Five Ways Leaders Frustrate People Under Them

 

Every time I took a spiritual gifts test in my younger days, I scored zero in the gift of mercy.  Zero. Although I enjoyed the affirmation of my administrative and teaching gifts, it concerned me that I couldn’t muster up a point or two for mercy.   People who worked with me in those days would probably give you a hearty “Amen,” on that.

God gifted me with a dreamer’s mind and the organizational gifts to bring vision to fruition. Unfortunately, my creative processes sometimes walked all over those around me. I’m pretty sure that I consistently left behind a wake of trampled, frustrated people on many of my larger projects.  What I didn’t understand back then is that God is more concerned about our process than our products. 

How you treat the people in your church or organization ultimately determines your ability to achieve shared destinies. God empowers shepherds who lead their flocks strongly, with tenderness. He disciplines careless or harsh shepherds.  Here’s some of my exasperating former ways as a cautionary tale for all you Type A sisters out there.

  1. Treat people like cogs in your ministry machine. I used to be so task oriented that I’d get ants in my pants if prayer concerns came up during strategic planning meetings. My eagerness to get down to the business at hand made people’s concerns seem like interruptions. Man, oh man, that’s cold. It also sounds like the disciples who tried to shoo away some of the people that approached Jesus.  The cares and concerns of the people in your ministry are as important as the work you are trying to accomplish together.  

 

  1. Act like ministry stuff is more important than anything else. Until Ken and I owned our own business I didn’t understand the stresses of the marketplace.   As lay people, sometimes we showed up late for church commitments or couldn’t make it at all for a number of reasons like, demands from corporate higher ups, unreliable employees, last minute customers, etc. etc.  I used to lack grace for these things from lay people.  Oh that I could take back so many slightly snotty looks directed at late comers who had legitimate reasons for their delays.

 

 

  1. Minimize the significant life events of your people. As a pastoral team Ken and I received invitations to countless open houses, anniversary parties, weddings, and other events. Generally, I love a good party but I accepted too many invitations then cancelled on some or over-booked Ken and I, leaving him no down time. My unintentional message? Some people count and others don’t. Prayerfully set special events boundaries and then be consistent.  When you respond “yes” to an invitation, show up to the event! Don’t decide at the last minute that you’ve had too many nights out in a row and then ditch somebody’s something. No shows with lame excuses are hurtful.   If you’re an associate, make sure your superiors are in agreement with your boundaries.  I know pastors of large churches who only attend life events for their pastoral staff.  Some youth pastors attend every graduation open house but then take extra time off immediately afterwards.

 

  1. Make changes too quickly. I’m the spokesmodel for this classic, rookie mistake.   Ken and I both created unnecessary tension by making right changes at wrong times or in wrong ways.  Did worship orders need updating?  Did committee structures need revamping?  Did youth group need some fresh fundraisers? Yes, yes, and yes!! However, sometimes we lacked the patience to allow people to process, reflect, or share input on the changes we believed God desired. As a layperson I observed mature Christians flee churches in droves simply because a leader effected change too abruptly. Doesn’t mean you wait for everyone to agree with you to move with God but the best way to lead people into new places is when you’re walking together arm in arm.  Dragging people towards what may very well be a God idea is exhausting for you and hurtful for everyone else.

 

*** As a side note, if you’re in a place where folks are resisting change at every turn, pray, pray, pray.  God will either change their hearts or move you to a different place where people are ready to receive what God is doing through you.

 

  1. Waste people’s time with disorganization. Here, I speak of experiences as a layperson and a member of community boards.  More times than not, I’ve languished in meetings, rehearsals and other events, desperately trying to not to jump out of my skin, because of sloppy organization.  Many years ago I served on a committee that consistently bounced on my last nerve. The meetings usually started anywhere from 30-45 minutes late.  The agenda consisted of whatever came to the mind of the event coordinator. Sometimes it turned out I wasn’t even needed at a meeting but didn’t know that until I arrived, after fighting my way through 40 minutes of heavy traffic.    If you have no natural administrative gifts, then partner with people who do!   Start and end on time and stick with an agenda that is clear to all. People are loyal to leaders who respect their time and resources.

Recognize yourself in any of these ministry faux pas?  It’s never too late to change your ways.  You might even owe some people an apology or three. Prayerfully consider the idea that you might be unintentionally driving the people under you a little bit crazy and then…..stop it!

 

               

Mud Slingers and Hole Diggers

 

“You don’t know what you’re doin’!  Mrs. Jones didn’t do all this flippin’ junk! Whadda  waste of time!”  My frustrated choir student struggled during a sight reading exercise.  Her coping device consisted of assassinating my character.

