4 Ways to Become a More Grateful Leader

Ministry challenges can often rob our joy. Mounting problems, unhappy people, and never ending ministry demands often leave us with little emotional reserve to appreciate the good. What do we do when that happens? While not sticking our head in the sand about our problems, how can we bring joy back into our leadership? I believe becoming more grateful can help…a lot. Consider these 4 ways to become a more grateful leader.

1. Realize the practical benefits gratefulness brings.

Recent research has shown multiple benefits of gratefulness (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Benefits include these.

  • You will feel better about life in general.
  • You will be more optimistic and experience more positive emotions.
  • You will be less likely to be depressed.
  • You will physical feel better.
  • You will be more likely to help others.

2. Practice the discipline of metacognition.

Metacognition is the term for thinking about what you are thinking about. Often we are unaware that incessant chatter and mental rumination about problems replays in our minds, like a scene in a dvd that’s stuck a loop. When that happens, negative thinking can snowball so that we lose perspective and only see the negative. However, when we consciously make ourselves aware of that video playing on our mind (periodically check in on our thinking), we can stop the problem tape and ‘reinsert’ a gratitude tape.

The Apostle Paul wisely points this out in Philippians 4.8.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

3. Re-frame problems as learning opportunities or as ways that God can work.

As the old adage goes, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. We can’t avoid problems in ministry. But we do have the choice on how we choose to perceive them. When we gratefully re-frame a problem as an opportunity for God to work, it can motivate us to focus on solutions. And creating solutions gives the brain something it loves, certainty. Creating action plans and goals to solve a problem gives us a burst of the feel good neurotransmitter, dopamine, which helps motivate us toward further action.

4. Keep a journal of blessings.

In one study (Korb, 2012) researchers asked participants to keep a daily journal of what they were grateful for. They asked another group to write about what annoyed them. The group who recorded what they were grateful for showed greater determination, attention, enthusiasm, and energy compared to the other group. So, journaling what you are grateful for is a proven way to increase gratefulness.

What has helped you become a more grateful leader?

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Sources:

  • Emmons, R.A. & McCullough, M.E. (2003) Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84 (2), pp.377–389.
  • Korb,A. (2012) The Grateful Brain 

Take the Gratefulness Test to Find out how Grateful you are

The Bible says a lot about gratefulness. Answer these six questions to rank how grateful you are.
Gratefulness Test:
  1. Do you say “thank you” less than once a day or 2-3 times a day?
  2. Do you often spend time wishing/dreaming that things would be different or do you often thank God even in difficult circumstances?
  3. Do you often find fault with others or do you express a resilient, forgiving spirit, and grace filled spirit?
  4. Are most of the words that come out of your mouth critical/negative or positive/affirming?
  5. Do you have a demanding spirit, more often looking to others to meet your needs or do you look for ways to meet other’s needs?
  6. Do you blame others for your problems or do you easily take ownership of your problems?
The Psalmist often speaks about a thankful heart. We as leaders must do our best to model a attitude of gratitude for those we serve.
Psalm 69:30, “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.”

Psalm 95:2, “Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.”

Psalm 100:4, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.”

What has helped you develop a thankful spirit?

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Are you a Grateful Leader? 3 Key Indicators

Jesus once performed an amazing mass healing when he healed 10 lepers all at once (Luke 17.11-19). However, what amazed Jesus most was that only one leper came back to thank him. The responses these lepers gave so astounded Jesus that Luke records three questions He asked out loud after the healing. “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (vss 17-18) The big deal Jesus made about gratefulness in the one leper (and the lack thereof in the nine), points to the high value He places on a grateful heart. I believe leaders among all should evidence a grateful heart. Evaluate your level of gratefulness against these three gratefulness indicators.

Indicators that you are a grateful leader.

