Pastor, are you addicted to THIS?

Addictions. Usually the word connotes a physical compulsion to drink or eat too heavily, use illicit drugs, or satisfy our sexual passions in sinful ways. Although some may, most pastors don’t get sucked into such destructive behavior. We are called to serve God with our whole hearts and we mostly stay clear of these issues. But, there is one thing that I’d guess many pastors are addicted to, yet don’t realize it. We can blame our brain on it.

Throw addiction

The addiction? Dopamine. Dopamine is one of the main neurotransmitters in our brain. It’s what we feel when we put the final touches on a sermon. It’s what we feel when we see an uptick in our blog followers on google analytics. It’s what we feel when we accomplish a goal or drink an energy drink.

Dopamine gives us a nice feel good kick. It’s involved in developing the more destructive addictions I mentioned above  causing us to want a greater and greater ‘hit’ to feel good. The chemical is involved in reward, motivation, and pleasure prompting us to seek out experiences that invoke it. We not only want it (the motivation) but we like it (the reward it brings).

All the above and more behaviors elicit dopamine which is released in the pleasure center of our brains called the nucleus accumbens. This structure lies just behind the front part of our brain called the pre-frontal cortex.

It simply feels good to get things done. And when we feel good, our brains want to repeat the process so in turn, dopamine helps us form habits, whether good or bad.

So how do I know if I’m addicted to dopamine?  Consider these possible indicators.

  1. I constantly check email. I might get a nice email from someone and when I do, it gives me a tiny shot of dopamine.
  2. I constantly need something new and novel to feel ‘right.’
  3. I constantly check Facebook to see if I got more ‘likes.’
  4. I feel jittery if I can’t look at email for a day or so.
  5. I have become compulsive about some things, like having to pick up every call that comes to my cell phone or home phone.
  6. I find that I’m more easily distracted than I once was.
  7. I can’t get through a day without caffeine or sugar (caffeine and sugar also gives us a nice dopamine fix).
  8. I’m often mentally exhausted even though I’ve not done mentally taxing tasks.

Fundamentally, when we get addicted to dopamine, we are seeking shots of it while often not doing anything truly productive (like constantly checking email).

So, what can we do if we think we are addicted to dopamine. Consider these ideas.

  1. Acknowledge that you have a problem.
  2. Turn off automatic email and social media notifications on your cell phone or computer.
  3. Take a day off each week when you don’t interact with email or social media.
  4. Make sure you spend time each day alone with God.
  5. Check out this entire website dedicate to dopamine addiction.
  6. Purposely don’t pick up a call when you hear the buzz on your cell phone. Do this for several days to convince yourself that you don’t have to.

What has helped you keep from being addicted to this subtle addiction?

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8 Signs of an Emotionally Anxious Pastor

My dad was an electrical engineer and filled his shop in our basement with the most amazing gizmos. Transistors, capacitors, transformers, electrical tools and every conceivable gadget lined the shelves and entertained me for hours. My favorite gadget was a neon sign transformer. A transformer is a device that either steps up or steps down current. The metal green box in a yard down your street or the cylindrical container on a telephone pole near your house is a transformer that steps down high-voltage power to 220 volts that comes into your house.

anxiety brain

With my dad’s neon sign transformer, I made what is called a Jacob’s ladder. I attached two three-foot wires to the leads on each side, and bent the wires into a V. When I plugged it in, a multi-thousand volt spark started at the bottom of the V and arced to the top. In this case, the transformer stepped up the household current to over two thousand volts. My Jacob’s ladder created lots of really cool sparks that appealed to my geekish interests. And I got shocked by it only once.

A leader is like a transformer. By his responses, he can either defuse an emotional setting like a heated board meeting or can act like a step-up transformer by reacting and increasing anxiety, thus causing lots of not-so-cool sparks, as we leaders often do. Through a calm presence with emotional people, a leader can act like an emotional step-down transformer, decreasing the group’s anxiety by letting it pass through him without getting zapped.

Sometimes as leaders, however, we can characterize emotionality and anxiety one-dimensionally as defensiveness. But chronic anxiety, the low level anxiety we seem to never shake, fuels emotionality and shows up in eight ways that I call “the eight Fs of chronic anxiety.” It manifests itself differently in different people. As you read the list below, consider which F tempts you the most.

