The Leadership Paradox: Trusting God or Trusting Others?

Every church leader (or Christian for that matter) faces a common paradox. We’re expected to trust God for our personal and ministry needs. Yet, we need the help of others. Leading is not a solo effort. So, ho do we strike the balance between trusting God and trusting others?

Recently I noticed that same paradox reflected in the choices made by two famous Biblical characters, Ezra and Nehemiah. In the Message paraphrase below each one took a different route. One just trusted God and didn’t approach the king for help. The other sought help from the king and God worked through that choice.

Ezra 8.21 I proclaimed a fast there beside the Ahava Canal, a fast to humble ourselves before our God and pray for wise guidance for our journey—all our people and possessions.  22 I was embarrassed to ask the king for a cavalry bodyguard to protect us from bandits on the road. We had just told the king, “Our God lovingly looks after all those who seek him, but turns away in disgust from those who leave him.” 23 So we fasted and prayed about these concerns. And he listened.

Neh. 2.7 Then I said, “If it please the king, provide me with letters to the governors across the Euphrates that authorize my travel through to Judah;  8 and also an order to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, to supply me with timber for the beams of The Temple fortress, the wall of the city, and the house where I’ll be living.” The generous hand of my God was with me in this and the king gave them to me.  9 When I met the governors across The River (the Euphrates) I showed them the king’s letters. The king even sent along a cavalry escort.

See the difference? As contrasting as were their decisions, they both made God-honoring ones.

So, what insight can we draw from their experiences when we face a similar situation?

Here’s a thought. The next time you face a ministry choice that requires resources or help, lean in the opposite direction you usually go. If you usually just ‘pray’ and ask God to meet the need, perhaps you should ask others to help meet the need as well. If you tend to go to others first, maybe your first step should be to seek God’s provision before you ask others for their help or insight.

I’ve discovered that God often works in counter-intuitive ways, through avenues outside those most familiar  and comfortable to us.

What do you think about these two options? Do you think leaders tend to show a bias one way or the other?

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The 10 Most Important Questions You could ever Ask Yourself

Questions reveal a lot about us. Good questions can point us in healthy directions. Great questions can save us from disaster. Several years ago I read a brief article by Donald Whitney, a pastor and seminary professor, who gave me permission to re-print his article that lists 10 important questions. It is outstanding and I’ve included it below.

Once, when the people of God had become careless in their relationship with Him, the Lord rebuked them through the prophet Haggai. “Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:5) he declared, urging them to reflect on some of the things happening to them, and to evaluate their slipshod spirituality in light of what God had told them.

Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It’s so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we’re going and where we should be going.

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.

1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?

3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

What questions would you add to this list?

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Copyright © 2003 Donald S. Whitney.

Copyright Disclaimer: All the information contained on the Center for Biblical Spirituality website is copyrighted by Donald S. Whitney. Permission granted to copy this material in its complete text only for not-for-profit use (sharing with a friend, church, school, Bible study, etc.) and including all copyright information. No portion of this website may be sold, distributed, published, edited, altered, changed, broadcast, or commercially exploited without the prior written permission from Donald S. Whitney.

The Most Productive 4 Hours of my Week

I received an undergrad degree in industrial and systems engineering. IE’s, as they are called, are sometimes referred to as efficiency experts. Whether that’s true or not, the training I received from my degree has force me think about leadership productivity. In this post I describe my most productive four-hour time block each week, what I do, and why it’s so productive.

This might surprise you, but those four hours fall on Sunday afternoon between 1 and 5 pm. I call that time block my strategic planning time that positions me for maximum productivity in the week that follows.

Many pastors rest and nap on Sunday afternoons. I don’t begrudge those who do. I used to take a two hour nap every Sunday afternoon. But I’ve discovered several reasons why those afternoons have now become so productive for me.

Why Sunday afternoons have become so productive:

  1. My body’s already flowing with hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and neurotransmitters (dopamine and norepinephrine) that heighten attention and focus. After I’ve preached and interacted with people I’m already on a “high.” So, I simply ride out that extra boost of energy on Sunday afternoons.
  2. Those hours put me into a forward looking perspective for the next week which motivates me with positive anticipation.
  3. Since the brain loves certainty (and dislikes uncertainty), when I carefully plan my week up front, I set my brain at ease knowing that I’ve prioritized what must get done. Since I’ve already set those priorities, I don’t waste energy during the week wondering what I should do next.
  4. I’ve chosen a place with minimum distractions, McDonalds. That may sound odd, but the McDonalds near my home allows me to pick a booth away from noise and people distraction which helps me concentrate. I usually buy lunch and a refillable soft drink which allows me to get some caffeine into my body. I also use noise suppressing headphones to block out all noise. In this post I suggest 4 ways you can improve your focus.