For the umpteenth time I explained to the choir that if they wanted to attend a competition, which they requested, we needed to do our time in the trenches with sight reading exercises.

For the next month, my chief complainer led a grim little band of 4 or 5 students who folded their arms and stared at me each time we practiced sight reading.  They chose to lose participation points rather than admit I might know a little more about music competitions. At times I’d overhear them trying to recruit more students to their merry troupe.

When the competition rolled around, the rest of the choir performed well on the sight reading portion. We still received a lower mark because, as the judge said, “I’d like to give you a higher grade in here as most of you are doing a great job, but I can’t because 4 or 5 of you seem to be completely lost and not understanding how to sing these exercises at all.”   The bus ride home was very, very quiet.

If you determine to lead according to God’s guidance, conflict is inescapable.  I know this is normal leadership stuff, but certain elements of conflict used to drag my emotions to subterranean levels.  Attacks on my character ranked numero uno. When individuals criticized my personality, leadership style or questioned my motives, I slid into a pit. Wallowing in the mud hole someone else created, it used to take numerous words of encouragement and support to bring me topside again.

Gradually, I learned that there will always be people trying to drag me down. If you are in church leadership and obeying God, that’s the deal. Read Exodus and Numbers. Considering the shenanigans Moses dealt with will put yours back in perspective.  Not everyone celebrates what God is doing through you. Some can’t even tolerate it. You must be prepared with a response plan when gossip, strife, grumbling and complaining start digging a hole for your emotions and self-esteem to slip into.

Joseph knew the pain of being verbally trashed and cast down, like, way down.  The pit wasn’t the worst of it either!  His journey to a ruler’s position in Egypt went by way of slavery and prison. Years later, during a reconciliation with his brothers, he says one of the most profound statements in the Word.  “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done.” (Genesis 50:20 NIV) God used some pretty vicious behaviors to place Joseph in power.

God used the jealousy and rage of Joseph’s brothers.  God allows humans to choose good or evil. If He gives us a free will, He cannot constantly override individual decisions to commit sin.  One of the qualities that amazes me about Him though, is His infinite ability to bring beauty from ashes.  Clearly, God desired to move Joseph to Egypt for his eventual promotion. His new position would ultimately save the lives of the very brothers who wanted him dead. I love the serendipity of them eventually bowing down before him, just like his teenage dream predicted.

God used the wickedness of Potiphar’s wife.  God could have steered Joseph into a household where the mistress wasn’t starring in her own daytime drama, but He didn’t.   Potiphar’s house became another step in the journey to test and strengthen Joseph’s wisdom and morals. I imagine it crushed him to go from his achieved position to prison.  Are you starting to see the pattern, though? Joseph’s travels to his destiny involved ups and downs between positions of honor and circumstances of lowliness.

Oh dear sisters, I know how much it hurts to be manhandled by other’s words and actions. Understand, our loving Father allows this in our lives for the same purposes He permitted His own son to be brutally assaulted.  Our ability to lead successfully is influenced greatly by our character quality and maturity level. Our strength and purity come forth through fire, just like precious metals.

Although people may intend to diminish, disrespect or destroy us, we can always choose to rise above their mudslinging and hole digging.    

I encourage you to look at your critics with different eyes.  Ask God what He’s trying to refine within you through the mud slingers in your world.  Sometimes, God will use people to make your current situation so intolerable that you will consider something else He’s prepared for you.  Study Joseph’s life and consider all the sinful behavior God re-purposed to direct Joseph’s path.  He can do the same for you, if you will seek His perspective and insights.

In my next post we’ll look at more character issues.   I’ll share five ways unhealthy leadership behaviors and attitudes can damage our fellowship with other believers and God himself.

 

 

 

 

The Grudge

 

Early spring air rushed through my car windows, whipping around some papers in the back seat. At a stop sign, I darted a backwards glance. My eyes recognized the bright colors of worksheets my preschool daughter loved to do, but there was also a strange black spot I assumed to be another “floater” in one of my eyes. I looked straight ahead, moving my eyes around to try to produce the same effect. Hmmmm….. where did that floater go?  At the next stop, I took a longer look into the back seat.  This was no black spot; it was a Something, a Something that hovered in the air.

Earlier that morning my mind fixated on a painful situation at church.  A few members recently behaved in some very divisive, ungodly ways.  Their actions and words cycled through my mind repeatedly, stirring up dark, vindictive thoughts, just like the vague shadow lurking in my car.

