I help pastors, churches & ministries get UNSTUCK by applying neuroscience insight to spiritual leadership. I coach pastors, consult with churches, speak, train and write about leadership, church ministry, and the neuroscience application to leadership to help Christian leaders achieve their fullest kingdom potential.
Defensiveness: excessively concerned with guarding against the real or imagined threat of criticism, injury to one’s ego, or exposure of one’s shortcomings (Dictionary.com). Every leader at times has probably reacted defensively to another. I have and I regret every single time I did. Leaders naturally face situations that can easily provoke a defensive reaction. But seldom does defensiveness move our churches and organizations forward. So how can we avoid defensiveness? I suggest 5 proactive ways.
Realize the negative effects defensiveness breeds.
When we react defensively to a co-worker, an employee, a board member, or a church member, seldom does good come from it. We can shut down the other person or we may incite defensiveness in them which can further escalate a conflict. We can lose the benefit of another’s insight. We can damage a relationship. If we often act defensively, we can create a reputation that can drive others away from us and from important information we need to hear. We can even lose our jobs.
Keep your stress level low.
If stress stays at a high level for any length of time, our brain’s fight-flight mechanism gets stuck on hypersensitivity and makes us more prone to defensiveness. Prolonged stress even atrophies some parts of our brain, especially the area involved in memory. But if we manage our stress, the thinking part of our brain stays more engaged and our emotional part less sensitive. Sufficient sleep, time off, good friends, exercise, and fun hobbies can keep our stress low. In this post I suggest specific steps to lessen stress.
Understand where emotions come from in your body and brain.
We get defensive when we feel threatened by someone and a domino effect begins in our bodies and brains. Simply knowing how this happens can help us pause before we react. Here’s how the process works.
Defensiveness starts with a stimulus: someone says something that makes us feel threatened.
Next, an emotion begins at an unconscious level. Chemicals course through our nervous system and hormones flow into our blood stream prompted by a brain structure called the amygdala. This happens within 1/5 of a second, without our conscious awareness.
Then we become conscious of an unpleasant sensation (the feeling) within ½ of a second. We feel angry, anxious, or fearful without even choosing the emotion.
Next, the thinking part of our brain comes online: we pay attention, we assess the situation, we interpret it, and we decide what to do.
THE SPACE (see number 4 below)
Finally we respond with some action in response to the feeling and our assessment of the situation. In our case, we get defensive.
Recognize THE SPACE between stimulus and response.
THE SPACE is the moment in time between a stimulus (what someone said which resulted in an unpleasant feeling…anger, fear, etc.) and our response (defensiveness). That brief slice of time precedes EVERY choice we make. THE SPACE always gives us time to choose how we will respond. We are not captives to our feelings. We always choose what we do in response to circumstances and our feelings.
We are not captives to our feelings. We always choose what we do in response to our feelings. Click To Tweet
So, when I get defensive, I can’t blame my wife, my kids, lack of sleep, the board, or Obama. It is my choice. However, we can lengthen that space with my suggestion in number 5.
Create more space between stimulus and response by leaning into the resources the Lord provides.
Number 2 above, lower your stress level, is crucial to helping us create more space between stimulus and response. However, our ultimate source of strength lies in a growing and abiding faith in Christ. When the Egyptians were hot on the trail of Moses and the Israelites, the people started to freak out. But Moses wisely said in Exodus 14.14, The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still. God’s supernatural resources, when we draw upon them, gives us the ability to refuse to react and resist defensiveness.
So, the next time you feel tempted to get defensive, consider these thoughts and look to the example of Jesus when he hung on the cross.
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Pet. 2.23, NIV)
Google is ubiquitous. As the largest search engine, it has become a common term in our vernacular as, just ‘Google it.’ A couple of years ago Google assigned a team to discover ingredients for effective teams. Five key learnings surfaced from that study. In this post I’ve summarized them with a key question for each because they apply to ministry teams as well as to workplace teams.
Key ingredients that create effective teams.
Impact: Team members believe that their work really matters.
Meaning: Team members view their work as personally important to them.
Structure and Clarity: Team members understand clearly their roles, plans, and goals.
Dependability: Team members meet Google’s high bar of excellence including on-time delivery of projects.
