5 Ways to Demotivate Your Team

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You work with a team, no doubt. Whether you lead a dozen paid associates in a huge church or a handful of volunteers in a smaller setting, you lead a team.

As the leader, you have enormous impact on their levels of enthusiasm and engagement. Problem is, if you let that enthusiasm and creative thinking go unchecked, it may lead to growth and progress beyond your comfort level and ability to control!

Now, we don’t want that, right?

So if you are determined to squelch the personal growth of your staffers, frustrate them to no end, restrict the potential of your church and generally demotivate your team, here are five of the best ways to do so.

1. Quickly nix any new ideas from the start.

Make sure to set your default immediate answer to anything new as “No!” This strategy prevents initiatives that may take things out of your control. A great side benefit – it will also work to help reduce the likelihood of new ideas springing up in the future.

2. Publicly criticize any mistakes make by subordinates.

It’s not wise to take them aside privately and use the error as a teaching moment. Certainly don’t do that and then follow up with the affirmation that you know they’ve learned something that will help them succeed in the future! If you take those steps, you’re practically guaranteeing the subordinate will develop into an even better leader. Who knows what would happen then?

Remember, humiliation and embarrassment can serve as powerful tools to squelch any future goof ups. Most people won’t even try!

3. Micro-manage your leaders.

It’s not good enough to just kill their ideas! You also need to ensure they have no leeway to try their own methods for getting things done. Otherwise, before you know, they may not even depend on you! So make sure to spell out every detail and then watch ‘em like a hawk.

4. Do not conduct periodic mission, vision, and strategy review sessions with your staff.

You probably don’t have a bigger vision for what the church is about. If you do, you may not have it written down. However, even if you have those kind of statements, there’s no reason to use them in any kind of concrete way to inspire, direct and motivate your staff!

5. Forget about recognition for your staff, leaders and volunteers.

Why would you? You do all the work anyway! No, they’re just doing what they should be doing so no need to go to all the trouble of speaking a few words of gratitude, praise and affirmation!

Bonus Tip: Do not communicate when implementing a new plan.

Suppose something slips by you and somehow the church launches a new program or initiative. Do not communicate early and often about the upcoming changes! Leave people in the dark as much as possible. That’ll leave them off balance and unsure how they should participate. It’s a great de-motivational strategy!

(In case you’re not completely sure, yes my tongue is firmly planted in cheek throughout this article. I’m just kidding.)

Still, is it possible you’re following one of the “strategies” above and inadvertently demoralizing your team?

Just something to think about; hope it helps!




5 Simple Ways to Empower People


Empowerment means simply to give someone the power or authority to do something. Jesus practiced empowerment:

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. (Matthew 10:1 NIV)

Empowered people grow and thrive. Do they also make mistakes? Of course they do. But they learn. They progress. They become more engaged. God uses them in small ways at first, then bigger ways. Their enthusiasm becomes contagious!

You may pastor a wildly growing urban church or a small and slowly declining rural congregation (or in any of a hundred situations). In any case, won’t your work be more rewarding, your life a lot easier and your ministry more fulfilling if you have the kind of people I describe above working with you?

You can have those people if you learn how to create a culture of empowerment – and that’s not hard to do! You don’t need to be a leadership guru. No gimmicks or budget required!
Here are five ways any pastor can empower church and staff members. 

1.       Give Power through Relationship

Never underestimate the power of simply building relationships with people. It has the power to communicate care, warmth and belief in them. Sharing a little of your time and attention is sharing power.

2.       Give Power through a Shared, Dynamic, Compelling Vision

Avoid the stagnation of a stale, “yellowed placard on the wall only” mission or vision statement. Instead, revisit your mission statement with your board and congregation periodically. Ensure your statements reflect a relevant, current and inspiring church vision. Then be sure to infuse all your programs and communications with it.

A clear and activated mission and or vision statements inspires involvement and innovative ideas! (Need to work on a vision statement? Get my Vision Tool here.)

3.       Give Power through Invitation to Genuinely Participate

Let people know you are genuinely interested in their ideas, involvement, creativity and feedback. Then listen and respond. You will create an atmosphere in which people feel free to share their ideas.  
4.       Give Power by Providing Opportunities to Do  

Sense God desiring to use someone in your congregation? Speak to them and let them know! Allow people to attempt and try new things. Relinquish control – so hard for some of us to do! Let them go and grow and yes, sometimes fail.

5.       Give Power by Making It Safe to Fail

Did I mention that empowered people sometimes fail or fall short? Jesus empowered his 12 and they failed! So what did he do?