I completed the drive home, nauseated and shaking, refusing to look in the back seat and singing praise songs. I knew what this was. I didn’t understand why it was in my car! I immediately phoned an older pastor friend of ours from Texas. When I described the black shadow to him, he asked me one question in his baritone, southern drawl, “Darlin,’ is there anyone you need to forgive, anyone you maybe hate, just a pinch?”

My pride tried to answer first, and I hesitated, weighing my options.  This church girl knew full well that hatred and unforgiveness are serious sins. What would my friend think? Ultimately, my fear of what might be stalking me prompted me to answer truthfully, “Yes, yes there is.”

While I cried, this seasoned pastor explained Satan’s delight in finding an inroad into my mind. Refusing to forgive people is an open  doorway and welcome mat for him to stroll right into my thoughts.  As a believer in Jesus Christ, my spirit is sealed and set apart for God.  I cannot be demon-possessed.  However, by allowing negative emotions to camp out in my soul, I invite evil to draw close to me, oppressively.

That frightening drive remains as one of the few times God allowed me a glimpse into the supernatural world all around me.  I believe He wanted to shake and wake me out of the destructive sin of being a record keeper of wrong doings. The vividness of what I experienced that day keeps me on the straight and narrow regarding holding a grudge against those who hurt me or my family.

My friend laid out some scriptural forgiveness strategies, which became habit.  I’ve also added some of my own that you may find helpful.

  • As soon as someone sins against you, begin speaking silently or out loud, if possible, verses you committed to memory for such moments. My favorite is Matthew 5:11.  Other great ones are:  Matthew 6:14, 15, Mark 11:25, Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:31, 32, Matthew 5:23-24 and, of course, I Corinthians 13. (Sometimes, I’ll even excuse myself to the restroom, or some other private place just so I can do this.)
  • Remember, Jesus understands. (Hebrews 4:15)
  • Allow yourself to feel painful emotions. Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They just are. Don’t ignore them, they will simply express themselves in a different way. It’s what we do with our emotions that leads us to righteousness or sin.
  • For smaller things, forgive and move on. You may have to do this several times if you think of the offense, and still feel pain or anger. Keep clearing the wrong doer’s account. God will speak to this person, in His own time concerning their careless words or behavior.  “Let it gooooooooooo………” as the song says.
  • For large pains forgiveness is a process in need of time. On some occasions I’ve needed to pray for and forgive someone repeatedly until I genuinely feel no desire for retribution and can think about the person or incident without a yucky feeling in my gut.
  • Picture offenses as individual rooms in a hallway. When you are able to enter a room and look at the memory of an offense objectively, without pain, you are now able to reach back and encourage someone else who might be struggling to forgive someone for a similar sin.
  • Work towards reconciliation. Follow the Matthew 18 pattern to try to turn this person from an adversary into an advocate.  This process takes humility and patience.  You might think you are only 5% to blame in the situation, nevertheless, apologize and ask forgiveness for your part.  Often this opens the door for the other person to take ownership of their part.
  • When someone refuses to be reconciled with you, turn them over to God and continue your internal forgiveness process.
  • Seek godly counsel. Some situations, involving habitual or unrepentant sin, must be dealt with at a higher level. Another pastor in your church, an elder or deacon, or someone else who has spiritual authority in your congregation will need to be involved if someone is habitually sinning against you within your church or Christian organization or refuses to be reconciled with you.  In Psalm 105:15 and I Chronicles 16:22, God bluntly says, “Don’t touch my anointed!”  Tolerating and making excuses for those who “touch” pastors and ministry leaders with wicked behavior and words, grieves the Holy Spirit.
  • Let God do His work in your heart.  Just as he did for Joseph, God uses the sinful behaviors of others to accomplish greatness in our lives.

In my next post, I’ll be exploring this last item further.  Does it feel sometimes like your ministry life is a roller coaster, rising and dropping based on the decisions and behaviors of others? What may feel like a crazy ride can be an adventure when you remember God is working the controls!

 

Ducks and Lions-

“Well, I simply couldn’t concentrate on the sermon at all today with the pastor’s bare feet sticking out.” This fashion review occurred a few days after my husband preached an illustrated sermon as John the Apostle.  Most of the congregation loved his costumed, first- person presentation but one member thought that, perhaps, John should use better manners and wear dress shoes instead of sandals, in the pulpit.

Ken chuckled at the comment and moved on to the next thing.  I, on the other hand, brummed about it internally for several days.  “What were they doing staring at his feet anyway? For heaven’s sake, the minor things people get all twisted up about.” And on and on my inner snarky went, criticizing this person.

As my thoughts continued to feed my anger engine, a moment of revelation occurred. My behavior was no better than the church member, “for heaven’s sake!”  Indeed, I’m sure heaven was relieved I’d suspended my own complain train. I had chucked all the encouraging comments about Ken’s sermon out the window and fixated on one foolish remark.  I should have laughed and let it go, just like Ken did.

