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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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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Top 10 Reasons People Don’t Tithe

Tithing is a spiritual discipline many Christians practice. In its simplest form it means giving back to God 10% of what you make. I’ve practiced it for years as a regular part of my giving. I tithe ‘plus’ to my local church and I give to other causes on top of that. However, throughout my 39 years of ministry I’ve seen 10 common reasons that church people give for not tithing. I list them below with a counter point below each.

  1. It’s all mine anyway. Why should I give?
    • Counter-point (CP): Everything we own is actually God’s (Ps 50.10, Ps 24.1).
  2. I give elsewhere. This is the person who counts his giving to secular causes, his time, or paying for his child’s Christian school tuition as his tithe.
    • CP: Do causes around the purposes of God get the lion’s share of your giving?
  3. Tithing is not in the New Testament. This is one of the most common.
  4. God will provide through other people. This person believes that other people will give to support the cause of Christ in their church.
    • CP: God chose to release His resources through all believers.
  5. My gifts don’t really count. This person thinks that because he can’t give much, his giving really doesn’t matter.
    • CP: Don’t minimize the size of any gift (recall the story of the poor widow in Mark 12.41-44).
  6. I don’t trust preachers. This is understandable due to the few high profile ministers who misuse God’s money.
    • CP: If you lead a church, make sure you instill the highest standards of stewardship and accountability.
  7. I only give to projects I like. This is the control freak who only gives to projects he or she can designate funds to. Some people in this category even hold back their giving in their church because they haven’t gotten their way.
    • CP: Trust your church leadership to wisely manage God’s money.
  8. I have no control over my finances. My husband does. In this case (and it’s almost always a wife in this position) her husband controls the finances and although the wife wants to give, he prohibits it.
    • CP: Rest in the Lord, He knows your heart.
  9. I will tithe when I can afford it.
  10. I’m afraid to. These people honestly fear what might happen to them or their family if they give.
    • CP: Step out in faith knowing that God promises to meet your needs.

What reasons have you heard people use to justify not giving or tithing?

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What to Look for in a Good Friend

God made us to be in relationship with each other. We were made for community and we all want good friends. But what do good friends look like? What do they do or not do? In the most intimate of the 13 letters the Apostle Paul wrote that help form the New Testament, Philippians, we see a portrait of what to look for in a friend. Consider these 5 behaviors that a good friend will consistently live out and ask yourself if you model them as a friend yourself.

In Philippians 1.3-11, Paul gives us this template for what good friends do. A good friend will…

  1. Remember the best in you (v. 3).
    • When Paul prayed for his friends in the church in the city of Philippi, his thoughts of them brought him great joy. He chose to focus on their good qualities, rather than upon  their limitations and weaknesses. He remembered their best.
    • What emotions and thoughts rise up in the minds of others when they think of you…joy, happiness, and peace or fear, worry, and anxiety?
  2. Give their best to you (v. 5, 7).
    • He said that he had them in his heart. He fully gave himself to them by giving them the deepest thing about himself, his heart. He used the word koinonia, which means deep partnership, as he described their strong, intimate relationship. Paul was not a relationship skimmer. Rather he gave himself fully to these special friends.
    • How would others describe you? A relationship skimmer or one who is willing to risk and go deep in friendships?
  3. Encourage the best in you (v. 6).
    • He was confident that God would finish the work that He had begun in them. He emphasized that truth and sought to bring out their best. Good friends will bring out your best. Liz Wizeman who studied 150 leaders and wrote Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter discovered that there are two kinds of leaders: multipliers and diminishers. Multipliers bring out the best in others by amplifying their strengths, encouraging them, and empowering them. Diminishers do the opposite. They drain you by having all the answers, micro-managing, and being self focused. Good friends will always seek to be a multiplier in your life.
    • How would others describe you: as a multiplier or a diminisher?
  4. Pray the best for you (v. 9).
    • Paul fervently prayed for his friends. He prayed that they would love Jesus and others more, would learn more about God, and would live out the truths of God’s Word in their conduct and character. Good friends will pray that those three things will become reality in their friends.
    • When you last prayed for your friends, what did you pray for them about? 
  5. Expect the best from you (v. 10-11).
    • Good friends will hold you accountable. They will tell you what you may not want to hear because they will expect the best from you. They won’t let you settle for what is just ‘good.’ They will challenge you to do and be your best.
    • What friend in your life holds you accountable? Do you have a friend that knows you will expect the best from him or her?

Good friends are rare. But when God gives them to us, they are worth their weight in gold.

What question above most resonated with you? Is the Holy Spirit prompting you to become a better friend?

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4 Signs Decision Fatigue is Degrading your Decisions

When we think about fatigue, we usually think of physical tiredness…we worked too hard in the yard, we didn’t sleep well the night before, or we’re working too many hours. Fatigue certainly includes those causes, but for many Christian leaders, or anybody for that matter, another kind of fatigue can rob our energy and diminish life and leadership effectiveness. It’s called decision fatigue. It refers to how the quality of our decisions degrades after a long string of successive decisions. In other words, the more decisions you make, the more the quality of those decisions declines.

Judges make less favorable decisions later in the day and decision fatigue even affects consumer choices. So what might indicate that your decisions are affected by decision fatigue?

I’ve learned the effects of decision fatigue by experience.

Five years ago I began a new ministry as lead pastor of West Park Church in London, Ontario. It’s been a great ministry but I faced a staff shortage at that time. As a result, almost every staff person reported to me which required me to make many more decision about ministry than I normally would. During the first year and a half,  decision fatigue sometimes affected me.

Four indicators decision fatigue may be degrading the quality of your decisions. 

  1. You make quick, impulsive decisions you later regret you made. This happens because you want to quickly get one more thing off your plate and the quick decision seems to solve the problem. However the real problem may be making the decision too quickly without sufficient information you need to make the best one.
  2. You needlessly delay decisions. This is the counterpoint to the impulsive decision. When we get mentally tired, we can easily put off a decision that needs to made now. Sometimes I’d move an email into another folder that still required a decision from me that I could have easily made right then. By doing so I actually doubled the time I spent making the decision because I still had to read the email again to make the decision. By doing so, I took up two chunks of time and two chunks of mental energy.
  3. You send thoughtless, terse emails. I probably get 150 plus emails a day, many of them requiring a decision from me at some level. I’ve found that when I’ve had to make multiple decisions during the day, toward the end of the day I’m tempted to not think as clearly before I send an email. This post points out common email errors.
  4. You get mad when someone asks you for a decision. When this happens our mental chatter sounds like this. “Great, one more decision I have to make for somebody else!” The term ego depletion refers to the idea that self-control diminishes over time when we we have already exerted lots of self control. Toward the end of the day or a week when a leader has had to make too many decisions, he may find himself losing his cool more easily, flying off the handle, or saying thing things he shouldn’t.

As you look at the number of decision you are making, to what degree does decision fatigue affect you?

P.S. My upcoming book being released March 5 helps us deal with this challenge. It’s called Holy Noticing: The Bible, Your Brain, and the Mindful Space Between Moments. You can read more about it and get a free e-book here.

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