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So much of one’s effectiveness in ministry has to do with the matters that may appear small but in fact are very important.

1.  Attitude.  This is huge!   A negative attitude, a cynical spirit, and a fault-finding disposition have a way of wearing out a congregation.  The content of a minister’s teaching may be correct, but the teaching may not be taken seriously because of the attitude of the minister.

2.  Humility.  Some ministers have a way of bringing every conversation back to themselves. Instead of asking others to elaborate after they have shared an experience, some people will immediately interject, “Yeah, you should have seen what happened to me, blah, blah, blah.” People see through this after a while.

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puzzled“One of the biggest problems with pastors is their lack of self-awareness and inadequate relational abilities.”

This quote caught my attention.

I was reading a transcript of a presentation given by Dr. Rod Wilson, president of Regent College. The presentation was entitled “Why Emotional Intelligence Is Missing in So Many Churches and Christian Institutions.” In the message Wilson quotes a pastor who is on his denomination’s ordination board. Wilson says that if a person is intellectually bright, we often conclude that such intelligence will lead to a certain kind of behavior.

Of course, “We all know that intelligence, in the traditional sense of the word, is no guarantee of emotional strength and appropriate behavior.” Churches and ministers have seen this again and again. A person may be highly intelligent but particularly inept in relating to people.

Good leaders need what Daniel Goleman refers to as “emotional intelligence.” Consider the two categories often used to describe emotional intelligence.

Personal competence – This involves self-awareness and self-managment. Do I have a sense of who I am? Do I have an awareness of my wounds or vulnerabilities? Am I aware when I am lonely or angry? Do I have a sense for my patterns of behavior when I am tempted to make poor, unethical or immoral decisions?

Social competence – This involves an awareness of what is happening in relationships. It is social awareness. Do I have a sense for how I am coming across to people in a one-on-one setting or in a group meeting? Do I tend to say what is appropriate? Am I often surprised by how others perceive me in conversations?

Far too many ministers pay little attention to their emotional intelligence.

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Some ministers are perceived to be important.servant-leader-570x311.jpg

When I first began preaching and serving as a “full-time minister,” I soon realized that some preachers were considered to be important people.

That struck me as interesting and even a bit odd.

After all, I was a business major in college. It wasn’t until after I had graduated from college that I began to think about the possibility of becoming better equipped to serve God. I wasn’t going back to school for a new career. In fact, to this day I have never referred to my work as a minister as a career. Instead, I tend to think of my work as a calling that I am doing as long as I think this is what God wants me to do.

I do remember, however, when it occurred to me that some ministers were perceived to be important people.

  • They were invited to speak at large gatherings of Christians.
  • They were described as having “preached in some of our most influential pulpits.
  • They were characterized as “highly sought after” ministers.

For a while, I thought that I should pursue importance. (Yes, this is embarrassing to admit. I know that is not a good thing. I know that idea reeks of pride. I’m just telling you what went through my head.) After thinking about this (way too long), I began to wonder if I was losing my mind. I do remember, after all, the times when Jesus was approached by people either perceiving their own greatness or wanting to be great.

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Each Thursday, I write a post particularly for church leaders. The following is part of a list of habits for church leaders who want to grow and develop. You can find part 1 here  and part 2 here.

Habit #6. Adjust your expectations.

See-the-world-inside-a-toilet-paper-roll_2.jpgWhen I first began preaching, my expectations of people were way too high! I was constantly disappointed in others. My assumptions on the front end were skewed. For example, I thought that everyone who was connected in some way with our church was trying to live right. It wasn’t everyone’s personal weakness that was the surprise but that we were not even united in our intentions.

Meanwhile, my expectations of God were far too small. I didn’t really believe that he might do amazing things through prayer. I didn’t expect God to do anything in my life. Consequently, I lived with a strange set of expectations for both the church and for God.

I began to grapple with this and lowered my expectations of people so that anything that a person did that was good was an act of grace. Meanwhile, I began to raise my expectations of God, thanking him for the grace that I experienced in him whether I witnessed his power or not.

Habit #7. Pay attention to people.

This particular habit is so important. It is a gift we can give to one another that can add energy. Basically, you follow two practices:

  • You attempt to catch people doing what is right.
  • You ask about what is very important to another person.

Habit #8. Empty your mind regularly.

In David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, I have learned the importance of emptying one’s mind (or doing a “mind sweep”). Basically, one takes everything that is going on in the mind and lists it on paper.

In his workshop, one of the exercises involved writing everything we were thinking about. I thought, “This won’t take long, I am only thinking about a couple of things right now.” We took about ten minutes for this exercise. I began my list and could not believe all that I wrote down. I wrote everything from “Get the tire fixed” to “Got to call Steve on the way home.” Each time I wrote something down, I then seemed to recall one more thing that I had stored in my mind.

