. “Did I make the right move?”

If you believe your honeymoon is ending, consider implementing these simple ideas to help you move forward.

  1. Remind yourself that it’s part of a natural ministry cycle for every honeymoon to end. Jesus also had a honeymoon (great crowds, Hosannahs on Palm Sunday, etc.) and even though He led perfectly, His ended. Yet, it had to end for resurrection to begin.
  2. Stay hopeful. When a marriage couple’s honeymoon ends, it gives them an opportunity to truly love each other. If they are both committed to the marriage, their love will deepen. When your ministry honeymoon ends, you have the opportunity to deepen your love for those in your ministry and in your church.
  3. Remember, it’s seldom as bad as you may think. Our brains are wired to focus on the negative. It’s called the negativity bias. We have five times more brain circuits dedicated to focus on the negative in contrast to those dedicated to the positive. Guard against catastrophizing like Chicken Little mistakenly did when he yelled, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” The sky probably isn’t really falling in your ministry.
  4. Don’t cut off your critics. This post unpacks the important principle that distancing ourselves from our critics often backfires and makes things worse. Don’t ignore and dismiss your critics yet don’t let them use you as a punching bag.
  5. Don’t get defensive. Defensiveness only complicates matters. This post suggests 5 ways to avoid defensiveness.

So, enjoy your honeymoon while you have it. But when it ends, embrace the new ministry phase that offers great new opportunities for growth and learning. 

What has helped you weather the ministry honeymoon?

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How Curiosity Can Make you Less Defensive

Defensiveness. We’ve all been guilty. Someone in our family says something that hurts us and we say something back to retaliate. A person at work makes a comment about us and we internally stiffen up. Someone in our church questions a decision we made as a leader and we react and defend our position. It’s easy to let defensiveness drain us and make a situation worse. Recently, however, I learned a helpful new tool that can help dampen defensiveness. It’s called curiosity.

Asian Businessman are fighting by kung fu

In an interesting doctoral research project at the University of Rochester, NY, 142 students participated in a one day laboratory session. They were led to believe that a peer had rejected them and then they wrote for seven minutes. Each participant wrote under one of three conditions

  • Suppression: they were asked to suppress their feelings and write on neutral events of their day.
  • Expression: they were simply asked to express their thoughts and feelings.
  • Interest-taking (curiosity): they were asked to express their feelings and be curious about their feelings as they wrote.

Immediately after they wrote, the researcher measured their emotions, specifically anger, their positive feelings toward others (called prosocial affect), and how they internalized rejection. Next they listened to taped speeches from the peer who rejected them and from a neural person. Finally, they rated their like-ability and intelligence.

As you might expect, all three groups rated the rejecter negatively. And those in the suppression and expression group rated the neutral person negatively as well. However, the research yielded this surprise. Those in the interest-taking group rated the neutral person more positively.

What happened? Those in the first two groups displaced some of their hurt from the rejecter onto the neutral party. Those in the curiosity group did not. And at the end of the research session, the curious group reported less anger and less feelings of rejection and more positive feelings toward others (prosocial affect). Curiosity apparently dampens the fight-flight centers of our brain.

As a practical parallel, think of a guy who has a really bad day at work and, for no fault of their own, yells at his kids when he gets home. He’s displacing his anger onto them.

So what are some lessons we can learn from curiosity and its effects on defensiveness?

  1. When someone says something to us in anger, rejects us, confronts us, etc. and we feel tempted to defensively respond, take a curious posture.
  2. Rather than suppressing your feelings or thoughtlessly expressing them, stay curious.
  3. Ask yourself what might have prompted the person to do or say what he or she did (i.e., Did he have a bad day at work?). The situation might also lend itself to your asking the other person non-judgmental, open ended questions.
  4. Be curious about your own thoughts and emotions.
  5. Remind yourself that that the initial anxiety, fear, or worry that another’s behavior may trigger in you, will pass. Those emotions are not you, but passing mental and emotional events. Remind yourself that you don’t have to act on the feeling.
  6. Keep a curious mindset not only in these difficult situations, but also about the good around you (see Philippians 4.8).

Unfortunately, curiosity may have gotten a bad rap in the past (i.e., curiosity killed the cat). Yet, when we apply it to sticky situations ripe for defensiveness, it can serve us well.

The writer of Proverbs gives us wise counsel in this verse.

A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire. (Prov 15.1, The Message)

What has helped you become less defensive?

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Source: Weinstein, N. (2010) Interest-taking and carry-over effects of incidental rejection emotions. Doctoral dissertation, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY.

Five Reasons I’m Starting to Read a Paper Bible Again

I’m a self admitted geek. I love tech stuff. My dad was an electrical engineer and our basement was filled with all kinds of gadgets. When I was a kid I spent hours playing with his tools and gadgets. And as we entered the computer age, I became one of the first among my friends to embrace that technology. I was an early smart phone adopter and I now use a tablet computer when I preach, do my devotions, and read God’s Word. Recently, however, I dusted off my old NIV and began to read it in my devotions instead of relying solely on an electronic version of the Bible. Here are five reasons I’m going to begin reading more from my paper Bible.