  1. I avoid rush-i-ness
    • Rush-i-ness (a word I made up) pictures the leader who rushes from one task or meeting to the next. In his rush-i-ness, his hurry causes him to miss what he should be thankful for. Nine of the healed lepers were in such a hurry to show their healed bodies to the priests (the Jewish law requirement for re-entry into society) that they forgot to thank Jesus. Rush-i-ness stifles gratitude because in our hurry, we often miss what we should be grateful for. John Ortberg wisely noted that hurry points not only to a disorganized schedule, but to a disorder heart.
  2. I intentionally look for things about which to be grateful. 
    • We all deal with a brain phenomenon called inattentional blindness, missing what is right before our eyes because we are focusing on something else. In a famous research experiment a researcher filmed a half dozen students tossing a basketball back and forth to each other. Half-way through the 90 second video someone in a gorilla outfit appears in it as he walks in front of the students, pauses, and then walks off. In studies of people who watch the video and are told ahead of time to focus on counting the number of times the ball is tossed, an average of 50% miss seeing the gorilla.
    • In my masters program in the neuroscience of leadership, I watched the video with the same instructions (count the ball tosses) and I didn’t see the gorilla until my prof showed us the video a second time.  I was too focused on counting the ball tosses that I missed the obvious. We leaders are often guilty in the same way of missing what we should be aware of and, thus, thankful for. The leper didn’t let the need to appear before the priest keep him from gratefulness.
  3. I verbalize my appreciation to others for what I’m grateful for. 
    • Jesus was omniscient. He could have read the minds of all the lepers and noticed that they were grateful and been satisfied with that. He didn’t do that, however. He made a big deal about only one returning to thank him and the other nine not doing so. I believe we complete true gratitude when we verbally express it to God for his specific blessings or tangibly show gratitude to those around us.

Ask yourself these questions how you as a leader value and practice gratefulness.

  1. Who on my team did I tangibly appreciate last week?
  2. Have I built into my annual goals and plans tangible ways to thank staff and volunteers?
  3. How would others describe my practice of gratefulness: like the one leper who returned (tangible gratefulness) or like the nine who didn’t (very little if any gratefulness)?

I’d love to hear how you build gratefulness into your ministry or organizational culture. What have you found to be effective gratefulness practices?

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Gratitude: The Brain’s Amazing Fertilizer

I live in Canada and we celebrated Thanksgiving in October while the U.S. celebrates Thanksgiving in November. Although a few other countries celebrate similar holidays, Canada and the U.S. make a big deal of it. Many people in both countries approach Thanksgiving with a desire to be more grateful, at least on those holidays. It’s great that we highlight gratefulness through a holiday, but did you know that gratitude is actually good for your brain and your body? Consider what science has discovered about this amazing brain fertilizer.

Gratefulness…

  1. Can give you more energy. In one research study participants kept a daily journal listing what they were grateful for. Another group recorded what annoyed them. Those who kept a ‘gratefulness’ journal had more energy and enthusiasm and were happier than the other group (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
  2. Can help you become more other-centered. In a study by the same researchers, participants also daily journaled what they were grateful for. In addition to similar results to the above cited study, they discovered an interesting side effect. Those in the ‘grateful’ group reported that they were more inclined to help others with a personal problem. They became what is called more “pro-social” (Emmons, 2006).
  3. Can help you sleep better. Our brains and bodies need adequate sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, our brains can’t consolidate our experiences from the day into our long term memory. So, without refreshing sleep, our memory and cognitive function suffers. A Chinese study discovered that not only did gratitude improve sleep, but decreased depression and indirectly lowered anxiety (Korb, 2012). So, start and end your day with a grateful heart for more rejuvenating sleep.
  4. Can make you physically feel better. When we are grateful, we activate brain regions associated with the feel good transmitter, dopamine.  Gratefulness also increases the mood neurotransmitter serotonin and the trust hormone, oxytocin. When dopamine is released, it evokes a “do that again” response. So, a grateful heart can feed on itself and help us want to repeat it. Its called the ‘virtuous cycle.’ We simply have to start the process by choosing to be grateful.
  5. Can help you become less materialistic. Several studies have shown that people with higher levels of gratitude are more likely to have lower than average traits of materialism (McCullough, 2002).This finding reminds of Jesus’ words, In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20.35)
  6. Can help combat negativity and the negative emotions that follow. Because our brain has five times more negative circuits than positive ones, we naturally tend to focus on the negative. It’s called the brain’s ‘negativity bias.’ When we are grateful it forces our brain to think about the positive. The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote Phil. 4.8. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

Not only does science speak to gratefulness, it also fills the pages of Scripture.