When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”  (Matthew 17:14-21a NIV)

Jesus viewed their failure as a teachable moment. No, he didn’t molly coddle the disciples. However, he ended by telling them exactly what would be required to fix the problem in the future and assured them that if they followed his instruction, “Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Wow, that’s the kind of leader (and pastor) that I want! The one who helps me get stronger, makes it safe for me to fail and keeps me energized to keep on growing.

That’s the kind of leadership your people want, too! Empower them! Who knows what God will do?

Get People Unstuck, Make a Bigger Impact

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I hear from many clergy that they feel stuck – or that their churches seem stuck in terms of both numerical and spiritual growth.

I also learned from my research a few years ago that some pastors question the impact of their ministries. They’re just not sure they are making a difference.

Do you struggle with either of those issues?

If not – and I’m being serious – please leave a comment below how you keep your church growing and yourself impactful!

If you do wrestle with moving your church forward and feeling that you are making a difference, I would like to suggest a partial answer to both problems by posing this question: do you focus on empowering the people you serve and lead?

Business literature uses “empowerment” terminology a lot, of course. However, we don’t have to look to management theory or psychology or the science of emotional intelligence to see the critical importance of using our leadership positions to empower.

The word means to give someone the power or authority to do something.

Jesus empowered his disciples:

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. (Matthew 10:1 NIV)

Paul promoted empowerment as the very essence of church leadership:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry… (Ephesians 4:11 – 12a NIV)

But what does empowerment in church ministry look like? (It seems clear the Apostle Paul suggested that ultimately every convert would be involved in ministry of some sort!)

Let’s start by listing a few things that may be useful or even necessary in certain situations but definitely are not empowerment:

  • It is not simply telling people what to do.

  • It is not asking someone who appears somewhat capable to fill an available slot.

  • It is not making all the decisions about the projects and vision of the church.

What is empowerment in the context of church? I don’t know every answer to the question but I do know that first and foremost it includes leading people to a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. It means we make disciples, not simply converts.

I also know that we must create a culture of empowerment. But more about that next week!

Meanwhile, I have this challenge for you. As you prayerfully consider the people you lead, do you sense that God wants certain individuals to do something (large or small)? What kind of power or authority – again, large or small – could you invest in those persons that might encourage them to step out in faith?

Think about how you can empower them!

Are You Appropriately Assertive?

The scenario: Senior Pastor Michael must interrupt Associate Pastor Julie’s long-planned weekend away with family and ask her to work instead.

How would you handle that conversation if you were Michael? Would you fall to the passive side, fearing to ask, knowing that it will be upsetting for her? Perhaps you would fall to the aggressive side, thinking, “I’m the boss so she will just have to do what I say.”

Perhaps, however, you would use the emotional intelligence skill of assertiveness.

In The Emotional Intelligence of Jesus: Relational Smarts for Religious Leaders, authors Oswald and Jacobson illustrate the crucial differences between passivity, aggression and assertiveness in this sample conversation based on the scenario above.

How do you feel about their suggested approach?

Michael approaches Julie and says:

“Julie, I know your husband Jake and you had planned to take your kids to the ocean this weekend. You have looked forward to this for several weeks.

As you know, I will be tied up all day Saturday with a retreat with all our church officers. That retreat has been postponed twice already, and it’s now or never. I’ve just been informed that Norm Nelson, who is both a friend and pillar of this church, has unexpectedly died. The funeral has been set for 2:00 p.m. Saturday, as this is the only time his extended family in Michigan is able to attend.

Julie, I need you to postpone that weekend with your family. At this late date, you are the only one who can lead portions of that retreat. I can be there for part of the time but not for a major portion of the event. I know you have the skills that are needed at that workshop.

In appreciation, I will go to bat for you so that you can have the entire Labor Day weekend at the shore with your family. I will also see to it that you have some extra time with your family over Christmas. I will mention the sacrifice you are making here at your annual review that’s coming up this fall. May I count on you for that Saturday retreat?”

According to Oswald and Jacobson, Michael took four appropriately assertive steps:

  1. Michael managed his own emotions while informing Julie he was clearly aware of her situation.

  2. He informed Julie about his general situation – the reasons he needed to assert himself.

  3. Then Michael provided the specific details in regard to what he needed from Julie.

  4. Finally, he expressed appreciation, offered all the rewards he could and confirmed acceptance.

Could you more easily get what you need from people and yet keep them happy? Perhaps it’s possible through appropriate assertiveness!

What's in a Name?

Are you powerfully influencing the people you lead for Christ?

