Three Bad Ways Christian Leaders Deal with Stress


The Lenten and Easter season is upon us. Many pastors tell me that in addition to the spiritual aspects, these seasons bring additional stress and busyness!

Of course, some stress is normal and even helpful. As always, the real question is, “How do you cope with the stress you are experiencing?”

Well, here are three common but completely dysfunctional stress coping strategies. All three definitely fall into the “avoid these” category.

Emotional Eating

Junk food, anyone? Excessive snacking? Skipping breakfast?

Your body and mind perform much better when you start the day with a healthy breakfast, eat balanced meals, and snack on nutritious foods such as fruit. Slipping into emotional eating habits? Here’s one practical tip: plan ahead. Have apples in your office instead of candy bars, for example.

Constant Caffeine

Hey, I like my coffee, too! We have a cute little sign in the coffee nook at our office: “All things are possible with prayer and coffee.”

However, I’ve consciously cut back lately. Should you?  Remember, caffeine is a drug, an addictive one.  Are you in the dependence cycle? A cup to wake up, more during the day to avoid the caffeine crash, then perhaps sleeping restlessly at night? Not good! Here’s a tip about coffee: you don’t have to quit but you could especially avoid coffee after mid-afternoon.

Atypical Addictions.

You usually display the highest qualities of godly Christian character, I feel sure. Unfortunately, too much stress can sometimes crack our armor. We may find ourselves doing things we normally would not. In fact, in some cases, we become addicted to pornography, pills, alcohol, shopping, or other compulsive behaviors. It happens.

If it has happened to you, seek professional help immediately. The longer you wait, the deeper the damage, the more difficult the recovery. Get started today and know that God’s grace will be more than sufficient!

There they are: three bad ways to cope with stress.

Instead, take care of yourself, even during peak busy seasons. Eat well, rest as much as you can, and don’t be shy about reaching out for professional help with troublesome compulsive behaviors.

You will feel and be happier and healthier!

How to Energize Yourself

Light Bulb.jpg

Last Sunday, lying in bed, I wrote down a few thoughts. I listed all the positive things that happened over the weekend. I whispered a prayer of thanks to God for each experience.

Something interesting happened.  As I wrote positive memories, more happy events came to mind: just little things about the Sunday church service or sights I saw while hiking on Saturday.

Each little memory made me smile. I thought, “You know, this sense of satisfaction and peace creates such a nice way to fall asleep.” I woke up the next morning rested and energized.

Of course, we know that Scripture exhorts us to give God thanks. Scientific research proves that gratitude benefits our sense of well-being. For example, when people write letters of gratitude to other people or when they record positive things, they experience increased well-being.

Reflecting on positive experiences and especially writing them down builds a positive mental outlook. It helps me reframe my mindset. It makes me feel better and reduces my stress. Also, as I mentioned, it’s a great way to go to sleep on a Sunday night!

Here’s the really great news and the main point: positive thoughts create positive emotions; positive emotions energize us to work hard and live fully!

You can easily cultivate a highly beneficial habit of reflecting more on the positive experiences of life.

Take me for an example. I don’t journal every day or even every week. Still, last year, I made the primary topic of my journaling gratitude and thanksgiving. I purposely wrote about positive things. (Of course I wrote about problems, too, and whatever was on my mind.)

After focusing on gratefulness and thanksgiving for a year, I’ve formed a habit. This good habit helps me reframe my sometimes anxious or negative thoughts into a more positive mindset.

Shift your mental focus to positive things and to really savor them. Otherwise, they just run through the fingers of your memory and rapidly fade into the forgotten.

Reflect on your blessings. Allow your soul to savor the goodness.  Otherwise, you may find yourself dashing past a blessing to focus on the next problem at hand.  

My challenge to you this next week – take time to reflect upon, give thanks for and even write down the little things that bring a smile to your face. Record them, perhaps talk to others about them. See if it doesn’t brighten your mood and energize your life!   

Finally, if journaling is something of a mystery for you, you may want to view my very simple Journaling for Insight graphic.

Three Feedback Questions Every Pastor Should Ask


Pastor Todd cringed inside as a parishioner offered a brief critique of his recent sermon.

The comments were not mean-spirited nor overly critical. They just weren’t, well, glowing.

Todd eventually realized, though, that his discomfort with any feedback other than “Amazing!” revealed himself as a thin-skinned, insecure leader. (His words, not mine, by the way.)[i]           

We all need feedback to perform our best in such skills as preaching. I would go a lot further than that, actually, and say that from time-to-time, we need feedback about all aspects of our life and work!

Feedback from others provides essential information we need to grow in our own personal insight. We cheat ourselves of growth opportunities when we allow insecurities to make us defensive and deaf to the perspectives of others.

In fact, the really strong among us not only accept feedback but seek it out!