Psychological safety: Team members feel safe enough with fellow team members that they are willing to risk and be vulnerable with each other.
Which one do you believe was the most important quality? If you picked psychological safety, you were right. Although all were important, feeling safe with fellow team members mattered the most.
As I thought about that, it makes sense. Psychological safety seems to be the most interpersonal ingredient. If a job only entails spending time in front of a computer all day on a project that requires not interface interaction with others, it probably wouldn’t matter as much. But interpersonal relationships profoundly affect our emotional health and our spiritual health. That’s why the Bible talks so much about healthy relationships.
Here are key questions to ask yourself about each of these qualities as it relates to the teams you lead.
Impact: When was the last time you asked your team members if they felt their work/ministry really mattered?
Meaning: When was the last time you communicated to a team member how important their role and ministry was?
Structure/clarity: Does each team member have a clearly stated job description and goals for the year that you co-created with them?
Dependability: How well do you model excellence and the attributes you hope they will emulate?
Safety: On a scale of 1-10, how safe do you think your team feels with you? This assessment is an excellent way to discover how safe your team feels.
Next week, pick one of these qualities and take 30 minutes to evaluate what you can do to improve that area.
Our brains play a vital role in effective leadership (duh!). That’s pretty self-evident. Yet, this often overlooked brain fact profoundly reduces leadership effectiveness – chronic stress diminishes your ability to lead because of how it affects your brain. In this post I list five ways chronic stress does that. Whether you’re a pastor or a business leader, effective leaders understand how their brains affect their roles. In my next post I’ll provide some solutions to these problems.
Chronic stress affects leadership in these ways.
It amplifies fear and anxiety.
Chronic stress leaves the stress hormone, cortisol, in your body and brain for extended periods of time (as well as imbalancing brain chemicals called neurotransmitters). As a result it keeps the brain’s fight-flight center (the amygdala) on high alert which turns up the dial for fear and anxiety and leaves it there. Fearful leaders don’t lead well.
It gives you a ‘shorter fuse.’
Parts of our brain compete for energy and other resources it needs to work effectively. When the amygdala stays on high alert, it hogs those resources and our brain’s ‘thinker’ (the front part called the pre-frontal cortex) has less of those resources available to pause and reflect before reacting. Leaders who react make dicy situations even worse.
It impairs good decision making.
Reduced resources for our brain’s ‘thinker’ also affects our ability to think clearly necessary to make wise, thoughtful decisions. The thinker can literally go ‘off-line’ in stressful situations when a leader has been under chronic stress for a long time. Leaders who don’t make good decisions can hinder their churches’ or organizations’ ability to reach their goals.
It diminishes memory.
A key part of the brain involved in turning short term memories into long term memories is called the hippocampus. Chronic stress actually shrinks this part of the brain which makes us more forgetful. Leaders who forget important information or commitments they made to others can lose trust from those they lead.
It decreases motivation.
A fundamental way brain cells talk to each other is through chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Chronic stress creates an imbalance of these important chemicals which can lead to depression, listlessness, and decreased motivation. Unmotivated leaders struggle to lead their churches or organizations forward.
So, chronic stress hurts the brain which impairs our leadership.
In my next post I’ll offer some practical suggestions on how to deal with chronic stress.
Conflict is unavoidable in relationships. Conflict isn’t necessarily sinful or destructive, but it can be depending on what we do with it. Jesus outlines a clear, specific, and workable process in Matthew 18. And, we simply can’t improve on what Jesus says. I’ve summarized into a 6-step process the essence of what I believe Matthew 18 teaches us.
Before I suggest these steps, here’s the actual passage of Scripture.
Matt. 18.15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (NIV)
Determine if you really need to approach the person about the issue.
In verse 15 Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you.” In other words, we simply should drop some issues. If we can pray through them and commit to not using them against the other person, drop it.
But if you can’t, what might warrant taking the next step?
Go if the issue is seriously dishonoring Christ.
Go if the issue is damaging your relationship with the other person.
Go if the issue is hurting others.
If you do, go with the right heart and attitude.
In verse 15 the Scripture says, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” The win here is that the relationship stays intact, not necessarily that you reach a resolution, even though you hope you do find one. Ultimately the goal is not to win an argument or point out the error of the other person’s ways, but to reconcile. It takes a right heart to help make this happen. In this post I outline 5 ways to prepare your heart.