Allen believes if we do not regularly empty our minds, then stress is the result. You must have a system in place by which you can empty your mind and know that you will come back to the things you have written down and deal with them.

What habits would you add to this list?

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Each Thursday, I write a post focused on the needs of church leaders. The following is the first in a series of habits for church leaders (in particular) who wish to grow and develop.

Habit #1 Practice self-awareness.

With whom am I spending time? I have to monitor just how much time I spend with negative, critical people. Too much time spent with others who are constantly griping and complaining will sure enough drain me of energy. I have a friend who described one preacher as so negative that his sermons on grace had a negative edge. Yet, I can’t listen to (what seems like) an endless stream of negative talk because it really does impact me.


What am I putting into my mind? On a typical day, I talk (email, phone call, personal conversation) with people about matters that are very serious. Someone has learned that they have cancer. Someone else is deeply concerned about personal financial debt. Still another is wrestling with marriage issues. At the end of the day, it is easy to go home and immerse myself in the national news, which much of the time is going to be very negative. As a result, I have to be very intentional about what I put into my mind. I can’t think about sad and tragic situations all of the time.

Often I make sure I watch something funny on television. I might watch a good ball game. I might read a biography, especially one that is not filled with tragedy. What I put into my mind really does matter.

Whom am I resenting? Unresolved conflict and resentments can be such energy drainers! It is amazing how much energy I can spend thinking about a person I am frustrated or angry with. Occasionally I need to ask myself, “How much time do I spend thinking about old resentments or things that long ago should have been forgiven?”

When do I re-create my body? I generally work out at the gym four times a week. My motivation for doing this is not my weight nor is it because I am a health nut. My motivation is rooted in the way it makes me feel when I am regularly working out versus how I feel when I am not. If I am not getting some kind of exercise, it really does impact how I feel. Not only do I feel sluggish, but I also tend to have less energy and motivation, particularly in the afternoons.

Some ministers get their emotional strokes by talking about how hard they work. They go on and on about what everyone has asked them to do and how busy they are. There are ministers who do not even take a day off. Not taking time to rest, to get away, and to recharge will eventually catch up with a person.

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How to Kill Your Ministry

1. Live an insular life. Live as if you were on a remote island. You have probably seen ministers like this. Some live this way within their own congregations. Others exist like this within their fellowship or denomination. They live and function with their lives centered around concerns that are small and unrelated to kingdom issues. Toxic.jpg

As a result, my concerns become either the intramural concerns of a particular group/denomination or the local concerns of my congregation. As a result, I fail to see the larger issues and concerns that impact the world.

An insular ministry can be toxic! It will shrink your thinking and dwarf your faith. This is a slow death which is often painful for the congregation to endure. Unfortunately, its victims are often unaware of its presence until it has become a chronic condition.

Nothing has been more refreshing to me than to explore the issues and concerns of the world through reading, conversations, etc. If I don’t do this on purpose, my thinking will be reduced to the immediate. One way to begin is with drinking coffee and eating lunch with some people who think beyond your immediate context. Start with college students or if you are fairly young with an older, thoughtful person. As they speak about their concerns, listen intently – not to answer but to understand.

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Each Thursday, I post something I think might be helpful or encouraging to church leaders. (You might also find it helpful to read an earlier post about some of the real mental and emotional challenges in ministry.)

Habits that will help you keep your sanity as a Christian leader:

1. Have a strong sense of call. Is this your vocation (calling) or is this just a career? Do you have a sense that God has been working in your life all along, preparing you for your ministry? Prayer and a sense of God’s providence are incredibly important.

2. Deal with the elephants in the room. Name them and write them down. What is sucking the life and energy out of our minister group or elder group? What are the elephants in the room? What is an obvious problem among our church leaders and yet we remain silent?


3. Make a decision, no matter how small, and follow through. Indecision is a huge energy drainer. Even decisions that may seem relatively small, but are followed by taking one step forward, can give great encouragement and energy to a congregation.

4. Focus on your own functioning, instead of focusing on everyone else. Move away from “if only” thinking. Instead, focus on what you are going to say, what you are going to do, and how you will choose to spend your time this week. If you will focus on your emotional growth, your spiritual growth, and your growth as a leader, you will experience less stress.

5.  Be a lifelong learner. It may be tempting to rely on your giftedness. You may want to prove to people that you have what it takes. Others rely on their formal education. However, that too can go by the wayside quickly.

Lifelong learners intend to grow, develop, and mature. Much learning is “on purpose.” We are at an advantage when we desire and intend to learn. For example, I have learned much from reading. I can point to several biographies and a few other books as well that have been important in my growth and development. Yet, there are many other ways to be intentional about learning.

Lifelong learners have learned and are learning. There is nothing arrogant about acknowledging that I have learned something. I have lived, thought, and studied for a number of years. I can honestly say I have learned a few things about life and ministry. At the same time, I continue to learn and have much to learn.

