The Worrying and Fearful Leader

Worry and anxiety can stifle the effectiveness of the best leader. In my life when anxiety gets the best of me, my leadership always suffers. So, what goes on in the mind of a leader when he or she worries and what can we do about it? Consider these suggestions.

When we feel anxious, a process in our brain starts because God created our brains to help us survive. When we feel threatened and anxious from a roar we hear outside our tent while camping or from a roar from a nasty email, it initiates a flight-fight response in our bodies.

One significant component of our flight-fight brain structure is called the amygdala, two almond shaped clusters of brain cells (neurons) that activate when we sense real or perceived threat. 2/3’s of the cells in the amygdala are wired to look for the negative. That’s why it’s so easy to get anxious, worried, or fearful. The amygdala is always looking for a problem.  

 Unfortunately, it’s not good at distinguishing between a valid and real threat.

Worry and fear show up in our bodies in several ways:

  • Our heart rate and breathing increases.
  • Our pupils dilate.
  • Saliva production slows (that’s behind dry mouth when we feel anxious or fearful before we speak).
  • Our muscles can tighten (many of us carry our tension in our shoulder muscles and neck).
  • We can feel goosebumps (think of how you feel when you hear the ‘bump’ in the night).
  • We get that ‘anxious’ feeling (norepinephrine, also known as adrenalin, is released in our bloodstream as a hormone and into our nervous system as a neurotransmitter).
  • Memory, decision making, motivation, and attention get diminished (our fear center hogs our limited mental resources).

So what can we do to minimize the effects of anxiety and fear upon leadership.

  1. Awareness: If we constantly live with low level anxiety, our fight-flight centers are more sensitive so it takes less to push us into serious worry, anxiety, and fear. The term, metacognition, means to be aware of awareness or aware of what you are thinking about. Instead of mindlessly rushing through life, often stop during the day to ask yourself these questions to become more aware of your inner world and the chatter in your mind (metacognition).
    • What am I thinking about right now?
    • What are my feelings right now?
    • Are these thoughts and feelings based upon reality?
  2. Labeling: We’ve often been told that to make painful emotions go away, ignore or suppress them. Actually, studies show that doing so does the opposite. Ignoring or stuffing them actually makes them stronger. Instead, take the power out of your painful emotions by recognizing them and naming them. Scientists have discovered that when we label them (i.e., I am feeling anxious), we actually calm our fight-flight centers.
  3. Distancing: Another very helpful way to calm anxiety and fear is to take the proverbial ‘fly on the wall’ perspective as an observer. When you experience these emotions, imagine stepping back as a third person observer and observing yourself and the situation at a distance. Distancing has proved to be one of the most effective ways to calm our fight-flight centers.

I love how Martin Laird, a college professor and writer, uses the metaphor of a mountain’s response to weather to picture how we should respond to unpleasant emotions. He bases his thoughts on Psalms 125.1. Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.

Mt Zion symbolizes God’s power, blessing, and protection. So, when we trust in the Lord and redirect our thinking and our attention, we are like a mountain and how it responds to weather.

A mountain has weather around it all the time. The mountain does not become the weather. It simple observes it. In Christ we are like that mountain with all kinds of external and internal weather around us. Now we may prefer certain kinds of weather, but we are not the weather.

Your anxious thoughts and emotions are not you.

They are simply the weather.

The marvelous world of thoughts, sensation, emotions, and inspiration, the spectacular world of creation around us, are all patterns of stunning weather on the holy mountain of God. But we are not the weather. We are the mountain. Weather is happening—delightful sunshine, dull sky, or destructive storm—this is undeniable. But if we think we are the weather happening on Mount Zion (and most of us do precisely this with our attention riveted to the video [of our internal world, my addition]), then the fundamental truth of our union with God remains obscured … When the mind is brought to stillness (what Paul calls thinking on these things) we see that we are the mountain and not the changing patterns of weather appearing on the mountain. [Laird, Martin (2006-06-07). Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation (Kindle Locations 287-293). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition]

So, paying attention to our thoughts and emotions is essential for good leadership. If we don’t pay attention to our inner world, we become captive to it and blinded to its potential negative effects upon our souls and upon our leadership.

What has helped you deal with worry and anxiety?

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How Often should Preachers Practice their Sermon?

