Avoid Ministry Burnout by Asking Yourself 4 Questions

A few years ago I commissioned Barna Research, Lifeway Research, and Christianity Today to survey almost 2,000 pastors to discover what issues can cause a ministry or a leader’s passion for ministry to die. I based one of my books on those findings. Out of those findings, these four key questions emerged that all spiritual leaders should ask themselves at least once a year.

These four questions can help us face up to areas, that if left unattended, have the potential to kill our ministries or at best, drain the passion from our souls. Here they are.

  • Do you have a safe person in your life with whom you can process ministry problems and pain?
  • Have you looked deep enough inside to discover what truly bothers you about your ministry?
  • If those who see how you respond to ministry problems were asked to tell you what they thought, would they say you need to make some major changes?
  • To whom and how should you communicate your frustrations (your board, your staff, the church)?

It would do us well to heed Socrates’ wise advice when he wrote, “Know thyself.”

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If You Like Podcasts…

Many of you listen to podcasts. They’re a way to quickly learn some great stuff about the topics you enjoy. As many of you know, Moody Publishing recently released my latest book on mindfulness for Christians, called Holy Noticing: The Bible, Your Brain, and the Mindful Space Between Moments. It’s a guide that intersects Scripture and neuroscience to give a simple tool to practice mindfulness. I’ve had the privilege of being interviewed on a few podcasts and I’ve listed them below with links to the podcasts. Also, at the bottom of this post I’ve provided a link to free graphic I want to share with my readers that shows the history of Christian mindfulness.

Holy Noticing book ad
  1. AndSons is a podcast by two of the sons of John Eldridge who wrote the popular book Wild at Heart. These guys are a great duo. Here’s the link.
  2. JesusSmart is a podcast by Brian Del Turco, a really cool guy. Here’s the link.
  3. Professional Christian Coaching Today’s podcast came out before the book came out. The interview was hosted by Chris McCluskey and Kim Avery, two friends of mine who are world leaders in Christian coaching. Here’s the link.
  4. Salty Believer is hosted by my friend Bryan Catherman, who is a pastor in Utah. Here’s the link.
  5. Although this was not a podcast, it is a written interview with Dr. Ed Stetzer, world renowned Christian writer, researcher, and theologian. Here’s the link.
  6. Here’s a video interview I did with Rabbi Eric Walker of Igniting a Nation, a fascinating and super smart guy. Here’s the link.
  7. Here’s the video trailer for the book. It really turned out well.
  8. And, here is one of the best written reviews I’ve seen. It’s by Sean Nemecek who has a great site for pastors called The Pastor’s Soul.

Here’s the link to the graphical timeline of famous Christians through the ages who practiced mindfulness and similar practices.

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6 Ways to Keep Pornography out of Your Life

Pornography is an epidemic today. It’s a temptation we must protect ourselves against. A simple acronym, PURITY, captures 6 ways we can pull out of sexual sin (porn or other sexual sins) and/or stay sexually pure. I’ve summarized it here.

THE PURITY PROCESS TO STAY SEXUALLY PURE

Purpose to change/stay pure before God.

You must start here. If you are sexually out of God’s boundaries, you must admit it (confess and repent) and purpose to change. Don’t deny it is what it is, sin. Don’t minimize its damages nor rationalize its use. Scripture tells us to flee from all sexual sin (1 Cor. 6.18). We are to view our body as God’s temple and live in such a way that reflects that truth. We are to glorify Him with our body.

And if you are within God’s boundaries, purpose to stay pure.

Understand how porn changes your brain.

You can read here my blog on what porn does to your brain. Because the brain is plastic (malleable based on what we put into our minds) porn actually changes its neural structure. Yet, it is also malleable in the other direction. If we make changes in our lives, renew our thinking, and yield to God’s transformative power, we can create new God honoring patterns on how we relate to sexual temptation. The Apostle Paul called it renewing of our minds (Romans 12.2).