Prepare for your meeting with the person before you go. Do your homework.
Assuming that you’ve arranged a meeting with the person, don’t go in blind. Give some thought to what you want to say. Proverbs 14.8 tells us that, The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways.
I’ve found that the acronym, DESC, provides easily recallable mental hooks to guide such a conversation.
Describe the behavior that caused the conflict.
Explain the emotions you feel/felt when it happens.
State the desired changed behavior (the solution).
state the positive Consequences the new behavior will bring.
Go in private and in person.
We often miss this step yet Jesus is very clear on this when he states, “just between the two of you.” By going to the other person first it avoids prematurely pulling somebody else into the issue and stops potential gossip. Plus, a face-to-face meeting allows us to observe body language which experts say accounts for much more of a message than words alone.
However, sometimes it may be wise to seek counsel from an objective party so he or she can give us objective advice.
When you meet, use grace-filled words.
If in our conversation with this person we put them on the defensive, the meeting’s over. Grace-filled conversation, however, can create safety and openness to resolving the issue. A great verse that speaks to this is Ephesians 4.29.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
If you reach a dead-end and feel the issue warrants it, enlist others to help.
Sometimes the issue is so serious that even after repeated 1-1 attempts to reconcile we must take the next step. In verse 16 Jesus says if we reach a stalemate, we must include others in the process. Often the leadership in the church should be included at this point. And then if the other party simply refuses to budge, the church must take more severe action (v. 17). Seldom do issues warrant such a drastic step. Yet, God sanctions such action for the sake of the unity in the church (vss. 19-19).
What steps would you add to this list that have helped you resolve conflict?
From time to time every leader and pastor faces burnout. The well runs dry. He or she becomes weary in well doing. He runs out of gas. She simply has nothing left to give. When we totter on the precipice of burnout, what can we do? As I’ve faced those times during my ministry, I’ve learned a few ways that have helped me dig out.
Recognize the symptoms
Everybody’s burnout looks a bit different. Sometimes burnout comes from doing too much outwardly with over busy schedules. Sometimes burnout comes from an inner world in turmoil: worry, incessant anxiety, and fear. I suggest starting with self understanding. What does your burnout look like? Which of these factors might indicate you are burning out?
The joy you once had seems to have disappeared. You seldom have fun anymore.
You consistently sleep poorly.
You feel non-localized, free floating anger in your heart.
You catastrophize in your thinking, assuming the worse in people and life.
You easily snap, lose your cool with friends, families, or people in the church.
After you recognize the symptoms, I’ve found that rest really helps. Whether it means taking time off, taking more breaks during your work day, getting more sleep, or trimming your schedule, the body and soul needs rest. Neuroscientists have coined a term for excessive wear and tear on our body due to prolonged stress and burnout, allostatic load. When we don’t give our body and brains time to rejuvenate, we prolong our burnout and its negative effects.
Third, revisit your core values and mission. I encourage every leader to develop his or her own mission statement, their mission God has called them to achieve with His power. Most weeks when I do my strategic planning, I revisit my mission statement and personal values. If you’d like to see mine, you can click here. In this post I talk about the importance of developing your own personal values.
The final step is to re-orient your time and effort to best live out your personal mission, without burning out. I suggest taking a half day alone to reset your goals and adjust how you use your time. Here’s a post on how to plan a retreat.
BFF: Shorthand for “best friends forever” Dictionary definition: “Used mostly by teen girls when texting”
You may have never used this texting shorthand, but the concept captures essential human nature. We all want a few best friends. We need them. In fact, the Scriptures speak positively about friends
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Prov 17.17, NIV)
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prov 18.24)
If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! (Eccl 4.10)
But considering leadership teams, should we fill our upper level teams such as deacons, elders, or key leadership staff with best friends? I share a true story below from a pastor friend, but I’ve changed the details enough to protect anonymity.
My pastor friend’s church in the south was lead by a deacon board of four men plus himself. He was considered the board’s leader and the four other members were very close. Two of the deacons had been roommates in college and stayed close friends. One of those deacons was the best friend of the third member on the board. And the fourth member of the board met each week with the third deacon in a discipleship relationship. You can see that these four were very tight in one way or another. The pastor was friends with all the deacons, but not close to any of them.