I’ve served in ministry over 35 years and I’ve preached a lot of sermons. Some have been good and some, well, not so good. Three factors have made the biggest positive difference for me: preparing my heart before the Lord, scheduling adequate study time to avoid feeling rushed, and practicing preaching my sermon. In this blog I suggest a few benefits from practice and describe my practice/preparation process.

As a framework, a few insights about me.

  • I’m not an A++ communicator. I’d say I’m a solid B+. God has gifted me with a good mind and relatively good speaking abilities, but I don’t command a multi-thousand person church audience. I’ll speak to several hundred people on an average Sunday.
  • I don’t have a photographic memory that allows me to memorize my sermons.
  • I don’t have unlimited energy, need 8 hours of sleep at night, and go into a semi-comotose mode at about 8:30 each night. So, I can’t pick up extra study hours at night. If study gets done, it must happen during daylight hours.
  • I study slow. I can’t quickly craft a message. Even after three decades of doing it, I still need 15 hours or so to create a message, excluding practice time.

Even with my limitations, I’ve discovered that practicing my sermon yields several benefits.

  1. Familiarity: When I practice, I become more familiar with the homiletic part (how will I say it), a different kind of familiarity than hermeneutic familiarity (what the Bible says).
  2. Improvement: When I practice my message, I notice how I can say things differently which improves what I eventually do say.
  3. Shortening: Practice often helps me realize that I can remove some parts of my sermon without affecting the message I want to convey. I almost always shorten my sermon as I practice it.
  4. Confidence: The more familiar I become with my sermon, the less I have to think about what “comes next” when I preach which increases my confidence during delivery.
  5. Memory: Although I don’t memorize my messages (I work from a complete manuscript), the more I practice, the more it imbeds into my subconscious which frees me to connect better with the congregation through eye contact and body language when I deliver it.
  6. Timing: I usually try to use humor in each message. Professional comedians practice a lot to improve timing in their humor. When I practice, it helps me improve my timing.

Here’s my routine.

  • I complete my study and write my manuscript at least two weeks ahead of time.
  • On the Thursday prior to the Sunday when I will deliver it, I review it again, tweak it, and highlight key phrases (all in Microsoft Word).
    • I save it as a PDF to my iPad app Notability, one of the best PDF markup apps available. I preach from an iPad mini, instead of paper notes. You can read about my experience with an iPad here.
    • I go to an upstairs closet in the church and preach it out loud once.
  • On Friday, I slowly and silently review it, further tweaking it directly on Notability.
  • On Saturday, I preach in out loud in my bedroom closet (second practice).
  • On Sunday morning, I practice it out loud one more time in my closet (third practice).

So, I practice it out loud three times and silently tweak it twice.

I’ve found that this pattern allows me to best prepare, without overdoing the practice.

What is your prep routine?

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Just Because You are Competent to Develop a New Competency, Should You?

As leaders we all face the challenge to choose the right priorities, work on our weaknesses, and wisely manage our time. Once in a conversation with leaders this phrase stood out. “Just because we may have the competency to develop new competencies, should we?”

  In other words, how can we discern when to give time, resources, and attention to learning something new, working on a personal deficit, or developing a new skill or competency? Consider these questions as you discern a potential new direction.

Before I suggest a few questions, it’s worth noting that in the last few years some influential movements have arisen that bear upon this question.

  • The simplicity movement in the church (i.e., Thom Rainer’s book Simple Church)
  • Focusing on your strengths (Gallup’s 30 year strength’s based research resulting in the popular book Strengths Based Leadership)
  • Positive psychology (psychological interventions that focus not so much on our problems, but upon the good stuff in our lives)

As I’m closing in on my 64 year mark, I realize that I don’t have the energy I did when I was thirty, and that as I age, my brain simply slows down. Actually, we begin to lose brain cells beginning in our mid-twenties, a sobering thought. So, I must wisely manage my energy, time, and passion to focus on that which I believe God wants me to accomplish in my final decades.

So the next time you consider giving significant time to a new project, addressing a personal weakness, or developing a new competency, ask yourself these questions.

  1. Would this choice reinforce my God-given strengths and gifts?
  2. Would it increase my potential to maximize Kingdom impact?
  3. Does it fit within my life purpose? If you are not clear on your life purpose and personal values, this blog shows you how to create them.
  4. Am I doing it because I’m trying to please somebody? For in-depth practical help on avoiding unhealthy people pleasing, you can check out my book on the subject here.
  5. Have I carefully considered the trade-offs? Everything we add to our plate means something else has to go.