Reshape your environment.

Discover what triggers your draw to porn. By doing so you can make changes to avoid those cues and lessen the opportunity for a stimulus. Therapists use the acronym, HALT, to help clients discover when they are most susceptible to temptation. It can help you discover when you are most vulnerable to porn.

We are most tempted when we are…

    • Hungry
    • Angry or anxious
    • Lonely
    • Tired

When we discover our cues, we can then make simple changes to avoid them, such as…

    • Asking your wife to not leave women’s magazines out in the open around the house (the ones with the shapely females on the front).
    • Move your computer monitor to a different place in your home or office. Better yet, put it where others will see you when you are on it.
    • Keep the lights on.
    • Don’t keep your iPad or Kindle next to your bed.
    • Turn off chats in Facebook.
    • Block some email.

 Invite involvement

This means accountability. Find an accountability partner who will lovingly hold you accountable to your thought life and what you view on the web. Put web blocking software on your computer. This is a great web site that offers such software.

Turn when tempted

Turn your eyes when tempted. The first three seconds are key when we see an image on the screen or see an attractive woman walk in front of us. Job provides a good model with his commitment,  I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl. (Job 31.1)

The three A’s is a simple tool to help us turn when tempted. (from The Porn Circuit: Understand Your Brain and Break Porn Habits in 90 Days)

    • Alert: Pay attention when you see something inappropriate. It may only take a split-second to recognize a tempting situation.
    • Avert: Close your eyes or look away. These first two steps should be instantaneous.
    • Affirm: Give yourself a mental high-five to congratulate your effort. Say to yourself, “I saw that by mistake, and I quickly looked away. I’ve been clean for (enter number of days) and I’m going to stay that way.”

Yield to Christ through prayer and repentance

 God promises us that He will give us a way out, but we have to walk through it.

 2Pet. 1.3   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. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

Porn is terribly damaging to our souls and our relationships, but by God’s grace we can be men (and women) who keep our thought lives and behavior pure before Him.

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10 Benefits from Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a big deal in today’s culture. Businesses such as Apple, sports figures such as basketball player Kobe Bryant, and the popular press such as Time magazine have all given it their stamp of approval. Governments are spending hundreds of millions of dollars researching it[1]and it has become a billion dollar a year business[2]  In fact, Apple chose a mindfulness app as their app of the year for 2017.[3]But, should Christians embrace it? Yes, because mindfulness in the Christian tradition has support in Scripture and church history. It’s a lost spiritual discipline that believers should reclaim. I define mindfulness for the Christian with these two words: Holy Noticing. Holy noticing is noticing with a holy purpose, God and His handiwork, our relationships, and our inner world of thoughts and feelings.

Although mindfulness is no panacea that solves every problem, neuro-scientific research continues to uncover many practical benefits. Here are the top 10 benefits of mindfulness, holy noticing, for the Christian.

1. It helps us avoid spiritual forgetting.

In the book of Psalms, the psalmist records what often happens to us in our walk with God: our mental chatter and the stories we tell ourselves often leads us to forget God, what He has done, and what He is doing, at least temporarily. 

Mindfulness, however, can help us counter our tendency to spiritually forget God. It helps interrupt our thought stream that often gets hooked on unhealthy regrets and ruminations about the past, misrepresentations about the present, and worries about the future. It helps us spiritually remember by calming our brain’s fear centers while simultaneously engaging our thinking centers so that we can think more clearly and biblically. 

2. It enhances our mental health.

Neuroscientists have discovered specific brain processes involved in mindfulness. It helps keep negative emotions from running unchecked[4]and helps us avoid wrong assumptions and incorrect thought patterns.[5]It gives us greater awareness of our internal body sensations[6]which can cue unhealthy, unconscious thinking patterns. And it helps us ‘think about our thinking’ which make us consciously aware of unhealthy and sinful thinking.[7]We might call this mental reflection the Apostle Paul wrote about in Philippeans 4.8.