6.   Create an encouraging environment. Commit to create an encouraging environment among the other church leaders in the congregation. It is awfully hard to develop an encouraging environment in the congregation when the leaders don’t have that commitment among themselves. This has implications for how ministers/elders talk about one another in one another’s absence. It also has implications for how we talk to one another.

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Expectations are everything!

So what do you expect?

This is a huge issue for many ministers. Far too many of us have very unrealistic expectations of ourselves, our work, and the congregations we serve.

At this point, someone might want to quickly interject, “But I think we ought to have high standards. Isn’t the bar already very low?” OK. Good point.

Yet, I want to suggest that we make assumptions and then move toward unrealistic expectations. These assumptions and expectations might include:

  • If I work very, very hard, people will appreciate me and know I am competent and worthwhile.
  • If I do a good job with my ministry, the key leaders in my congregation will certainly support and affirm me.
  • If I just explain and prove to my key leaders what we need to do as a church, they will see that this is obviously the approach that ought to be taken.
  • If I am competent and skilled, the congregation I serve will grow and we will experience few problems.

Maybe some of us have expectations of ourselves and others that are far too high, while our expectations of God are far too low.

Does any of this sound familiar? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Did you know that ministry can make you feel as if you are losing your mind?losemind-thumb.jpg

Ok. Maybe it is not supposed to be that way but I do know many people who have experienced this. I certainly have at times. I am going to list four ways this happens and next week will give four more reasons.

How you can feel like you are losing your mind:

1. You can lead out of your anxiety (“Did anyone complain this morning?”) instead of your conviction (“How did God work in the life of the congregation this morning?”). Anxious leaders live in a constant state of reaction. For them, a good Sunday morning is when no one complains. Yet, is this the way God wants us to evaluate our assemblies? Somehow I can’t imagine Paul evaluating the church based on the reactions of people.

2. You can spend a lot of energy trying to convince people to agree with you. This is quite different than communicating clearly how you arrived at this conclusion yourself. It is one thing for me to tell people what I believe. It is quite another to give a 10-point plan. Far better to calmly take a position or stand and attempt to clearly explain how you arrived at this conclusion, acknowledging that good people may differ.

3. You can be overly focused on what others say or want and lose sight of where you are going. It is one thing to be aware of what people think and feel. It is good to invite input and collaboration. Yet, far too many leaders become frozen in indecision. Somehow we get stuck in the murkiness of the swamp. I learned this years ago as I heard a church leader say, “You know we will do whatever the people want to do.” I remember thinking, “This is why the conflict is so intense at this congregation.” Being stuck in indecision, it heightened the tension in the congregation.

4. You can talk repeatedly about what someone said or did that was wrong, creating a cloud of negativity over the group. Consequently, the group meetings have a very negative emphasis which cause you to feel as if you are losing your encouragement and energy.

(More next Thursday)


Which one of these have you experienced most often? What has been the impact on you?

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I was once at a conference with mostly ministers and other church leaders in attendance. A friend of mine came in late the first evening. The room was full but there was an empty seat on a back row.

The guy took this seat. Meanwhile, the conference began and our host proceeded to welcome us to the campus. I glanced at my friend. He had only been seated for about two minutes when he said “hello” to the person on his left. This guy was a teacher at the institution hosting the seminar. This guy looked at my friend and mumbled something. He then immediately got up from his chair and moved elsewhere in the room.

I witnessed this scene and thought, “Wow, we spend a lot of money to conduct conferences like this one. Guest speakers are here from different parts of the country. The point is to encourage church leaders. Yet, we can’t even say hello and sit with these ministers.”   

Many ministers, preachers, pastors, and elders are very weary.

What creates weariness?

I’m not quite sure. But I do know what contributes to it. For many of us, this is not a weariness that comes from reading a book for hours or having a fascinating discussion into the wee hours of the morning.
Rather, I am referring to the kind of weariness that comes from the work of ministry.

Where does weariness come from?

  • Weariness is to spend hours and hours with a couple about their marriage only to see them divorce.
  • Weariness is to see the church respond so graciously to a family who has been burned out by a fire only to see them place membership at another church three months later.
  • Weariness is to pray for an opportunity to invite your neighbor to church only to see some of your friends walk past her without speaking.
  • Weariness is to be in a church situation characterized by much strife and tension.
  • Weariness is knowing you need to have thick skin, but the insults and rude comments are becoming too much.
  • Weariness is to see the long, slow death of someone in your congregation. Then the funeral. Exhausting.
  • Weariness is to realize that you are deeply disappointed regarding other church leaders who have behaved immaturely in a recent church situation.

Can you relate to any of these?

(You might find encouragement in: Matthew 11:25-30; Psalm 63; and Joshua 1.)