6 Reasons Pastors and Leaders Need Adequate Sleep

For many years scientists and philosophers have pondered why we need sleep besides to not be sleepy. Of course we all intuitively know how important sleep is to our bodies, relationships, and walk with God. But as neuroscientists are learning more about the brain, they are discovering many positive brain benefits from sleep. This list below includes some of those benefits.

  1. Sleep improves mood. And people catch a leader’s mood. It’s called emotional contagion. If we regularly don’t get enough sleep, it can make us grumpy and negative. If we carry a bad mood to church, it rubs off on others. The reverse holds true as well. A good mood rubs off on others.
  2. Sleep enhances memory. When we sleep our brain turns short term memory into long-term memory. It’s called memory consolidation. Without adequate sleep, consolidation suffers.
  3. Sleep improves decision making. When we don’t get adequate sleep we can become more rigid in our thinking and less adaptable. Rigid thinking impairs good decision making.
  4. Sleep improves creativity. Studies have shown that sleep facilitates insight because the brain is still active while we sleep. Among other things, it uncovers novel connections between seemingly disparate ideas. The old adage “sleep on it” really is true.
  5. Sleep improves our ability to pay attention. Great leaders listen well to others and have the ability to maintain attention to important tasks. Lack of sleep degrades our brain’s ability to pay attention.
  6. Sleep clears out the brain’s ‘trash’ to make it more effective. Neuroscientists have discovered that during waking hours toxins collect in our brains while sleep literally cleans them out.

If you regularly don’t get enough sleep, your leadership may be suffering. The writer of Ecclesiates writes, The sleep of a laborer is sweet. (Ecc 5.12, NIV)

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Cut your Losses and Do Something Different?…the Sunk Cost Bias

Leadership demands our time, energy, and often our financial resources. Hopefully the projects and people we invest ourselves in are worthwhile and fulfilling. Often we invest so much of ‘us’ into a project that we can’t imagine not finishing the project. When we’ve already invested considerable time and energy into something, stopping it may seem foolish. Unfortunately, we seldom ask ourselves if we really should continue investing in a project. A subtle mental trap comes into play called the sunk cost bias. Sunk cost bias simply means that because you’ve invested so much emotionally into a project, you feel that by quitting you’d waste what you’ve already invested and be a failure, even though you actually should cut your losses and re-direct your efforts. Consider these 5 signs that the sunk cost bias might be driving some of your leadership decisions.

  1. You have a nagging sense that you probably need to go another direction. Perhaps you’ve gotten new information or the landscape has changed and you have begun to doubt if you should continue in the current direction. And, you can’t seem to shake those doubts.
  2. You want things to change in your ministry or church, but you keep doing the same things over and over again, expecting to get different results. Einstein defined this as insanity.
  3. You know you should stop the project but fear having to explain yourself to others.
  4. You’ve poured so much into this project that that your emotional attachment has made you lose sight of your greater goals and vision.
  5. The project drains your energy rather than boosting it.

If any of these 5 signs are true of you, the sunk cost bias may be distorting your judgment. Consider taking these steps to evaluate whether or not you should cut your losses on some project and go a different direction.

  1. Talk to someone about your struggle who will maintain their objectivity and be honest with you.
  2. Play out the scenario if you did stop. What benefits would you gain? What new costs would you incur? What more productive project could you then invest your time and energy into?
  3. Were you to stop, who would you need to explain your decision to? How would you explain your decision? Might they actually respect you for making such a decision?
  4. Re-visit your values. Does the project align with your personal and ministry values and God’s call on your life?

How have you seen the sunk cost bias play out in your life or other people’s lives?

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My 7 Do-Overs after 39 Years in Ministry

In my 39 years in ministry I’ve served as a singles pastor, discipleship pastor, teaching pastor, church planter, and as a lead pastor where I currently serve. I’ve served in the deep south (the land of grits), the southwest (the land of Mexican buffets), the far west (the land of fish tacos), the mid-west (the land of Chicago hot-dawgs), and now in Canada (the land of poutine; I wondered what that was too. Google it.). Three kids, two grandkids, and five books later, each experience has made me a more rounded leader. Yet, as I look back, I think I’d have done a few things differently. Here’s a list of my do-overs.

  1. I wouldn’t have been so much a people pleaser.
  2. I would have carved out more time to think and reflect.
  3. I would have more consistently disconnected one day each week.
  4. I would have spent more time building closer friendships with other pastors.
  5. I would have turned off my smart phone and computer more often.
  6. I would have read twice as many books as I actually did.
  7. I would have listened more and talked less.

As I enter not my life’s ‘half-time’ but more like my life’s ‘3/5’s-time, I hope to apply some of these lessons better going forward.

What would be your biggest do-over?

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4 Subtle Signs of Stress

For years doctors have warned us that prolonged stress can hurt our bodies such as causing high blood pressure and stomach problems. But as neuroscientists learn more about our brains, they’re discovering that stress can diminish brain functioning which in turn shows up in subtle ways in our bodies. Take the quick self evaluation below and ask yourself if any of these are true of you.

  1. I seem a bit more forgetful. Prolonged stress actually diminishes our memory because it can shrink a key memory center called the hippocampus. 
  2.  I don’t feel as motivated as I usually do. A key brain chemical (neurotransmitter) called norepinephrine helps us stay alert and focused in the right amounts. However prolonged stress decreases it which can lessen our motivation. 
  3. Things I once enjoyed seem less enjoyable now. Dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter, activates our pleasure centers so that things such as finishing a task and eating actually feel good. Stress dampens this important chemical which can result in less pleasure from what we normally enjoy. 
  4. I feel more ‘blue’ than I usually do. Again, another neurotransmitter is at play here, serotonin, which regulates mood. As you might expect, stress dampens its availability in the brain. Most depression medicines aim to regulate serotonin in the brain. 

So prolonged stress clearly impacts our brains which negatively affects our daily lives. It behooves us to wisely manage it. In a future post I’ll suggest some simple ways to deal with stress.

How many of these indicators were true of you?

What other indicators of stress have you seen in yourself or others?

Have have you effectively dealt with stress?

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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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