  • 1Th. 5.16   Be joyful always;  17 pray continually;  18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
  • Psa. 100.3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.  4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
  • Col. 3.16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God

If you want to learn even more about gratitude, watch this TEDx talk on The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance and read the book, Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier.

An old saying about gratitude goes like this.

If you’ve forgotten the language of gratitude, you’ll never be on speaking terms with happiness.

Don’t forget the language of gratitude today!

____

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Sources

  • Emmons, R.A. & McCullough, M.E. (2003) Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84 (2), pp.377–389.
  • Emmons, Gratitude and prosocial behavior: An experimental test of gratitude [Internet]. Available from: <https://www.academia.edu/365898/Gratitude_and_prosocial_behavior_An_experimental_test_of_gratitude> [Accessed 26 November 2014].
  • McCullough, Michael E. (2002) Savoring Life, Past and Present: Explaining what hope and gratitude share in common, Psychological Inquiry

The Dumbest Mistake I Ever Made as a Pastor

On the whole, I believe pastors are a pretty smart bunch. We earn advanced degrees, study biblical languages, go to conferences to learn, and constantly challenge our brains when we prepare messages and talks. I’ve earned two theology degrees and consider myself a relatively smart guy. But, brain smarts won’t guarantee ministry fruitfulness. Our walk with Christ fundamentally matters. And how we manage relationships probably ranks second in influence. As I look back over my 38 years in ministry, I realize I repeatedly made this one really dumb mistake in the relationship area.

I hid out.

I don’t mean that I intentionally hid from people. But I isolated myself too much from staff and people in the church. I didn’t make myself visible enough.

  • In one church my office was the furtherest away from everybody else. And I stayed in it way too long during work hours. I seldom came out of the office.
  • In that same church I didn’t emerge from my office until three minutes before the Sunday service.
  • In another church as a low level associate, I would never meet with anyone unless they made an appointment several days in advance. This practice certainly may be necessary for the lead pastor of a large church, but not for my role at the time, my first full time position.

Since those early years, I think I’ve grown up and become much wiser. Most church people (and staff) recognize that lead pastors are busy. Yet, they want to feel they have some connection to him or her. They don’t want to feel we are always in a rush to be somewhere else.

I now recognize that my visible presence matters greatly. And I don’t mean that we should make ourselves 24/7 accessible. We, too, must keep healthy margins. But, church people and staff need relational touches. Even small ones matter.

Here are changes I’ve made to help me be less of a ‘hider.’

  1. When I’m not preaching on a Sunday, I visit the kid’s areas, poke my head in each classroom, and thank the leaders. I don’t just sit in my office and read (which I enjoy doing).
  2. Before each Sunday service I intentionally finish my prayer time with an elder 10-15 minutes prior to the service start time so I can shake people’s hands and chat.
  3. I ask an elder to close out each service in prayer and just prior to that as I share some final comments, I explain that I will be at the welcome center after the service and would like to meet new people.
  4. I more often manage staff using the MBWA technique, Management By Walking Around. Although I still keep my door closed to minimize interruptions, I intentionally break throughout the day and wander around to touch base with staff.
  5. When I talk to a staff person during the week or a church person on Sundays, I try to give them my full presence through eye contact and genuine listening. Even a minute or two ‘fully present’ interaction can make a positive deposit into the souls of others.

I’m much wiser now and hope that going forward I won’t make as many dumb mistakes as I did when I was younger.

What’s the dumbest mistake you’ve every made as a pastor?

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