Pastor Todd now preaches three times on Sunday and has a team that gives him feedback about his first sermon on Sunday morning so that he can improve his delivery in the next two services.

Here are three general questions I’ve found helpful in seeking feedback from others in regard to my leadership. (They could be adapted for asking others about your preaching but in reality they apply to just about anything.)

1.       What should I stop doing?

2.       What should I continue doing?

3.       What should I start doing?

One additional thought: consider asking your spouse for feedback. Spouses tend to give really honest answers! Of course, with spouses and everyone else, be prepared to remain non-defensive and thankful for whatever perspective they provide.

Finally, don’t forget to journal concerning the feedback you receive. Journaling provides an excellent, structured way for you to process and benefit from the perspectives of others. You may find my brief guide, Journal for Insight, useful.

Listen, learn, grow!



Do You Maximize Tough Situations?


Do you ever find ministry and Christian leadership stressful? If so, you’re not the only one. Even the Apostle Paul laid out a list of leadership stressors:

I have worked much harder [than other servants of Christ], been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. .. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NIV)

Wow, what a list (and I didn’t even include everything)!

Your list probably doesn’t include floggings, shipwrecks and beatings. It may include criticism, conflict, resistance to change initiatives, unrealistic expectations, and overwork!

Those things are hardships, too. Don’t underestimate them. Fact is, they can be stressful and too much stress over time saps emotional energy and can literally make you physically ill.

Yet they also present a rich opportunity: to know yourself better and grow as a person if you are up to the challenge.

Now clearly, the first priority when we suffer criticism, conflict or complaint is to keep our eyes on Jesus! Paul’s list of troubles (including his famous “thorn in the flesh”) all lead him to this word from God:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

However, events that bring out strong emotional reactions in us provides an opportunity to understand ourselves better, see ourselves in a clearer light, and yes, when necessary, make the adjustments we need to become more healthy, happy and even Christ-like.

So, here’s my challenge to you. For the next month or so, every time you encounter a tough situation – anything that causes you to feel strong emotions – take a few minutes to reflect. In fact, journal about it. I predict that you will be surprised what you learn about yourself and how you actually begin to grow stronger.

It’s a great way to redeem those stressful experiences and mine them for golden growth opportunities.

I have linked here to my Journal for Personal Insight tool that will help you know what to journal. Blessings to you as you grow in your insight. Let me know what you learn!

Why Resources Will Never Seem Equal to the Task

Big Sky.jpg

Have you ever felt completely overwhelmed with things that needed to be done yet so personally depleted that you had no energy to do any of it?

I battled the flu this past week, as I know countless others have done, but somehow it made me feel overwhelmed with the number of projects currently on my plate. My mind reeled with thoughts of everything I need to do although I had no energy to for any of them.

So, I spent some time talking to God about this. I explained to Him about how I need to get the book written while continuing to pursue the other initiatives in my work. I complained that my energy was insufficient for the task.

Later that day my mind was drawn to a sign that I have hanging on my wall but which somehow I’ve become accustomed to and don’t really seem to notice often anymore.

It says, “My grace is sufficient for thee for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

That’s based of course on a well-known Bible verse, 2 Corinthians 12:9.

I found immediate comfort in it as I sensed God directing me to it. I realized all of these things – the book, my business, my life – are in God’s hands. After all, they are part of God’s vision for me!

My strength is limited but His unlimited.  I can rest in that peace that what needs to be done will get done even though I have limited strength and can’t carry it all.

Finally, it also struck me that if a leader has a true vision from God then in reality the demands on that leader will always exceed the their capacity. The resources will never seem equal to the task.

So, I need to become comfortable with that realization. It is a good thing that I carry in my heart a big vision. I can trust my big God. There’s no need to stress over my current seeming lack of sufficient resources. Even as my current work and ministry grows and as the current needs become satisfied, new challenges for growth with all their corresponding demands and needs will appear.

That’s good and as it should be. I will always be dependent on my Heavenly Father’s sufficient grace.

Pastor or other Christian leader - how does this apply to you? In what areas of your life have you felt overwhelmed and depleted?

My prayer is that the scripture will minister to you in some way this week as it has to me.

Your 2018 Reading List

What books will you read in 2018?  


If you want to continue developing your own capacity for emotional intelligence, I’ve listed below a few names you should know and books you might want to consider.

One of those persons I’ve listed is Daniel Goleman, the main popularizer of the concept. He breaks emotional intelligence into four components:

One is self-awareness: knowing what you’re feeling and why you feel it, how it’s affecting what you do, what you think. The second: self-management. Not only knowing what you’re feeling but handling your destructive emotions so that they’re less disturbing. Maybe marshalling positive emotions, positive outlook, so you can work toward goals. Third: empathy, knowing what other people are thinking. Or rather, what other people are feeling. They don’t tell us in words, they tell us in their tone of voice, gestures, and so on. And the fourth component is putting that all together so as to manage effective relationships – i.e. handling your relationships well.[i]

Emotional intelligence matters in ministry! So reading more about it can make a difference in your life and leadership. With that in mind, here are a few names and books to consider.