What I do that makes Sunday afternoons so productive:

  1. I review my personal mission statement and true north values. This post describes how to discover your true north values. By starting here I keep what God has called me to at the forefront of my thinking.
  2. I review what I call my ‘church dashboard.’ My dashboard summarizes our church’s mission, vision, values, and goals. This provides a one page snapshot of our overall direction and helps direct me to allocate time blocks to work on specific goals and projects.
  3. I review my upcoming schedule for the next 3-4 weeks and make appropriate adjustments. I use Outlook for the Mac as my calendar program. I also create specify action plans needed for upcoming meetings and projects.
  4. I review a set of folders where I’ve placed notes or materials that relate to key ministry areas and significant projects. Those include budget planning, leadership development, writing projects, new initiatives, and staff. Reviewing these folders helps remind me to allocate time to work on those projects.
  5. I revisit an email file I created in Outlook called, “Act upon in a Week.” Throughout the week I place emails in this file that didn’t require any immediate action. I’m more effective dealing with the tasks these emails generate all at once rather than spread out during the week.
  6. I determine what I call my ‘big three’ goals for the coming week, goals that take precedent over all others.
  7. I usually drink half a bottle of 5 Hour Energy to help me focus (probably by boosting the neurotransmitter dopamine) and give me an overall sense of well being (probably due to an increase in serotonin). See my post here about energy drinks for pastors.

Although Sunday afternoons have generally been downtimes for pastors, I’ve re-purposed those afternoons with encouraging results.

What do you do on Sunday afternoons that boosts productivity?

If Sunday afternoons don’t work for you, when do do your strategic planning for the week?

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Hidden Beliefs in a Leader’s Life: Clues to Discovery

Kevin Cashman wrote an outstanding book on leadership called Leadership from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life. In his book he writes about both conscious beliefs and hidden beliefs he calls shadow beliefs. He defines a shadow belief as a belief we hold deep inside, outside of our conscious awareness. Those beliefs profoundly affect us and our leadership. He provides keen insight about how to discover those beliefs.

He contends that these beliefs often hinder leaders from being their best. For example, one shadow belief might be a subtle voice inside that constantly says, “You must perform better than everybody else for people to like you.” For me, one shadow belief I discovered was this. “Everybody around me needs to be happy for me to be happy. Therefore, I must try to make everybody happy.” In the past that belief often stifled my joy and peace and hindered my leadership.

Cashman says that we must bring those shadow beliefs into the light for us to lead at our best. He suggests seven clues that can bring these shadow beliefs to light.

  1. If other people often give us feedback inconsistent with how we see ourselves, a shadow belief is present.
  2. When we feel stuck or blocked and at a loss about what to do next, a shadow belief is holding us back.
  3. If strengths become counterproductive a shadow belief may be behind it.
  4. When are are not open to new information, new learning, or other people’s views, a shadow belief is limiting us.
  5. If we react to circumstances with emotional responses disproportionate to the situation, it may point to a shadow belief.
  6. When we find ourselves forcefully reacting to the limitations of others in a critical, judgemental way, we are often projecting our shadow belief upon others.
  7. If we often experience pain, trauma, or discomfort in our body, a shadow belief may be trying to rise to the surface.

As I’ve faced my shadow beliefs, I’ve experienced greater peace in my life and become a more productive leader.

How about you? What shadow beliefs might be dogging your leadership?

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5 Ways to Improve Decision Making

A leader must make lots of decisions. The better decisions we make, the better our leadership, the better our churches and ministries, and the better those around us perform. So what can we do to improve decision making? Consider these five ways.

5 Ways to Improve Decision making

1. Avoid decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue refers to the phenomenon that occurs when the quality of our decisions degrades after a long string of successive decisions. When important decision face you, make them when you are the most refreshed, usually in the morning (although night owls may make better decisions at night). Learn more about decision fatigue here.

2. Get enough sleep.

The U.S. CDC stated in 2013 that 35% of adults aged 25-65 reported that they unintentionally fell asleep during the previous month. And the same percentage reported that they get less than 7 hours of sleep each night, although sleep experts recommend that we get 7-9 hours each night. When we don’t get adequate sleep, here’s what happens. (For a more detailed look at leaders and their sleep, read this post).

  • Our attention, alertness, and mental response speed decrease.
  • Creativity gets dampened.
  • Our brain’s CEO (the pre-frontal cortex) that is responsible for executive functions like planning, emotional control, decision making, and abstract think gets compromised.

If sometimes you just can’t get enough sleep, a short 10-20 minute nap can boost your alertness and the quality of your decisions.

3. Practice metacognition.

Metacognition is a fancy word for ‘thinking about your thinking.’ Often we get caught up in a thinking auto-pilot mode. And since our brain has five time more negative circuits than positive ones, thinking usually turns negative. It’s called the negativity bias. So, practice pausing during the day to ask yourself, “What am I thinking about right now?” This discipline can help you avoid wasted mental energy on unprofitable thoughts. The Apostle Paul counsels us to do this in Philippians 4.8.

4. Recognize how emotions affect our decisions.

For years we assumed that great decisions were based on logic alone. That is, a good leader, after mentally processing the merits of a decision, would arrive at the best one primarily through a logical thought process. However, scientists are now learning that emotion plays a much larger part in decision making than previous thought. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio found impaired decision making in people who had brain injuries to their emotional centers. So, factoring in how you feel about a decision might help you make a better one.

5. Recognize how long-term stress diminishes good decision making.

God created our bodies with an ability to respond to danger. It’s called the stress response, largely influenced by the stress hormone, cortisol. However, long term stress actually shrinks brain cells in our memory centers. And it strengthens brains cells in our fight-flight centers which in turn dampens our brain’s CEO that guides the decision making process. So, if you’ve been stressed a long time, it might behoove you to delay any significant decisions until your stress diminishes.

What has helped you make better decisions?

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