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  • Are your church members supportive and in-tune with the direction you are leading the church?

  • Are your volunteers fired up and excited about their role in your organization?

  • Do your paid staff loyally stand behind you and love their jobs?

  • Do new visitors and new members feel warmly connected to the church and to you?

Power with people depends on your ability to connect with them at an emotional level. That’s one of the simple messages of emotional intelligence.

That’s not just my opinion as a Psychologist, by the way. For example, one Senior Professor of Leadership and Pastoral Ministry says, “What we haven’t realized for many years, and far too many don’t get it today, is how critically important our emotions are to effective ministry in general and leadership in particular. What I know now is that how you feel impacts how you lead and now followers feel about themselves when around and led by you affects how well they follow your leadership.” [1]

The really good news: something as profoundly effective as interacting with people in emotionally intelligent ways can often be expressed in utterly simple habits.

For example, the professor I quoted above (Dr. Aubrey Malphurs of Dallas Theological Seminary) devotes an entire 200-page book to ably explaining the concept of emotional intelligence. However, in the appendixes of skills, he includes among others, the Name Recognition Skill Builder.”

In other words, he suggests expressing emotional intelligence by learning to remember people’s names!

I couldn’t agree more. People’s names represent their identities. If you read last week’s blog, you know how important our identities are to us.

So with that in mind, I’d like to leave you with a challenge for the coming week. What about using Dr. Malphur’s system this week to focus on the skill and habit of learning people’s names? By the way, did you know that the Apostle Paul recalled the names of at least 26 members of the church in Rome in Romans 16:3-16?

So, no matter how large your organization or extensive your contacts, work on knowing people’s names - and the names of their wives or husbands and children, too!

You can do it, it will make a difference in the way people feel about you. Here’s the first three steps according to Dr. Malphurs:

  1. Make a special effort to capture a person’s name when you first meet them no matter who they are.

  2. As you shake the person’s hand, repeat the name. You may ask how it’s spelled.

  3. Focus on it in your mind as you talk with the person and use it frequently in the conversation.

Hope that get’s you started on getting better at remembering people’s names!


[1] Aubrey Malphurs, Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders: How Emotional Intelligence Can Help Transform Your Ministry, 2018.

Your Identity Predicts Your Destiny

Your identity predicts your destiny.


The way you see yourself inextricably links to the ultimate outcomes of your life. That’s why God so often initiated great changes in people’s lives by changing their names or challenging their self-perceptions.

Consider Gideon, just one of many examples.

The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

(Judges 6:11 -16 NIV)

No need to belabor the point here. Clearly, the Angel of the Lord saw Gideon as a “mighty warrior” but Gideon saw himself as the least in his family, which was the weakest in his tribe, which was part of a nation abandoned by God and dominated by enemies.

God wanted to use Gideon but first some work had to be done on Gideon’s image of himself!

I won’t bore you by listing the many other Bible characters with whom God dealt in a similar fashion or by changing their names. If you think about it, you will come up with quite a list yourself!

So what’s the larger point?

Simply this: in God’s strength you are sufficient to the task to which God has called you. Yet you may find yourself fearful or failing or discouraged by obstacles or even blind to opportunities. (The same applies to me or any believer!)

So, I challenge you to ask yourself two questions during this coming week. Reflect upon these and ask God to grant you greater self-awareness:

First, what images do you have of yourself that limit you in pursuing God’s call?

Second, what are the Biblical images of yourself that God would have you adopt in order to see yourself as He sees you?

Do this, you mighty warrior, and see what happens!

The Charisma Myth

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So let me bust a myth right now: you know those naturally attractive, compelling, warm, self-confident pastors who seem to simply charm everyone and were just born with ability to do that?

Well, they weren’t born with the ability to do that.

They learned it.

Probably from childhood.

Charisma, as I use the term, refers to a person’s presence, power and warmth. Extensive research has shown that it results from specific non-verbal behaviors. It can be learned and it matters.

I believe you can and should develop your personal charisma. It will help you in your ministry.  

Of course, I don’t know what “personal charisma” means to you. Some may immediately call to mind the New Testament spiritual gift sense of the word but that’s another topic.

Others may think of some kind of empty, self-serving charm or even a dark mind-control sort of power, like the hypnotic oratory of Adolph Hitler.

You may also think that no matter what I mean by “personal charisma”, it certainly has no legitimate concern to a Christian minister.

Allow me to differ from all those perspectives.

Jesus as a child grew “in favor with God and man”, according to Luke 2:52. For that matter, so did the Samuel – see 1 Samuel 2:26.