Names and Books

The first researchers to develop the concept of emotional intelligence back around 1990: Peter Salovey, now the president of Yale University, and then-graduate student, Jack Mayer, now a Psychologist at the University of New Hampshire. Salovey wrote The Emotionally Intelligent Manager: How to Develop and Use the Four Key Emotional Skills of Leadership. 

The guy who popularized the term “emotional intelligence”: Daniel Goleman, then a journalist for the New York Times, took their concept and published a book on it called Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ in 1995. It stayed on the New York Times Best Seller List for a year and a half.

Today, the field has exploded and there are many books. But if you want the original book that popularized the concept, Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence is it.

Goleman himself actually recommends five other books you can find here.

In terms of books written with Christians or clergy particularly in mind, you want to know Roy Oswald. Oswald, an ordained Lutheran minister, author of numerous books and an Alban Institute consultant for 31 years, published The Emotional Intelligence of Jesus: Relational Smarts for Religious Leaders in 2015.    

Practical Application for Pastors

I am currently writing a book myself that will focus on application of emotional intelligence to clergy leadership. My book will not focus on academic theory but practical ministerial issues. There’s currently nothing on the market like what I have in mind.

Please pray for me! Turns out, writing a book is hard and sometimes I struggle. Still, I am making progress and have recently hired a fantastic editor to help me out.

By the way, if you would like to participate in creating my book, several ways exist for you to do so. I need some folks to read drafts and give me feedback. I also need to hear as many real life anecdotes as possible on the topics of clergy who struggle with or who wildly succeed in areas such as dealing with stress, conflict, criticism, leading change or ministry’s typical unrealistic expectations.

If you would like to help in either of those areas, please email me and express your interest.

Meanwhile, blessings to you in all your work.


[i] Retrieved 2/9/18 from

Do You Want to be Part of This?


I’ve encouraged you over the last several weeks to clarify your vision and hear from God. Communicating your vision helps other people become excited and enthused and jump aboard!

I’ve actually been doing more than just writing: I’ve been soul-searching. Writing this material made me realize that my own vision for my work with clergy needs clarification. After all, if it is unclear to me then I know it can’t be clear to you or other people.

That’s why I am going to share with you below my own vision statement. It’s not complete, still a work in progress, but that’s ok.

So, what’s my vision? Especially in regard to my work with clergy and other Christian leaders?

I see a network of pastors leading with enhanced emotional and relational skill, emotionally healthy themselves, able to minister, lead, and foster greater engagement within their congregations or organizations.

I see them not only ministering effectively but also empowering believers to fulfill their ministries in such a way that leads to greater movement and multiplication in ministry.

Frankly, my interest lies in a particular concept of ministry. I call it the upside down pyramid – by which I mean that the church structure, including pastoral leadership, exists to equip laity for ministry. That kind of ministry and leadership goes far beyond administering the sacraments and requires unusually strong leadership skills. Pastors often tell me that their education and training for ministry often did not include sufficient preparation in that arena.

Also, the current sociological and cultural landscape in the US and other western countries makes clergy life and leadership even more challenging what it once was. I won’t try to lay out all those issues here as I’m sure you know them from personal experience!

So that’s what I’m up to: trying to facilitate development of your emotional and relations skills with the end in mind that you will become an even more empowering leader. I hope you will continue to allow me the privilege of serving you in that way!

Four Big Benefits of Working Through Your Vision


“Unless God’s people have a clear understanding of where they are headed, the probability of a successful journey is severely limited.”[i]

Frankly, the motivation to write these past several blog posts on vision rises from my own needs. God has blessed me with a steady, abundant stream of counseling clients. I carry many leadership, administrative and management responsibilities that go along with owning and operating a multi-staff counseling center. Also, over the past year we opened two satellite offices and plan to open one or two more this year.

Then, there’s this matter of expanding my ministry of training clergy in the habits and skills of emotional intelligence.

So, how can I get all that done?

Frankly, I can’t. Not without God’s help. Also, not without the help of a clearly articulated vision.

George Barna, in the book I quoted above, describes a host of benefits to working through God’s vision for your ministry. Here’s a summarized look at those benefits:

  1. Vision produces spiritual and emotional empowerment.
  2. Vision builds on the past.
  3. Vision elicits increased commitment from the congregation.
  4. Vision unifies God’s people.

I know the enormity of the challenges that lie before me require me to say “yes” to only the most select opportunities and “no” to a myriad of otherwise good things that, while worthwhile in and of themselves, simply do not conform to my central, guiding vision.

