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!

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[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.

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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.

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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. 

Failure.

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

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 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!

The Testing of Philip

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I've written a book and now face the daunting task of finding a publisher to help launch it. My husband, Bud, wrote an amusing (but serious) devotional for me based on John's account of Jesus testing Philip prior to feeding the 5,000.

You may not be attempting to publish a book but you may face some other seemingly impossible task. So, I thought you may enjoy "The Testing of Philip", too.

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At some point, Jesus put it into the heart of an author, Philip, to write a book that would help believers and advance the Kingdom of God. Great crowds of people needed the wisdom of this book because, despite living as Christians, they still struggled with many pains and problems, as all people do.

So, an idea come into Philip’s mind and he wrote a book.

Jesus, pleased that Philip had used his gifts wisely thus far, looked out upon the world and saw a great crowd praying and beseeching Him for help. Although many of them did not know it, they needed exactly the kind of help offered in Philip’s book.

Through the Spirit, Jesus said to Philip, “How will you publish and launch this book?” (He only put this question in Philip’s mind to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.)

Philip answered him, “Well, I’m told you must have a gigantic platform in order to catch the interest of a publishing house, much less sell the book. You need big name endorsers, too. I don’t have either of those things and they will take years to build. Besides, all that networking stuff makes me gag. Frankly, I just don’t see that I have the resources.”

Then someone said “Well, Philip, you do know a couple of lesser known Christian celebrities and you have several hundred folks on your mailing list, but I guess you’re right, what difference will that make?”

Jesus said, “Philip, wrong answer. But here’s the correct answer: start with what you have. Be thankful for what you have. Pray over what you have. Give what you have. Keep on giving – not until there’s nothing left, because there will never be nothing left, but until everyone’s need has been met.”

So Philip, began to pray and determined to publish his book. He did so and when it was over, the book ministered to thousands of hungry people, and he earned enough to carry him through to the next one.

Four Types of People Who Resist Change

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Resistance to change most often springs from the well of emotion. That’s why helping people overcome their resistance and move forward requires emotional intelligence!

Of course, every individual brings their own particular motivations to a situation but I’ve identified below four kinds of people who may resist change. Understanding their motives can help you design an approach that has the best chance of winning them over.

Devil’s Advocate Dan. The “devil’s advocate” can be misconstrued. It’s easy to dislike Dan, the contrarian, the person who bucks popular opinion, the one who points out negatives when everyone else points out positives.

True “devil’s advocates” (as opposed to straight up trouble makers) actually have the best interest of the church in mind. They genuinely fear that serious obstacles may have been overlooked, that the group is rushing toward a poorly thought-out decision.

I recommend listening to Dan carefully. His gift is not to merely rain on the parade but to help you honestly answer this question: are our plans really the best they can be? You calm Dan’s concerns not by blowing him off but by making sure that, in fact, you have reasonable answers to all his objections.

Anxious Annie. Annie suffers from free-floating anxiety. She’s nervous about many things. Any change scares her. She may state reasons but really she’s simply suffering from an anxious inner state. Annie needs reassurance: everything’s going to be ok.

Power Broker Patty. Patty craves control. She fears the loss of status or personal power. Proposed changes strikes her as a threat to her sphere of influence. You will need sufficient backing from other influencers to overcome Patty’s “objections” to the change. That’s why you build a team of change leaders, as I pointed out in a previous article.

Traditional Tom. Tom is set in his ways and often will tell you so plainly. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We’ve never done it that way before. We’ve been doing it this way since the beginning of time. Tom genuinely fears the loss of the stable, secure, familiar way. You will need to help him realize that the only way to preserve the best of the past will be to move forward.

You likely can think of other reasons people fear change. Feel free to comment below and let me know your thoughts.

The main thing we’re trying to communicate here: people often fear change. Any successful effort to lead change has a far greater chance of success when you address those various fears throughout the process.  

Eight Step Process for Leading Change

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The early church needed an organizational change in order to deal with issues around feeding widows. They made the changes successfully, and Acts 6:7 indicates the happy results:

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

What changes would you lead your church or organization to make if you could? What would be the first steps or stages? What challenges do you think you would face if you launched a major change initiative?

I ask these questions because it appears to me that many proposed changes introduced by pastors to their churches ultimately fail or even get shot down before they ever get started. Would you agree or disagree with that premise?

Surely, if that is the case, pastors must often feel discouraged about leading change; perhaps even a little burned out on even trying. Again, though, I would be curious as to whether you also find this to be true.

Finally, I wonder if you believe your education and background have well-prepared you to skillfully and effectively lead change initiatives.

If not, I would like to recommend Harvard Professor Dr. John Kotter’s book, The Heart of Change: Real Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations which lays out an eight step process for leading change. It’s not a new book but Kotter’s model has come to be considered one of the very best.

So, you may find it useful.

In it, he lays out an eight step process for leading change: 

  1. Create a sense of urgency around the need for change.
  2. Form a powerful coalition of change leaders throughout your organization.
  3. Create an overall vision for the future that people can easily grasp.
  4. Embed your vision within everything you to do.
  5. Check for barriers and remove obstacles in the way of implementing change.
  6. Create short-term targets (“quick wins”) to give your organization an early taste of victory.
  7. Look for opportunities to build on quick wins and identify areas of improvement.
  8. Make change an integral part of organizational culture

I wonder if you find those eight steps thought-provoking, as I do. Do you think you could apply them in your ministry? Do you see any scriptural support or censure against any of those steps?

In any case, if you’re looking to lead change and want a great book on the subject, definitely check it out Kotter's The Heart of Change. It's available on Amazon and elsewhere.   Oh, and by the way, if you read it, you will see the connection between emotional intelligence and change leadership early into the book!