Your childhood development probably wasn’t perfect, as was Jesus’ childhood, but it may have been exceptional, as Samuel’s seems to have been. On the other hand, like most of us in this fallen state, you may still be working out some of the kinks in your personality.

Fact is, strong personal charisma improves people’s first impressions of you, makes you a more compelling speaker, eases the tasks of delivering bad news, sharing necessary criticisms, and making apologies when necessary. I could list a host of additional benefits.

Does it serves God’s purposes at all for any of us to come across as distant, impotent and cold? No, we represent Him best when we project His warmth and power.

So, I will wind down here with three easy tips that any of us can practice to improve our own personal charisma:

1. Eyes are the window of the soul and perhaps the single most key part of our non-verbal communication. Master the art of making good eye contact.

2. The handshake – a surprisingly common behavior across time and cultures – makes a huge difference in first impressions. Don’t be a dead fish or a knuckle-cruncher. Learn the firm, confident handshake!

3. Really listen. It simply cannot be repeated too often: people love listeners. So be that guy or gal who pays attention!

I realize that some people will take me to task for suggesting something “psychological” can be helpful in ministry; especially, those who think “charisma” simply means trying to make people like you.

Here’s what I think, though. In an ideal world, we all would naturally develop “charisma” throughout our childhoods. Children should all grow into naturally warm, caring, confident people. However, in our fallen world, we don’t. Yet God graciously allows us to grow and improve and is that not, in fact, a gift?

Want to learn more? I recommend the book The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism by Olivia Fox Cabane. It’s easy to read and offers practical suggestions.

Emotional Contagion

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Ever noticed how contagious yawns can be? Recently, a church singer told me he accidentally yawned on stage and subsequently counted 23 congregants yawning immediately afterward!

No surprise, perhaps, that emotions spread from person to person just as easily. That’s exactly why you and I tend to avoid those negative, continuously depressed family members. They bring us down!

It’s also the reason everyone loves to be around energetic and optimistic people: they pump us up!

There’s even a body of research devoted to the phenomenon which is called “emotional contagion.”

Here’s why I believe this reality matters to you as a pastor. People pick up on and are influenced by your emotional state - energy, optimism, pessimism, excitement, depression - whether you intend for them to or not. Your emotions influence others.

That’s exactly you and I as leaders should monitor and master our emotional thermostat. Otherwise, we will not affect others the way we want.

I’m not talking about stifling or suppressing emotions. Fact is, try to do that and your real emotions “leak out” anyway.

I am saying we have the power to regulate our emotional state in concrete ways: release resentments, examine and correct our self-talk, encourage ourselves in the Lord, take our discouragements to God in prayer.

Romans 12:15 seems to imply something similar: love enables us to regulate our emotions in consideration of others. The New Living Translation presents it as, “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.”

My challenge to you this week: stay aware of your emotional state and if it becomes sour and dour, find prayerful ways to change your thinking and exert the energy and optimism of a godly leader!

Too far to fall: The pastor’s worst fear – Failure

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I thank my friend Chuck DeGroat, PhD for this guest post. Chuck is the professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Western Theological Seminary up in Holland, Michigan. He has a real heart for helping pastors with their inner and spiritual growth and helping pastors become all that God intends for them to become. This article was originally published on his blog which you can find here.


Failure. It’s a f-word of pastoral ministry. It’s the worst fear, the deepest dread. “I’d rather be diagnosed with a fatal disease than fail,” one candidate wrote on his psychological assessment. “Failure – that’s just too far to fall,” said another.

I was fired in 2003. It was my greatest vocational humiliation. After serving a church for six years, I was invited into a brief elder meeting after teaching my regular Sunday adult course and told that reconciliation and relationship with the lead pastor would be impossible, that my termination was the only recourse. Sara found out as I walked through the front door of our home in tears. Our two babies were there. We’d recently put a deposit on a new home build. There was no goodbye, no thank you. I was not even allowed to keep my own Rembrandt painting – The Return of the Prodigal Son – the one Sara had gifted me after framing it. The prodigal wasn’t being asked to consider a return, I suppose.

It took years to reconcile this – to forgive, to bless that church, its pastor, and the leaders I’d grown to trust and love. But the sting of failure and rejection stayed with me for a long time. I had failed. At least, that’s how I narrated it. It was my worst fear as a pastor. Perhaps, even more bitter for this tender Enneagram 4 was that I felt utterly misunderstood. The short blurb in next Sunday’s program didn’t acknowledge the tears I’d cried for people in that place, the above-and-beyond care I offered, the new initiatives I started, the relationships we forged, the promises not delivered. Never before for me had rage and shame kissed in this way. 