  • Fight: emotionally reacting and becoming defensive (how we usually describe emotionality)
  • Flee: emotionally or physically cutting off from others in anxious situations
  • Freeze: not knowing what to do, thus not taking a position; offering no opinion and/ or staying neutral when you should take a position
  • Fuse: losing your identity by glomming on to others’ wants and desires, compromising convictions, seeking unity at all costs and/ or trying to force everybody to be one big, happy family
  • Fixate: easily getting triangled into unhealthy relationships and conflict
  • Fix: overperforming to fix somebody else’s problems or doing for others what they should do for themselves
  • Flounder: becoming passive, underperforming, or giving up
  • Feed/ fornicate/ finances: inappropriately yielding to base impulses by turning to food, illicit sex/ pornography or inappropriate use of money

When we are tempted to deal with our anxiety with one of the 8 F’s, we must look to Jesus.

Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions. He wept when he heard that Lazarus had died. He became angry at the temple moneychangers. He felt a heavy heart in the garden of Gethsemane. Yet his behavior reflected anything but anxious reactivity.

Jesus’ response to his enemies throughout his trial and crucifixion, as 1 Peter 2: 23 illustrates, continues to amaze me.

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

Every time I recall this verse, I stand in awe. Although Jesus possessed God’s power to destroy his detractors, he didn’t. Rather, he leaned into his heavenly Father to respond appropriately to hardship. Likewise, as we lean into our heavenly Father, he gives us what we need to say no to reactivity and dealing with our anxiety in unhealthy and sinful ways.

The Bible tells us that the Lord has given us everything we need to live a godly life. Second Peter 1: 3 is so powerful as it encourages us with these words.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

God has crafted our bodies and brains, our souls and minds, and our regenerated hearts with the capability to cool our emotions in the midst of emotionality. Acting calmly when tempted to do otherwise glorifies him.

What has helped you deal with anxiety that ministry often brings?

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Used by permission. Stone, Charles (2014-01-01). People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership (Kindle Locations 2415-2432). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

How to Do your Best and Leave the Results to God

Do your best and leave the results to God.  That phrase may seem a bit worn and trite, but it’s well worth heeding. So, just how do we do that?

do your best written on a notepad paper.

In Christ’s parable of the talents, the master, representing God, gave responsibility to the servants based on individual ability. (Matt 25) The story implies that some pastors have greater competencies than others.

Similarly, Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit gives gifts as He sees fit. (1 Cor 12)

It’s obvious that the Spirit gives some pastors extra preaching or leading gifts, evidenced in the size and impact of their ministries. It’s easy to become discouraged when we do our best yet don’t see our church grow like others to which we may compare ourselves. When we wrap our identities around numerical results and the numbers don’t increase, the discouragement can overwhelm us. This is especially true for older pastors who realize they may never achieve the dreams they had for ministry.

David Goetz, a marketer and author of Death by Suburb, wrote,

I often sat in the studies of both small-church pastors and mega-church pastors, listening to their stories, their hopes, their plans for significance. I deduced, albeit unscientifically, that often clergymen in midlife had worse crises of limits than did other professionals. Religious professionals went into the ministry for the significance, to make an impact, called by God to make a difference with their lives. But when you are fifty-three and serving a congregation of 250, you know, finally, you’ll never achieve the large-church immortality symbol, the glory that was promised to you. That can be a dark moment-or a dark couple of years. (Goetz, p 43)

However, noted theologian Fred Rogers, of Mr. Rogers fame, recalled an experience he had when attending seminary. He wanted to hear a variety of preachers, so for a time he visited a different church each Sunday. One week he experienced “the most poorly crafted sermon [he] had ever heard.” A friend had accompanied him, and when he turned to her, he found her in tears. She said, “It was exactly what I needed to hear.”

Rogers then told his audience, “That’s when I realized that the space between someone doing the best he or she can and someone in need is holy ground. The Holy Spirit had transformed that feeble sermon for her, and as it turned out, for me too.” (www.christianitytoday.com/tc/1999/sepoct/ 9r5035. html?start=1)

Although the results from our best efforts may look feeble to some, they can touch a heart and change a life when we least expect it. This side of heaven we will never know the people we impacted through our faithful service.

What has helped you leave the results to God?

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Taken from Five Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them: Help for Frustrated Pastors (Kindle Locations 1813-1827). Kindle Edition.  Charles Stone (used by permission)

8 Ways Pastors can Refresh Their Tired Souls

Peter Drucker, one of the world’s greatest leadership experts, once listed what he considered the four hardest jobs in the world. Here are those four: President of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital, and a pastor. Wow, strong words from a wise man. Although I’ve not held the first three jobs, I have served as a pastor for over 33 years. It can be tough and pastors must care for their souls. Consider these 8 ways to refresh your tired soul.