As a result, this way of life helps us more consistently act upon truth since we have the mind of Christ.(2 Cor 10.5, NIV) We think more biblically as we put into our working memory (also called short term memory) more truth (Phil 4.8). We become more present in the moment for God and others. And we less often ruminate over negative thoughts.

3. It increase our happiness by changing our interior landscape.

We are the product of both nature and nurture. That is, we inherited certain genetic traits from our parents’ genes (nature) and how they raised us also fashions who we are (nurture). Just as we received certain physical traits from our parents, we also inherited some of their mental and emotional natures. And genetics influences our happiness

Psychologist Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research[8]indicates that 50% of individual differences in happiness are determined by genes, 10% by life circumstances, and 40% by our intentional activities. So, 40% gives us significant latitude in how we can shape our happiness with God’s help. Mindfulness can help make a difference with that 40%. 

A mindful lifestyle enhances the brain’s ability to rewire itself through experience, thoughts, and behavior. It’s called neuroplasticity. That is, the brain is more like pliable putty than rigid porcelain. What we think about and do changes our brain. When mindfulness effects neuroplasticity it’s like an electrician running new wiring to bring a house up to code. 

4. It helps us live more as human ‘beings’ rather than human ‘doings.’

God created us with incredible minds that allow us to solve intricate problems. But sometimes our problem-solving mode does not serve us well. When we face emotional pain and stressful thoughts, we try to solve these problems. Why do I feel this way? Where did these thoughts and feelings come from? What can I do to make them go away? 

This problem-solving mode is called the doing mode. The doing modetricks us to believe that productivity, speed, and efficiency are ultimate goals in life. When we stay in our doing mode, itis like being on autopilot all the time. We act with little clear thinking.

Our being modegives us a new perspective that frees us from overthinking, mentally reacting, and allowing afflictive emotions or thoughts to snowball. In the being modewe actually stay closer to Truth which in turn frees us. Jesus said in John 8.32 that when we know the truth, it sets us free. Knowing the truth in Jesus and knowing the truth about the present moment does indeed set us free. And mindfulness helps us ‘be’ in the moment more often.

5. It helps us learn to live in the valleys of life with more peace.

Researchers have categorized mindfulness as either a trait(a lifestyle, habit, or disposition stable over time)[9]or a state(temporary and may be induced by our current situation). As you grow in your ability to make mindfulness more of a trait in your life, you will more often bring an awareness of God’s presence to your mind, heart, and activities, a posture Paul describes as praying without ceasing. (1 Thes 5.17, NIV)

Devotional writer, Oswald Chambers, illustrates this state versus trait idea when he writes about mountain top experiences versus living in the valley. He says that we are made for living in the valleys of life not in the mountain top experiences, even though we may want to live there.[10]He writes, “It is in the valley that we have to live for the glory of God. We see His glory on the mountain, but we never live for His glory there.[11]

6. It minimizes the effects of chronic stress. 

Chronic stress damages our bodies through the long-term effects from the stress hormone, cortisol. Practicing mindfulness can decrease the amount of cortisol in our bloodstream.[12]It also increases our brain density (gray matter) in areas involved in memory, learning, problem solving, conflict monitoring,[13]emotional self-awareness, and self-regulation.[14]It can even help improve our sleep[15]which chronic stress often disrupts.

7. It improves the bio-markers of a healthy body.

One of the most exciting new neuroscience findings involves its effects on inflammation, now considered a key marker in many chronic diseases. In one study, participants who went through a three-day mindfulness retreat showed a decrease in a biomarker of inflammation compared to a control group.[16]Another study showed a direct link between this practice and reducing genetic markers associated with inflammation.[17]

Another exciting finding involves a key measure of health called heart rate variability (HRV). HRV measures the variation between each heartbeat. A higher HRV is considered a measure of good health. For those who struggle with anxiety, mindfulness is associated with a higher HRV.[18]

8. It may slow the aging process.

A mindful lifestyle may actually help us live longer by slowing the aging process.[19]At the end of our chromosomes lie protective caps, like plastic caps at the end of shoelaces. They’re called telomeres and are linked to longevity. The longer and healthier your telomeres, all else being equal, the longer you tend to live. Chronic stress apparently shortens them. Telomerase is an enzyme (a catalyst that brings about a chemical reaction) that slows the shortening of these telomeres. Some studies show that those who practice those who practice mindfulness have more telomerase, a good indicator of a longer life span. 