So the next time you must decide whether or not to develop a new competency or take on something new, let these questions guide your decision making.

What has helped you determine what you should add to your plate?

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Is a Pastor’s Job a Calling or a Career?

My good friend Godfrey Thorogood is one of the smartest guys around when it comes to church leadership. He served as FEB Central’s Leadership Development Director in Ontario and now is pastor at Thousand Oaks Baptist Church in Ontario. He’s worked with literally hundreds of pastors and once shared with me that he noticed a disturbing trend among pastors. I asked him to write this insightful guest post.

As I ask myself if ministry is a calling or a career, my mind goes back to the day in May 1978 when God spoke to my heart and said “Godfrey, I want you to help people.” I soon discovered that the manner in which God wanted me to help people was by becoming a pastor. Throughout the past 36 years, God has reminded me many times of that specific call to help people through pastoral ministry.

Since I know I was called by God to be a pastor, that call has driven my passion to serve God and to serve His church. Even at times when my passion waned and I wrestled with staying in pastoral ministry, God would take me back to His specific call upon my life, which in turn would renew my passion.

Over the past few years, I have seen the trend of some men viewing pastoral ministry as a career rather than a call.

As I come alongside to assist pastoral search teams in our churches, I occasionally hear from those search teams that some of the men whom they talk with seem to lack passion as a pastor and preacher. These search teams pick up very quickly that some of the men whom they talk with view the pastoral opportunity at a particular church as a way to advance their career rather than fulfill God’s call upon their lives.

When I finished serving as an intern in my home church, and was called to serve as assistant pastor in another church, the pastor of my home church told me not to view my role as assistant pastor as a stepping stone to future ministry. He said, “God may choose to use it that way, but go into the role with the mindset that God has called you to serve in the church at this time for however long He wants you to serve there”. He also said “Serve with passion, joy and with loyalty to your senior pastor and fulfill God’s call upon your life as assistant pastor in the church”.

I believe the words of my pastor are good words for all of us as pastors to be reminded of today.

Let’s not forget that we have been called to serve as a pastor. Take some time to read through Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. Note the passionate statements Paul makes about his own life and ministry. Make his statements your statements as you think about your current place of pastoral ministry. Ask God to continually reignite your passion for serving God and His church.

What do you think about this view that a pastor should view his role as a calling versus a career?

You can reach Godfrey here.

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3 Essentials to Resolving Conflict Well

Nobody likes conflict. Yet, it’s inevitable in life. As I’ve served as a pastor for over 30 years sometimes I’ve handled conflict well. Sometimes I’ve not. However, I’ve learned more about how to solve it Biblically from Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, a book I’d recommend every ministry leader read. His book is filled with pure gold and I’ve modified below some of his insights with these three essentials necessary to resolving conflict well. I call them the 3-R’s of conflict resolution.

The 3-R’s of Conflict Resolution.

  1. Recognize your autopilot response to conflict.
    • When a pilot flies a jet at high altitude on autopilot, he is passively piloting it. The computers take over with automatic non-thinking responses.  In the same way, when we feel pressured or threatened by another in a conflict, we tend to act on autopilot without even thinking.  Below I list eight F’s that describe unhealthy ways to resolve conflict. In this post I unpack these responses in more detail.
      • Fight-Flee-Freeze-Fuse-Fixate-Fix-Flounder-Feed/ fornicate/ finances
  2. Recast conflict as an opportunity to…
    • ..honor God. 1 Corinthians 10.31 tell us to do everything for God’s glory and honor. Conflict provides a moment in time when we can honor or dishonor Him by our responses. The next time you face conflict, ask yourself if how you plan to respond will honor Him.
    • …help others. Conflict can position us to be God’s healing agent toward another. If we respond well, we can model true grace to the other person.
  3. Realize the ultimate source of conflict: the human heart.
    • James 4.1 says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” The word desires is the word we get hedonism from. It’s conflict that comes from our drive to satisfy ourselves at the expense of others. So, ultimately conflict is a heart issue. In the heart of us all is a drive to order our lives around ourselves and to do and get what we want.  It is called sin. So since conflict is ultimately a heart issue, it takes a heart/spiritual solution, the power of the Holy Spirit to change us so that we handle conflict in a redemptive way.

Resolving conflict is never easy, but it’s not impossible.

Whether you are a leader or not, conflict will come your way. When it does, consider the 3 R’s as you seek to resolve it.

What has helped you resolve conflict?

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