Reading the Bible
  1. It is now as novel to my brain as reading from a tablet computer was a few years ago. And the brain loves novelty. Novelty helps us pay better attention and enhances learning. Now, as I hold my dogeared Bible my attention to what I read has increased.
  2. Research now shows a decrease in what scientists call deep reading because our Kindle brain differs from our paper brain. It’s called the bi-literate brain. Our brain uses different circuits depending on whether we are reading from paper or plasma. Plasma reading encourages more non-linear reading (skimming and browsing when our eyes dart around) whereas paper reading encourages more linear reading, deeper reading. I’ve found that paper reading forces me to read a bit slower. I realize how I’ve missed slower and deeper Bible reading.
  3. More tactile involvement with paper reading has also increased my attention. The feel of leather and the texture of the thin paper when I turn a page to look up a Scripture has enhanced my engagement with God’s Word. The more senses we use, the more engaged we become.
  4. When I read on my Kindle, it’s silent. However, the sound from the shuffling pages of my paper Bible brings back a pleasant familiarity from former days. The ‘whoosh’ feels warm and inviting as it was a part of my life for decades before electronic Bibles.
  5. In my paper Bible I had often scribbled notes and insights in the margins that I had learned from others or from my own study. As I read my paper Bible now, I also read these notes. They remind of God’s past faithfulness when His Spirit taught me then.

I’m not selling my iPad on Craig’s list (or Kijiji here in Canada). I still enjoy the reading plans I quickly access online. And I want to easily compare different versions that my Bible program offers with side-by-side comparisons. But incorporating my paper Bible into my reading has brought me a new and fresh experience in God’s Word.

What are your thoughts and experiences about reading a paper Bible versus an electronic one?

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Facebook and Twitter RANTERS…my Response

I’ve used Facebook and Twitter for a few years to help communicate my message on living for Christ as a leader and as a person. It’s been a valuable tool to share my thoughts and I’ve learned a great deal from others. However, I’m finding that more and more people are using it as a club against those who may disagree with their views. I’ve especially seen vitriolic rants come from those who who oppose Biblical perspectives on life issues. If you’ve every received an angry email, you know it’s not a pleasant experience. I’m now seeing many people misuse social media in the same way. Here’s what I’ve decided to do in response.

Angry man ranting and insulting rockets

First, social media has benefited me in many ways.

  1. I’ve learned insights from others, even from those with whom I disagree. Such insight motivates me to be a better Christ follower and a better leader.
  2. I’ve kept up with friends and family and re-connected with friends from the past.
  3. I’ve gotten a good laugh from funny videos on social media. Sometimes I simply need some levity and many of these videos have provided that.
  4. I’ve become more informed about current Biblical and world issues I care about.
  5. I’ve been inspired by stories of men and women of great faith and by those who have overcome incredible odds.
  6. I’ve been touched by the amazing stories and videos of dog rescues. I admit. I am a sucker for those.

Since the recent increase in vitriol even from some of my so called Facebook friends, I’ve decided that to maintain the value social media brings to me (the above reasons) and to minimize my frustration from those who rant, set up straw men to then tear them down, or throw out ‘in your face’ unfounded criticism about issues I hold dear, I’m taking these steps.

  1. I’m not going to automatically ‘friend’ someone who simply requests it, as I have until now.
  2. I have and will ‘unfriend’ those who rant, spew invectives, are dismissive of those who hold Biblical values, or otherwise misuse social media.
  3. I’m considering turning off the comment section on my blog as many well-known bloggers have now done. Fortunately, I’ve not had any commenters misuse this blog feature but I’m not confident that will continue given the current social media climate.
  4. I won’t be guilty of that which I find offensive. I won’t rant back to those who rant. I will simply use the power of the Facebook pull down menu and ‘click’ the ranter off my friend list.
  5. I will check my heart attitude to make sure that my thoughts about the ranters are pleasing to God.

Have you seen an uptick in social media vitriol? If so, how do you plan to deal with it?

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5 Lessons I Learned from ANGRY Emails

Most pastors and leaders count on email to communicate. We can’t make a call or schedule a meeting each time we need to tell a fellow staffer or leader something. I send scores of emails and receive upwards of 100 each day. I don’t know what I’d do without it. But sometimes email has not served me well. I’ve learned many lessons from angry emails, sometimes my very own.

email icon

Several years ago I began an email conversation with one of our pastors who lead our missions efforts. We had begun serving overseas in Nicaragua and it had captured the hearts of many in the church. I’d been there four times and looked forward to many more trips, especially to train pastors in leadership.

We had just begun planning for one coming up and one of the first steps was to create a budget. A church member who serves as the lay leader of our mission team crafted a first draft budget which came out a bit too high. In my mind, it was a first step: get a draft budget first and then begin to adjust the cost to to fit within our available funds.

Well, the pastor in charge saw the budget (copied via email) and sent me an email that this surprised him. I assumed that serving the pastors surprised him. I sent a quick email back (in frustration) that I was surprised he was surprised because I had been clear about my desire to server the pastors. He then sent me an emotional email and after a couple more emails back and forth, we were ready to declare war on each other. We both thought, “What is wrong with this guy?”

The next day we talked by phone and realized that each of us had totally misunderstood each other. It was the proverbial Mars versus Venus issue. He assumed one thing and I assumed another. We were able to resolve what could have been a severe blow to our relationship in a short phone conversation.

Here are some lessons I learned plus a few more about using email.

  1. Never send a first draft email you’ve written in anger. Set it aside and re-write it, several times, removing emotion laden language.
  2. If an email exchange begins to escalate in tone, stop and call or meet the person.
  3. Realize that the human mind will usually assume the worst-cast scenario when an email is misread.
  4. UNLESS YOU WANT YOUR EMAIL TO SHOUT, DON’T USE ALL CAPS OR USE !!!!!!!!
  5. Keep emails short. Think about it. When you get an email that goes off the page, are you inclined to read it?

What suggestions would you offer about minimizing emotions in emails?

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