Over the years at his church conflict began to rise between he and the board. It seemed that he was the odd man out each time they discussed a new initiative or direction for the church. The other four seemed to always be in agreement with each other, usually in opposition to how the pastor viewed things. Ultimately, the tension became so great that he left the church after 10 years and began to teach at a seminary.
Although other issues were certainly at play, groupthink seemed to influence the four members of the board. The BFF’s appeared blind to any other perspective except to the views of their four friends on the board.
So, based on this scenario and your experiences, what have been the pros and cons you’ve seen in boards or key leadership teams when most of those in those groups were BFF’s? Did the friendships help or hinder decision making? Did groupthink result or did the Holy Spirit simply use their kinship (like David and Jonathon in the Bible) to help them make good decisions?
Wise leaders encourage their teams to solve their problems with their own insight rather than with the leader’s insight. When an staff person or a volunteer brings a problem to us, it’s often easier and less time consuming to give them advice and solve their problem. Yet in the long run such a response can foster dependency on us to solve their problems and diminish their motivation simply because the solution isn’t theirs. And, people are less likely to act on somebody else’s ideas anyway. So how can we replace ‘answer giving’ with self generated insight?
Insight is a solution to a problem that recombines what we know in a new and fresh way that often leads to creativity. Rather than solving a problem analytically, when we focus our attention outwardly on the problem, insight occurs when we turn our attention inward and becomes less focused. This inward focus can help us experience a sudden ‘aha’ solution. This historical illustration about insight describes the ‘aha’ process well.
We use the word ‘eureka,’ attributed to Archimedes (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC), to describe an ‘aha’ moment, a flash of insight we sometimes get. As a brilliant scientist in antiquity, Archimedes is perhaps known for a story about his inventing a method to determine an object’s volume. A goldsmith had forged a crown of gold for the then king, King Hiero II. He was concerned, however, that the goldsmith has substituted the cheaper metal silver for some of the gold. He asked Archimedes to find the truth without melting the crown. This stumped Archimedes until a flash of insight appeared to him.
One day as he took a bath, he noticed the water level rise as he stepped in. Suddenly he realized that by making few mathematical calculations, he could use water volume displacement of the crown to determine if it was indeed made of pure gold. In his excitement, he ran into the streets naked crying, “Eureka, Eureka!” which means in Greek, “I have found it.” Thus, the word ‘eureka’ we use for insight. Through this insight he then discovered that the goldsmith had indeed substituted silver for some of the crown’s gold.
Archimedes had discovered an insight in a moment when he wasn’t even thinking about the problem. When we get a ‘eureka’ or an ‘aha’ insight, we just know the answer without actually knowing how we got it. The insight doesn’t come piece by piece, but usually all at once.
Researchers who study insight use a word game called Compound Remote Associate (CRA) problems. Study participants try to create three two-word phrases from three words that could share a common word. For example, consider these three words: barrel, root, and belly. What two-word phrases can you create that share a common word? Participants often use the word beer to create beer barrel, root beer, and beer belly. After they solve the problem they press a button to indicate how they solved it, either logically or with an ‘aha’ insight. Using both EEG and fMRI, neuroscientists then examine their brain functioning (Jung-Beeman et al., 2008) to learn what happens during insight.
Through these studies they’ve discovered a process that occurs in our brain when it receives an insight. First, our brain is at rest in what is called the default mode. We may be daydreaming or our minds may be wandering. MRI studies show that at this stage, the alpha wave (the wave active when the brain idles during daydreaming and relaxation) spikes. This indicates that our brain is visually gating (Sandkühler & Bhattacharya, 2008), reducing the visual input it’s processing to reduce distractions.
This is in contrast to the brain’s dominant wave, the beta wave, active during visual focus and alertness. The alpha wave shows that the part of our brain behind our eyebrows is more active prior to an insight. This part of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex, lights up when it senses conflict. This makes us more aware of competing alternatives and enhances our predisposition to switch between difference solutions (Beeman, n.d.), potentially creating an insight. That is, if one solution doesn’t work, the brain will try another. This part of our brain helps orchestrate attention since it is so highly connected to the rest of the brain.