9. It helps us control our negative emotions better.

In many ways mindfulness decreases the power negative emotions wield over our thinking and behavior.[20]The goal of the mindfulness is not to avoid feelings nor to detach ourselves from emotions, but to notice and respond to them in a God-honoring way. Mindfulness lowers anxiety and depression[21]and helps us reduce aggressiveness and anger.[22]

It can also help us get unstuck from the automatic responses to our emotions like reactivity, hopeless thinking, defensiveness, and self-condemning thoughts including the misconception that good Christians don’t feel these kinds of emotions. 

10. It helps us avoid common thinking traps.

God has given our minds an incredible ability to think about the past and imagine the future. Scripture tells us to reflect over God’s deeds in the past (Ps 77:11) and anticipate Jesus’ return in the future (Matt. 24:42). Unfortunately, as a result of the fall these mental abilities often don’t work well. We obsess about what’s wrong in the present. We anticipate the future, and worry about it, projecting worst-case scenarios into it. 

Mindfulness can help you detach from wrong thinking in the same way that Teflon detaches from food. When you cook something in a Teflon-coated pan, food simply slides off because it doesn’t stick. When you detach from these thoughts, you don’t overly identify with them by getting hooked on your evaluations and judgments of them. You realize you are not those thoughts. Rather, you are a person that is aware of those thoughts. You are stepping back to gain a wide-angle perspective of the situation and the thoughts that resulted. 

So, for the Christian, mindfulness offers many benefits.

Be sure to check out my newest book called Holy Noticing: The Bible, Your Brain, and the Mindful Space Between Moments just released by Moody Press.

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[1]Elizabeth Harrington, “NIH Has Spent $100.2 Million on Mindfulness Meditation,” Washington Free Beacon, December 16, 2014, http://freebeacon.com/issues/nih-has-spent-92-9-million-on-mindfulness-meditation/.

[2]“Meditation Has Become Big Business,” Fortune, accessed November 3, 2017, http://fortune.com/2016/03/12/meditation-mindfulness-apps/.

[3]http://www.businessinsider.com/apple-iphone-ipad-app-of-the-year-for-2017-12

[4]This is called affective bias.

[5]This is called knowing wrongly. Brown, Creswell, and Ryan, Handbook of Mindfulness, p 42.

[6]This is called interoception. “The Strange Case of Interoception and Resilience,” Body in Mind, May 17, 2016, http://www.bodyinmind.org/interoception-resilience/.

[7]This is called metacognition. Dilwar Hussain, “Meta-Cognition in Mindfulness: A Conceptual Analysis,” Psychological Thought8, no. 2 (October 16, 2015): 132–41.

[8]Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want(Penguin Books, 2007), pp 20-22.

[9]J David Creswell et al., “Neural Correlates of Dispositional Mindfulness During Affect Labeling:,” Psychosomatic Medicine69, no. 6 (July 2007): 560–65, doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e3180f6171f.

[10]Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest: Updated Edition, Updated (Discovery House Publishers, 1992), p. 275.

[11]Ibid, p. 276.

[12]Karen O’Leary, Siobhan O’Neill, and Samantha Dockray, “A Systematic Review of the Effects of Mindfulness Interventions on Cortisol,” Journal of Health Psychology21, no. 9 (September 2016): 2108–21, https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105315569095.

[13]Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind(TarcherPerigee, 2015), pp 112-113.

[14]Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body(Avery, 2017), p. 180.

