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.

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.

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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How to to Give Effective Staff Evaluations

For years I’ve used this form below when I perform my twice-annual staff evaluations. I have every staff person complete the form on themselves and attach their goals for the previous and upcoming year.  These documents provide the talking points for the eval. Afterwards, I compile a one page written evaluation I give to them. You might want to try it to see if it works in your context.

Staff Self-Evaluation/Annual Review

Employee name: _________________________ date:______   review period: ____________

MINISTRY ROLE

  • Do you know what is expected from you in your role?
  • Do you know what is most important in your role?
  • Do you have the materials and resources you need to do your work right?
  • Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best almost every day?
  • In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  • Does your supervisor or someone at work seem to care for you as a person?
  • At work do you feel like your opinions seem to count?
  • Does our mission make you feel like your job is important?
  • Are your fellow staff members committed to doing quality work?
  • Do you have a best friend at work?
  • In the last six months has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  • In the last year have you had the opportunity at work to learn and grow?

STAFF VALUES

How would you evaluate yourself in the following staff value areas (10 being the highest)?

  • Integrity                                       1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Attitude (positive, coachable, servant-like)      1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Volunteer appreciation/development            1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Holistic health (body, soul, spirit)                  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Simplicity                              1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Authenticity                              1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Teamwork (loyal, resolves conflicts)            1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Continual growth/learning                  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Health work ethic (excellence, hard worker, fun)      1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Risk taking (bold steps of faith)                  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Other areas
  • Budget (wisely manages budget)                        1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Evangelism (invests in and shares w/seekers)            1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Creativity                                                             1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
  • Leadership                                                            1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

Comments about staff values:

Describe your overall job performance?

Strengths:

Areas in which you’d like to improve:

I believe that my spiritual gifts of____________________________________________are being: __Maximized       __Moderated       __Minimized       __Unused

Comments:

GOALS (please attach a current copy of your goals with progress notes included)

For______ ______ through _______ ______

(month)  (year     (month)     (year)

Communication

1. Do you feel your area of ministry has been well identified and/or communicated to the:

Staff?             __Yes     __Somewhat     __No

Church body?             __Yes     __Somewhat     __No

Within your area?            __Yes     __Somewhat     __No

As a staff:

2. Where and how would you like to see communication improve or increase?

As a church:

3. Where and how would you like to see communication improve or increase?

In your area of ministry:

4. Where and how would you like to see communication improve or increase?

Staff Relationships

1. With how many people have you experienced significant frustration this past year?

__Some           __One or Two            __None

2. What attempts have you made to improve these relationships? Are the issues still outstanding?

3. Any thoughts or ideas on how we can improve staff relationships?

4. Any thoughts on how to improve relationships with church leadership?

5. Are all your relationships consistent with biblical standards of sexual and moral purity?

Comment(s) on any of the above:

Energizers and Stressors

1. In what area of ministry are you most productive, energized, or fulfilled?

2. On what do you spend most of your work time?

3. Are there areas of work or ministry in which you spend too much time?

4. In what area of ministry do you experience the greatest amount of stress and frustration?

5. What area of ministry do you find difficult to resolve?

Team Development

1. How would you describe the current status of the ministry teams you lead?

2. Who are the names of new leaders/volunteers you have brought into ministry during this last year?

Personal and Professional Development

1. In what area would you like additional development or skill training?

2. How can your supervisor help you in these areas?

3. What do you believe you can do to develop in these areas?

4. Does someone hold you spiritually accountable?  __Yes     __No

How would you describe the effectiveness of that accountability?

Other areas

Anything else you’d like to discuss with your supervisor:

Any suggestions on how to improve this review process?

What kind of staff eval has worked for you?

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A Powerful Tool to Help Create Change in your Church

Change in every church is difficult, but necessary. Things that are alive, change. One powerful tool that can help move change forward in your church is storytelling. I’ve excerpted a brief portion of my fourth book Brain-Savvy Leaders, the Science of Significant Ministry below that describes the power of storytelling to create change.

Narrative persuasion is a technique that uses indirect communication through story and example. Often we try to persuade others with a direct approach that communicates just the facts, like, “We are going to make a change, and here are the reasons why.” The direct approach often is not effective. Neuroscientists have confirmed common sense that storytelling has a powerful effect on behavior (Falk et al., 2012).

Storytelling helps others “see” through the eyes of another. As you solicit feedback as you prepare for your change, look for stories of people who are managing the change well. Tell their stories as you give updates about your progress. When your team members can see successful responses to change through stories of others, it will help them navigate the change better.

How has storytelling helped you move a change initiative forward in your church?

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Sources:

  • Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry by Charles Stone (Kindle Locations 2746-2752). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition (permission granted for use).
  • Falk, E. B., Berkman, E. T., Mann, T., Harrison, B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2010, June 23). Predicting persuasion-induced behavior change from the brain. The Journal of Neuroscience, 30( 25), 8421– 24.

7 Thinking Errors that Hinder Church Growth

My first degree, industrial engineering, taught me to think systematically which has in turn benefited my pastoral leadership. Since then I’ve read many books on church planning and been certified through Ministry Advantage and Auxano, two strategic planning/pastoral coaching organizations. I’ve also led three churches where I’ve served through a year-long strategic planning process. So, I’m well-versed and trained in the church visioning/planning process. Yet, of all the books I’ve read on strategic planning, Will Mancini’s book, Church Unique is the best. In his chapter called “Lost on the Way to Your Own DNA,” he lists subtle thinking patterns that can hinder church growth. He calls these patterns ‘thinkholes.’ I’ve listed them here with brief definitions.

Ministry “thinkholes.”

  1. The ministry treadmill: busyness eliminates time for reflection. 
    • leads to just adding more programs
  2. The competency trap: presumption that past methods will continue to work decreases appetite for learning.
    • leads to just working harder
  3. The needs based slippery slope: consumerism removes the need for discernment.
    • leads to trying to make people happy
  4. The cultural whirlpool 1: BuzzChurch-innovation short circuits self-awareness.
    • leads to just trying to be cutting edge
  5. The cultural whirlpool 2: StuckChurch-change outpaces the discipline for learning.
    • leads to glorifying the past
  6. The conference maze: success increases the temptation to copycat. 
    • leads to simply modeling best practices
  7. The denominational rut: resources disregard local uniqueness.
    • leads to just protecting theology

At times I’ve been caught up in these thinkholes. How about you?

What other thinkholes would you add to this list?

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