Finally, at the moment an insight occurs the gamma wave spikes (Kounios et al., 2006). A gamma wave, the fastest brain wave, sweeps across the entire brain 40 times per second to bring our brain to attention, much like how a conductor synchronizes an orchestra when he raises his baton. The gamma band activity indicates new brain maps are being formed, the insight. And when that happens it literally feels good because neurotransmitters are released. As the insight occurs at the point of gamma synchrony, right hemisphere activity also increases to help us make connections with subtle associations we might have otherwise missed. The brain’s right hemisphere, which process information more intuitively and holistically, apparently drives the insight process.
I envision a setting ripe for an insight akin to a guy drinking lemonade while sunning in a lounge chair at the beach. Then, as he reads a fishing magazine, the solution to a nagging work problem suddenly pops into his mind. That image contrasts to his intense mental state a week prior at work when he tried to solve the problem, much like how Rodin’s famous sculpture ‘The Thinker’ pictures. So, insights are more apt to come when are brains are less focused and rested.
Consider these tips to help your team learn to develop insight.
Daydreaming: Insight often comes when we daydream and allow our minds to wander (Christoff et al., 2009). Teach your team how daydreaming can help them solve problems. Encourage your team to schedule times to daydream and to allow their minds to wander rather than always actively trying to solve problems. Help them realize that thinking less about a problem may actually bring the solution. In fact, some companies such as Google, Intuit, and Twitter expect their employees to take time for daydreaming about projects other that than those they’re working on (Waytz & Mason, 2013).
Mood: When we are in a positive mood, problem solving often comes more easily (Subramaniam et al., 2008). Yet when we’re anxious, we solve fewer problems because the anxiety uses up brain resources. So if you’re facing a dilemma in your organization, it might help if the team watched a funny movie to stir the creative juices.
Location: Encourage your team to discover the kinds of activities that help put them into an insight state. Two settings have helped me generate insight. Ideas pop into my mind when I read and walk at a reasonable pace on my treadmill. Insight also comes more readily when our family leaves for vacation while it’s still dark. I’m the driver and I’m usually the only one awake that early in the morning. With little roadside distraction, my brain has generated many good ideas during those three or four hours of solitude.
Application: Although insight gives us a nice dopamine rush (the neurotransmitter involved in attention and reward), we all know that the feeling eventually wears off. Remind your team to record their insights in an easy to remember location so that they won’t forget them. Even if your team member can’t immediately act on an insight, getting him to commit to acting on it at a later time can help translate the insight into action (Rock, 2007, p. 108).
Speed: If you’re working with a team member who is trying to find a solution to a problem, don’t rush the process. Give him time to engage his brain. Allow space in conversations and encourage him to carve out some down time to give his brain a break.
The above is a brief excerpt from of my newest book to be released next April entitled Brain-Savvy Leadership: the Science of Significant Ministry.
How have you helped foster ‘aha’ moments among your team members?
Beeman, M. Insight in the Brain. Available from: <http://groups.psych.northwestern.edu/mbeeman/PLoS_Supp.htm>.
Christoff, K., Gordon, A.M., Smallwood, J., Smith, R. & Schooler, J.W. (2009) Experience sampling during fMRI reveals default network and executive system contributions to mind wandering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (21), pp.8719–8724.
Jung-Beeman, M., Collier, A. & Kounios, J. (2008) How insight happens: learning from the brain. Neuroleadership Journal, (1), pp.20–25.
Kounios, J., Frymiare, J.L., Bowden, E.M., Fleck, J.I., Subramaniam, K., Parrish, T.B. & Jung-Beeman, M. (2006) The prepared mind: neural activity prior to problem presentation predicts subsequent solution by sudden insight. Psychological Science, 17 (10), pp.882–890.
Rock, D. (2007) Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work. Reprint. HarperBusiness.
Sandkühler, S. & Bhattacharya, J. (2008) Deconstructing Insight: EEG Correlates of Insightful Problem Solving. PLoS ONE, 3 (1), p.e1459.
Subramaniam, K., Kounios, J., Parrish, T.B. & Jung-Beeman, M. (2008) A Brain Mechanism for Facilitation of Insight by Positive Affect. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21 (3), pp.415–432.