[15]Andrew J. Howell, Nancy L. Digdon, and Karen Buro, “Mindfulness Predicts Sleep-Related Self-Regulation and Well-Being,” Personality and Individual Differences48, no. 4 (March 2010): 419–24, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2009.11.009.

[16]Carnegie Mellon University, “Neurobiological Changes Explain How Mindfulness Meditation Improves Health – News – Carnegie Mellon University,” $dateFormat, http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2016/february/meditation-changes-brain.html.

[17]Ivana Buric et al., “What Is the Molecular Signature of Mind–Body Interventions? A Systematic Review of Gene Expression Changes Induced by Meditation and Related Practices,”Frontiers in Immunology8 (2017), https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2017.00670.

[18]Annette M. Mankus et al., “Mindfulness and Heart Rate Variability in Individuals with High and Low Generalized Anxiety Symptoms,” Behaviour Research and Therapy51, no. 7 (July 1, 2013): 386–91, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2013.03.005.

[19]Elizabeth A. Hoge et al., “Loving-Kindness Meditation Practice Associated with Longer Telomeres in Women,” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity32 (August 2013): 159–63, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2013.04.005.

[20]Kirk Warren Brown, J. David Creswell, and Richard M. Ryan, eds., Handbook of Mindfulness: Theory, Research, and Practice, Reprint edition (The Guilford Press, 2015), p. 42.

[21]Bingaman, Kindle e-book locs 85-87.

[22]Ashley Borders, Mitch Earleywine, and Archana Jajodia, “Could Mindfulness Decrease Anger, Hostility, and Aggression by Decreasing Rumination?,” Aggressive Behavior36, no. 1 (January 1, 2010): 28–44, https://doi.org/10.1002/ab.20327.

What Ben Franklin Teaches us about Productivity

A few years ago I earned an executive masters in the neuroscience of leadership and one of my primary profs was a super smart (and really nice) Ph.D., Josh Davis who wrote the book Two Awesome Hours. You can learn more about his book here. If you want to up your productivity game, this is the book to read. Josh is my guest writer today and you’ll enjoy his story below about Ben Franklin’s productivity.

There’s probably no one more famous for his industriousness than Benjamin Franklin. People the world over agree he was a model of effectiveness and productivity. He was frustratingly capable. His list of accomplishments is absurd: author, inventor, scientist, printer, philosopher, politician, postmaster, diplomat, and more. How can any human being do this much in a lifetime? A quick look at his rise as a printer and publisher—his primary profession—sheds some light on the way he worked and, in the process, reveals a lot about what we are doing right and what we are not.

By 1724, at the age of eighteen, Ben Franklin had already apprenticed in a printing house in Boston, worked independently in a printing house in Philadelphia, and published a handful of widely read articles. That year he left for England, where he would learn the printing trade from the best, such as Samuel Palmer, a well-established printer. Not bad for a poor kid with sixteen siblings.

While working at Palmer’s, Franklin quickly annoyed and impressed those around him with his work ethic and cleverness. His coworkers drank beer from morning to night; he drank water so he could have the physical stamina to outperform them and save a little money. You might say it was easier to have a competitive advantage in those days, but Franklin gets credit for seeing the opportunity, taking the risk, and following through. Ultimately, he was promoted and he moved to an even better firm.

When he returned to Philadelphia a couple of years later, he was willing to do what it took to establish himself. After working for another printer for a few years, he took on debt to set up his own business. With a print shop at his disposal, and in need of cash, he identified another opportunity: publishing his own material. There was only one newspaper in town, which Franklin considered “a paltry thing, wretchedly manag’d, no way entertaining.” He knew he was the only printer in the area who also had the ability to write well, so he tried his hand at publishing newspapers and eventually Poor Richard’s Almanack. Almanacs have space to fill, apart from their noteworthy dates. Franklin filled the empty spaces with his (now famous) proverbs, making his almanac more entertaining and much easier to sell. Poor Richard’s Almanack was a hit.