I also know that you as a successful pastor face the same kinds of challenge. How do you best manage your time, engage your congregation, and maintain your own enthusiasm?

I suggest that a very central, key strategy is to articulate a clear compelling vision.

So, for help kick-starting your own process of finding God’s vision for your ministry, please check out my Church and Ministry Vision Tool .

If you want some guidance on actually articulating your vision, Michael Hyatt, recently published an article entitled Making Vision Stick. He outlines and illustrates four elements of a crystal clear vision that compels action. You may have to adapt the formula to your church setting but it presents a clear system for writing a vision statement.

Finally, here’s a website that lists 30 examples of actual church vision statements.

Let me know your thoughts and comments!

[i] George Barna, The Power of Vision: How You Can Capture and Apply God’s Vision for Your Ministry, Ventura: Regal Books, 1992, page 11.


Identity Crisis

A God-given vision often includes an “identity crisis”.

heart print.png

I’ve been writing about vision lately probably because I am meditating on and seeking clarity for the future of my own work and ministry. 

Now, if you’re like me, focusing on your vision entails asking God for specific direction as where to lead the ministry or organization, what strategies to pursue and wisdom for certain crucial decisions.

However, the truth I’ve realized is that God often answers by shining the spotlight directly on us first. 

Remember the story of Isaiah that I wrote about last week? Isaiah’s commission begins with an encounter. In the year King Uzziah died, he saw the Lord. In response to this glorious vision, Isaiah exclaimed, “I am unclean!”

His vision of God created an identity crisis for Isaiah.

Then, a seraph took a coal from the altar and touched his lips. His identity as one unclean purged, God gave Isaiah specific instructions about the message he was to deliver.

Identity – how we see ourselves – dramatically impacts what we do with our lives and ministry. We tend to live out our vision of ourselves.

God dealt with this matter of identity so directly in the lives of many He called in scripture.

Think of the people whose names – symbolic of identities – God changed.

Consider Gideon who was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to hide it from their Midianite enemies. The Angel of the Lord came to him and announced, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor!”

I am pretty sure that Gideon did not view himself as God’s mighty man of valor prior to this visitation.  In fact, it took a while to embrace this new concept of himself!

Still, we see here the pattern again. God revealed Himself through the Angel of the Lord. He addressed Gideon’s new identity, mighty man of valor. Only after that could God direct him to deliver the people out of the hand of the Midianites.

Ministry flows more from who we are than what we do. Our visioning process begins with a divine encounter followed by an “identity crisis”.

What about accepting the following challenge for the coming week?

Contemplate these questions. Who does God say that you are? Has your sense of identity reflected that reality? Or has your view limited you in some way? What do you need to do this year to address this or other areas of personal development in 2018?

Click here to access Jeannie Miller-Clarkson's Vision Tool for Pastors

Your Vision MUST Start Here


Resolutions, goals, rewriting vision and mission statements or simply reviewing plans for the upcoming year - many leaders during the month of January turn to such matters.

What about you?

I myself am currently working to retool my vision for ministry. While thinking about these things, I recently read Isaiah 6. I found it powerfully insightful and would like to share some reflections with you.

First, a fresh vision must begin with a vision of God himself.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. (Isaiah 6:1 NIV)

Times of national change, uncertainty and trouble often lead us to seek God afresh. However, we don’t have to wait for trouble to arise before we seek Him.

While the buzz of activity and busyness of schedules may dull our senses, time spent in the presence of God renews our vision like nothing else.

Second, a fresh revelation of God casts everything else in a new light, and that includes seeing ourselves differently.

Isaiah felt himself unworthy as he gazed upon the Almighty.

"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." (Isaiah 6:5 NIV)

In the presence of God, we see ourselves more clearly. Facades, superficiality, busyness are stripped away in His holy presence. Motivations lay bare. Sinfulness becomes apparent.

Third, a fresh encounter with God imparts a fresh cleansing, empowerment and vision for ministry.

A true encounter with God does not leave us in the woe of uncleanness but elevates us to empowerment for service.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." (Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isaiah 6:6 - 8 NIV)

Many business leaders grasp the essential nature of vision to leadership. We in the church can utilize the best of some of their tools. Still, one stark reality marks the difference between the vision of God’s ministry and a secular organization:

Our vision starts with a vision and calling from God himself.

From there, God’s vision shines a light on ourselves – exposing our motivations, sinfulness, identity, and calling. Then God reveals truths about those to whom minister. He helps us get a glimpse of how He sees them.

Renewal in God’s presence must be the foundation upon which all of our plans rest. Then we can be sure of God’s power, protection, and promise.

Join me as I seek God, asking for a fresh revelation of Himself to me.