Tired man
  1. Do something totally different from ministry. Often pastors spend even their free time on ministry related pursuits and thoughts. Consider doing something totally different from the ministry vein. I once took improv classes I found very refreshing to my soul.
  2.  Be okay with taking care of you. Pete Scazzero, most known for emotionally healthy spirituality, learned this the hard way and wrote these words.
    • “The degree to which you love yourself corresponds to the degree to which you love others. Caring for ourselves was difficult for us to do without feeling guilty. We unwittingly thought that dying to ourselves for the sake of the gospel meant dying to marital intimacy and joy in life. We had died to something God had never intended we die to.” (www.christianity today.com/le/1998/winter/8l1063.html)
  3. Keep healthy boundaries with others. A boundary is a line that helps define those things for which we are responsible. They define who we are and who we are not; when properly managed they can bring us great freedom with others in our churches. I recommend Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s bestseller Boundaries for better understanding.
  4. Lighten up and laugh more often (not at others’ expense, though). Current research on how humor affects leadership has discovered that the most effective leaders use humor more often than less effective ones. (Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, Primal Leadership, 34).
  5. Build relationships with no ministry purpose in mind. Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message Bible paraphrase said…
    • “Pastors can lose touch with relational vitality when their relationships are driven by programmatic necessity. When this happens, pastors can lose the context for love, hope, faith, touch, and a kind of mutual vulnerability. In the midst of the congregation, pastors become lonely and feel isolated-and that isolation can be deadly to the pastoral life. Those are the conditions in which inappropriate intimacies flourish.” (http://www.alban.org/conversation.aspx?id=3280)
  6. Take care of your body through exercise, healthy eating, and adequate sleep.
  7. Master technology, don’t let it master you. I’m a techno geek. I was one of the original Mac owners and I use an iPhone and an iPad. I love electronic gadgets. I’m on Facebook. I tweet, text, e-mail, and blog. I’ve found, however, that technology can easily enslave me. It’s a battle yet when I control my technology, I’m more at peace. Interestingly, research has shown that the average worker is interrupted every eleven minutes and takes twenty-five minutes to refocus back on his job. I found that to be generally true in my life when I compulsively check e-mail.
  8. Periodically take a solo retreat. Occasionally I’ve taken a night and a day at a local retreat center. I’m usually the only one there. When I go, I think, pray, plan, write, and study. Those periodic getaways refresh my soul and help break me from the rigors of ministry, resetting my focus to respond appropriately to the stresses ministry brings.

What has helped add life to your soul as a pastor?

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11 Ways to Use Email to Make Things Worse

Email has become endemic to our culture. Without it, it would be difficult to communicate as much as it seems that ministry and the marketplace require. I receive scores of emails every day and I know some pastors and leaders who get over 100. YIKES! It can be a useful tool if used correctly. But it can also be a deadly tool if used poorly. If you want to make matters worse with people you know or within your organization or church, these 12 practices will definitely get the results you want.

AT symbol on a black bomb.
  1. When you are emotionally charged about something or someone, fire off your email right then. Make sure you are honest in what you say. Share your true feelings. Remember, honesty is the best policy.
  2. If you want to add emotion to your email to emphasize your point, WRITE YOUR EMAIL IN ALL CAPS. IT IS THE BEST WAY TO MIMIC A REAL SCREAM, ONLY YOU ARE USING PIXELS.
  3. To further make a point, use an exclamation point! Even better, use lots of them!!!!!!!!!
  4. Never, never, never let someone objective read a difficult email before you send it. Remember, honesty is the best policy and you would not want anyone to edit out your honesty.
  5. It’s best to send email in sticky situations rather than calling someone or meeting them face to face. That way, you save precious time at the moment, even though your email may be misunderstood. If it’s misunderstood, it’s the recipient’s fault.
  6. Always assume that people who read your emails will perfectly understand what you intended to say. After all, it is in black and white.
  7. Make sure that your emails are long enough so that the reader has to scroll down to read the entire email. After all, you took the time to write it. The other person should take the time to read it.
  8. When you need something, don’t write “please” in the email or the reader may think you don’t mean business. Just demand it.
  9. When you get an email sent to several people, use “reply all” so that everybody gets to read your email.
  10. If someone does not respond back to your email in a timely manner, assume that they are a slovenly slob. Never assume that the email could have gotten blocked, accidentally sent to the junk file, or inadvertently trashed.
  11. Don’t believe the email golden rule: Type unto others what you would have them type unto you.

What email practices have you discovered that makes matters worse?

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