In order to secure the success of his printing business, he also took on the position of clerk of the General Assembly, which allowed him to meet plenty of people who had a say in where government printing (things like ballots and money) was done, and he eventually landed the job of postmaster in Philadelphia, which helped him circulate his newspaper. These positions offered small pay and meant extra work, but they also allowed his printing business to take off, helping him become a man of some status in town.

Benjamin Franklin was and still remains a beautiful example of productivity and achievement. Work hard, take on more and more, and success will follow. Today, everyone thinks they have to be like Franklin to achieve some success. They have to do more than what seems possible. But the truth is, not even Franklin was like Franklin. As it turns out, beyond taking care of his finances, he was anything but focused on work.

We seldom talk about this other Franklin, hardly the live-for-your-job icon we sometimes think of. But I didn’t have to look hard to find out more about him: it’s in his autobiography. He loved to think and create. He spent huge amounts of time on hobbies and with friends when he could have been working at his moneymaking career as a printer. In fact, the very interests that took him away from his primary profession led to so many of the wonderful things he’s known for, like inventing the Franklin stove and the lightning rod.

To understand the secret to his success, I believe it’s crucial to look at how he spent his downtime and just how much of it he had.

One of his main hobbies as a young man was hanging out every Friday with a group of guys who were seriously into books and talking about ideas. The group would agree on a topic to discuss at the next meeting, and each would read what he could on the subject so he could come back prepared to argue. Books, however, were hard to come by in Philadelphia back then; many needed to be ordered from England. Franklin’s group realized it would be nice to keep all their books in one place so they could check one another’s references easily—a concept that led eventually to the great and historic public library now called the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Franklin did not found the library when he was around age twenty-five to make money for his printing business, nor was it part of a government position he held. He simply put time into founding this library because he enjoyed talking about ideas, especially ideas that would lead to improving himself and the world around him. He loved literature and art. He even wrote some music for his wife. And, famously, he was an incurable flirt, spending a great deal of time wrapped in that pursuit after his wife’s death. He was also the original American self-help junkie. He tried vegetarianism briefly because he’d read about it in a book—and loved all the money he saved. Plus, he poured tons of time and energy into developing a plan to practice his now famous thirteen virtues. Of those thirteen virtues, one jumps out as seemingly relevant for anyone trying to pack in as much work in a day as possible: the virtue of Order (i.e., being organized). Franklin claimed he never really got good at that one, writing in his autobiography, “In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now I am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it.”

He earned a reputation for enjoying the many pleasures of life—from learning to socializing to flirting to creating. It seems dazzling that he could do so much work professionally and still enjoy so much hobby, leisure, and social time. So how did he do it?

Every day he created the mental and biological conditions for peak effectiveness, and in those periods of effectiveness, he accomplished extraordinary things. He did not cram tasks related to his printing business into every available hour. In fact, in a plan he drew up for how to spend his days he included time for a two-hour break for lunch and other things, time in the evening for “music or diversion, or conversation,” and a full night’s sleep. It was probably because he made time for pleasure, learning, creativity, entertainment, physical health, family, and social connection that he was so successful in his moneymaking work, rather than in spite of it.

Devoting all of his time to his printing business rather than his other interests would have been the most efficient use of his time. But imagine how little we would know of him had he done so, had he never reserved the mental space and energy for his many inventions, for his philanthropy, and perhaps even for his printing empire.

Which Benjamin Franklin do you want to be: the one who carved out time for his hobbies and social pastimes, jumping from interest to interest? Or the one who outperformed his competitors to become a productive, well-regarded, and wealthy businessman? These days, it seems there isn’t enough time for both, so we must choose to either enjoy life or succeed. The good news is that this is a false choice. We feel pressured to choose when we mistakenly assume that productivity depends on finding enough hours in the day.

Permission granted from Dr. Josh Davis to use this excerpt. Learn more about his book here.

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