Waytz, A. & Mason, M. (2013) Your Brain at Work [Internet]. Available from: <http://hbr.org/2013/07/your-brain-at-work/ar/1> [Accessed 26 June 2013].
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7 he forcefully deals with a judgmental spirit which often gets in the way of resolving conflict. Often when we try to resolve conflict, it doesn’t go well because we’ve not prepared our heart beforehand. I’ve found these 5 heart benchmarks crucial to prepare my heart before I attempt to resolve a relational conflict.
Benchmark 1… Attitude: I have a constructive one.
When Jesus tells us in Matthew 7.1 to not judge, he’s not prohibiting what judges do in the court room nor saying we can’t call sin sin. Neither is he saying that we should never confront another about their unhealthy or destructive behavior. Rather, He’s speaking against what we’d call a judgmental, morally superior, or hypercritical spirit that He often saw in the scribes and Pharisees. Before we deal with a conflict, we must examine our attitude to make sure our goals for doing so are constructive and corrective rather than critical and condemning.
Sometimes a judgmental spirit shows up in a subtle way when we take delight in the misfortune of others. The Germans coined a word for this experience, schadenfreude (shod-en-trod-a). When we take delight in another’s misfortune, our brain actually releases dopamine, one of the feel-good neurotransmitters, into our brain’s pleasure center. So, the next time you take subtle delight in the misfortune of the person with whom you face conflict, you’re probably doing what Jesus said we should avoid.
Benchmark 2… Fairness: I’m using a fair standard.
In verse 2 Jesus says, For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. This is another way of explaining how the golden rule works. What goes around, comes around.
The attitude or standard we use against others will be the same attitude others will judge us by. This passage seems also to imply that God Himself will apply that same standard against us. As John McArthur writes, “Self-righteous judgment will become its own gallows.”
Before we attempt to resolve a conflict, we must check the standard of fairness we’re applying that we hope the other person will apply with us.
Benchmark 3… Introspection: I’ve looked within.
Jesus used an exaggerated metaphor of a guy trying to take the speck out of another’s eye when he himself had a log sticking out of his own eye. He was illustrating that as ludicrous as that image appears, it’s just as ridiculous to be judgmental and picky toward somebody with whom we have a conflict when we have not faced up to our own sin and responsibility in the conflict. So, we must first look within. Otherwise, we can become so obsessed with the other person’s issues that we miss the really big stuff in us.
The next benchmark is a close cousin to this one.
Benchmark 4… Responsibility: I’ve owned my part in the conflict.
In verse 5 Jesus says that we must first take the plank out of our own eye. In other words, before we can address another’s contribution to the conflict, we must own what we’ve done that has contributed to the conflict.
Jesus even includes the concept in one of the beatitudes where he says, Matt. 5.4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matt. 4.4) He looks with favor on genuine repentance.
When we do this we then become qualified to attempt reconciliation… and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matt. 7.5)
Benchmark 5… Discernment: I’ve counted the cost.
In verses 6 Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”
The dogs and pigs He refers to are not cute puppies nor pet potbelly pigs. They represent mangy, wild dogs and pigs that would just as soon rip you apart as anything. Jesus uses an exaggerated picture of a man holding precious pearls trying to convince the dogs and pigs that his pearls are valuable. Doing so is fruitless because such animals only care about getting food and would rip you into pieces were you to get in their way. Pigs and dogs don’t appreciate valuable things.
Here’s His point. It may not be worth the price to attempt reconciliation. It may be better to yield your rights that you are morally and legally justified to receive. It may be the wisest choice not to confront. For by doing so, you may simply make things worse. Some people will reject you no matter how well-meaning you are, how concerned you are for them, or how well you prepared your heart. With such people, don’t force the issue. Practice discernment and count the cost.
On the other hand, it may be costly as well to not attempt reconciliation. Bitterness and a further unraveling of the relationship could result if you don’t attempt reconciliation. The longer you go without attempting to work through conflict, the more the issues can fester that can poison and destroy a relationship. Refusing to seek relational reconciliation may bring a lot of hidden costs. Again, practice discernment and count the cost.
Resolving conflict is never easy. But the chances of successful resolution increase when we appropriately prepare our heart.