It’s 15 years later, and the sadness still lingers. Each time a pastoral candidate answers my question “What is the worst thing that can happen to you in ministry?” on a psychological assessment, I hear my own voice in their responses. I hear the terror of potential failure. One pastoral candidate said, “I can never imagine it and I’d never recover from it.” Another said, “It would be so humiliating letting down myself, my extended family, my church.” Still another said that the question provoked so much anxiety that answering it was impossible.

In those days after, I wondered if we would make it. I vacillated between rage and self-contempt. I dreamed of payback. I felt the sting of my Presbytery’s silence in the face of what I considered an injustice. I scrambled to launch a counseling practice, hoping that I’d be able to pay the bills before our severance was done. I had little trust that the God I called sovereign and loving and gracious could hold all of this. My contemplative practices died on that day I was fired, replaced by frantic efforts to do the job God had failed to do for me.

I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. (from Psalm 73, NLT). 

It’s 15 years later. Another young pastor asked for a Skype call this week, and as we talked he said something I hear quite often, “How have you managed to “make it” unscathed in ministry? Everything you do I want to do.” Honestly, I’m not sure who I’d be today without it. What if that first call was a “big win,” in which I was celebrated and sent? What if I wasn’t thrust into a dark night where my smaller box for God was exploded? With what credibility could I have written Finding God in the Wilderness Places (Leaving Egypt)? Would I have gotten the therapy I needed? Been called out on my own stuff?

What if I didn’t fail?

Richard Rohr titled a book Everything Belongs. I turn 48 in a few short days, and while I thought I’d have things figured out at 40, I now know that 50 will not likely deliver either. I do sense that it all belongs, though. Each detour on the journey was beyond my control or prediction. My girls have endured two cross-country moves and seven different houses. I’ve shifted denominations. I’ve been given tremendous opportunities to be at the forefront of new initiatives. I’ve faced shadow sides of me that frightened me.  I’ve chosen to make some unorthodox moves that I sensed would grow me – risks I’m not sure I would have taken without failure.

I titled a little Lent devotional I wrote a couple of years ago Falling Into Goodness. It was my way of theologically reconciling what I’d come to terms with emotionally. God wasn’t at the top of the ladder but in the dust. Jesus wasn’t waiting on the altar with an award, but embracing me as I wept and wept and wept. When I went to places of self-sabotage, I felt a mysterious presence. When I succeeded, I felt gratitude and a decent dose of humility, knowing that I’d fallen so far. As Augustine might put it, “God was more near to me than I was to myself” all along. Or as the father said to the older brother, “Everything I have is yours.” Just breathe. Just relax into the arms of Goodness.

I got a text from a student yesterday who is scared to fail. I wondered how to respond. I thought – maybe experience is our only teacher. I wanted to say something wise, even proverbial. And then, I knew. I had only the words of one deeply acquainted with suffering, a saint of the dust, Lady Julian of Norwich:

All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.


Create Personal Power by Being Fully Present


 I sat at a restaurant with a young lady I had invited to dinner. She spent a good bit of that time with her nose in her smart phone, texting.

Anything like that ever happened to you? How did you feel?

Maybe you never experienced that situation specifically but what about those times when you knew the other person was only half-listening to what you were saying? Or were checking their phone every five minutes?

Let’s turn it around, though. Have you ever found yourself only half-listening, thinking about what you are going to say next rather than what the other person was saying to you? Or planning what you were going to do after the conversation was over?

Can the other person in that “conversation” tell that you are not fully present?

Yes, of course. Absolutely.

Now, the other side of the coin. Ever experienced someone listening intently to every word you said? Or asking you about that conversation later, even much later, proving they had in fact listened very carefully?

How did that make you feel?

Well, that happened to me.  I had a conversation with a pastor about some details in my life and months later he asked me how that situation had turned out. Wow!

Unfortunately, encounters like that occur far too infrequently!

Listen, making yourself fully present with others when they speak leaves them feeling heard and important. (My husband, Bud, likes to say, “Most people don’t distinguish between the feeling of being heard and the feeling of being loved.”)

So here’s a great verse from Isaiah 50:4 (NIV):

The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.

Listening. So powerful. Do it. Listen to each person as though you are “one being instructed.” I guarantee it will make you more trusted, more influential and more powerful with people.

Then when you speak they will be more ready to listen!

So here’s my challenge: see if you can catch yourself, even once, half-listening to someone (spouse and kids included)! Stop, fully tune in them, and see what happens!