How have you prepared your heart before attempting to resolve a conflict?
Leadership transparency can build or break trust. Without trust, leadership suffers. However, when a staff, customers, or congregation trust their leaders, good things happen. Several years ago our church made some significant changes to our governance and our church constitution. After a two-year study process, our board of elders presented the changes to our church resulting in overwhelming approval, a unanimous vote. A key reason the process went so well was because they ruthlessly practiced leadership transparency. Here are 4 ways to practice leadership transparency and move your church or ministry forward.
Our board went out of the way to communicate the proposed changes. They included some key influencers in the re-write. They provided copies of the change several weeks in advance. They convened a focus group of key influencers to get their take before it came to the church. We asked for a strong congregational attendance at our annual meeting where these kinds of issues must face a vote. We had a great attendance.
Welcome input and questions.
In addition to the focus group, they gave plenty of time during the annual meeting to field questions. Our head elder who led the meeting kept encouraging questions without appearing to rush the meeting in any way. He allowed spaces of time when no one raised questions, yet he still conveyed an openness to field any questions as they might come up.
Be graceful in the face of difficult questions.
A few people raised some tough, but fair questions. Neither the head elder nor the assistant head elder who fielded questions responded defensively when those questions were raised. They acknowledged the question, affirmed the person who asked it, and answered the question without a defensive or off-putting tone.
Be totally forthright.
Some of the proposed changes required a significant change from congregational rule to a board rule form of governance. When such questions were raised, the head elder didn’t attempt to soft sell, beat around the bush, or obfuscate the reality of the change. He answered clearly and explained the why behind each answer.
I hadn’t lead a church for some time that held such significant congregational meetings. Yet, the spirit in which the board lead provided a textbook example how good leadership transparency can move the ministry forward.
What other ways have you seen that builds leadership transparency?
I’ve served over 37 years in different churches in various roles and have make lots of mistakes. I didn’t make these mistakes with ill will or with an evil heart, and neither do most pastors. However, we make them, and sometimes they are, well, just dumb. Here are some of the dumbest mistakes I’ve made.
Assuming everybody understands what I meant.
Just because people remain silent when I share my idea does not mean that they get it or agree with it. I’ve learned the hard way that I must pry feelings from those who don’t speak up when I share a new initiative. Otherwise, their concerns will show up later and probably surprise me.
Getting defensive when somebody didn’t buy into my plan.
Sometimes I’ve unintentionally conveyed to others that every aspect of the church vision must start with me. And if it’s not my idea, if must not be from God. Perhaps in the Old World top down command and control style of leadership that thinking worked. It doesn’t in today’s environment.
Believing that my position as pastor automatically elicited trust from the church.
Positional leadership does not guarantee trust from potential followers. I’ve learned that church people only give a certain level of trust in leaders, often low at first. And most likely the trust they have extended to spiritual leaders has taken a hit in the past. I’ve learned that I must go the extra mile to build trust with those in the church. I suggest 10 ways leaders build trust here.
Not communicating enough.
I’ve heard mega-church pastors Rick Warren say that because vision leaks, he revisits the church vision every 30 days. He’s right. We must continually communicate not only the vision, but others important issues in the church as well. We almost can’t over-communiate.
Thinking everybody will love, remember, and apply my really great, God anointed, exegetically sound sermons.
I used to think that a well crafted sermon I spent 25 hours preparing would light up the hearts and minds of those who were in church that day. Unfortunately, the mind can only absorb so much and if those who listen to my sermons get and apply one insight, they are doing well. I’ve sense tried to find ways to make a few cogent points really stick through brain based communication insight. You can read my blog here about brain based preaching.
Failing to realize the concept of “uninformed optimism.”
The bell curve of change tells us that initially those in a church tend to be excited about a positive new idea or initiative. It’s called uninformed optimism. In the listeners’ minds the idea initially seems really great. However, that optimism often only lasts until they realize what the change may cost them (inconvenience, more money, etc.) That new phase is called informed pessimism. I’ve since learned to prepare myself for some eventual pushback when the realities of the change finally set in. Tempering my expectation has helped me manage my disappointment when the resistance comes.
What dumb and dumber mistakes have you seen other leaders make?