How do you know when to be a duck or when to be a lion concerning personal criticisms?  Ducks let a lot of water roll off their backs and just keep paddling. Lions aggressively pursue anything perceived as a threat.   Our perfect example, Jesus, knew when to paddle and when to roar.

In Matthew 27, Pilate questions Jesus about who He claims to be.  The profound silence from Jesus must have been maddening to a ruler used to getting his way.  In Luke 4 a crowd from the synagogue became so angry with some things Jesus said during a service, they tried to hurl Him off a cliff.  The Living Word slipped through the crowd and walked away.   There are a number of passages where Christ’s response to personal attacks is very duck-like.

Then, there are times when the Lion of Judah roars at his critics.  In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 22 relates an incident in which Pharisees came to Jesus with a question about taxes, attempting to ensnare Him with His answer.  I believe the key to Jesus’ response, a harsh verbal lashing, lies in just a few words in verse 18. “But Jesus, aware of their malice….” (ESV).

Walking in step with the Holy Spirit is non-negotiable to determine the difference between careless words and malicious attacks. We all can toss out whiny, complainy jabs when we are tired, ill or stressed.  Often, there is no true desire to hurt the recipient of the complaint or a consistent pattern of negativity.  People in your environment may say things, without thinking, that are hurtful without any true motive to damage you.  These are careless words.  Forgive, recognize the distress in the other person’s life, and move on. Paddle, paddle paddle.

Just like Jesus’ enemies, though, some people do mean you harm and their verbal stabs are part of an agenda of strife and disunity.  You cannot take a ducky approach in these situations.  Left unchecked, this kind of divisive behavior creates conflict and confusion, hindering your church or organization’s ability to move forward into the destiny God designed for you.

I recommend this outstanding article on ­handling church conflict, if you are under fire, consistently, from certain folks.  People whose conversations frequently turn to gossip and criticism, must be dealt with in a biblical, Christ-like way.

Are you overreacting to every unkind, thoughtless word?  Ask God to help you see the person behind the words, like Jesus did. If you listen, God will share insight into people, cause you to notice circumstances in their lives and put things in a better context.   Many times I worked myself up (which, by the way, is not beneficial to your health) ignoring the promptings of the Holy Spirit to pray for that person and my attitude, forgive them and move on.

My next post topic will be about the nuts and bolts of the forgiveness process.  Between now and then, read some of the Gospel encounters between Jesus and His opposition.  Fill your mind with His ways and allow God to change your heart on this matter.  Don’t miss any of the great adventures God’s planned for you because your brain is obsessing over someone’s sloppy words!  Selah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Criticism is Inevitable, Offense is Optional

The elderly church lady marched up to the grand piano, where I was playing, stuck her face by my ear and angrily hissed, “You always bang the piano so hard when you play.  It hurts my ears.” The harsh assessment came during a break in the service where members were supposed to greet one another and welcome newcomers. Dismayed, I smiled sweetly, apologized and reduced my volume, sorry I caused this dear sister any suffering.

Not!

The first part is absolutely correct.  The second part, about me, well…… that’s not quite the way it rolled out.  The truth is, I never looked up, kept pounding the keys, my gigantic 80’s mall bangs wobbling back and forth like a metronome, and gave my critic a terse nod. My insides took on a boxer’s stance. Snarky jabs jumped to mind, like, “I’d looooooove to play more softly but our antique sound board is so horrid, how else can I keep the congregation on the same beat!” The rest of the punches that piled up in my mind definitely qualify as below the belt.   Nice pastor’s wife, right? Sadly, I used to respond to criticism with less than a mature response.

This type of childish reaction is typical for many believers who lack the godly tools to process criticism. 

My inability to handle critics flowed from deep insecurities and a desire to be liked by everyone…..all the time, everywhere, without exception.  That’s normal, right? Probably not, but   I’ve known many other people who struggle with the same issue.

Insecure people don’t handle criticism well because they already feel lousy.

If the voices in your own head tear you down regularly, negative remarks from others become unbearable.   Some people wilt and shrink away trying not to poke the verbally abusive bears in their lives.  Feisty folk, like me, sometimes pop the bear right in the snoot. Neither of these responses are Christ-like, and can mess you up, in the long term.

The piano incident pales, pain-wise, in comparison to critiques of my character and motives I’ve received, over the years.  These types of comments used to slice deeply into my soul and make me question everything about myself in an unhealthy, obsessive way.

I know I’m a handful.  My artistic, melancholy and sanguine personality blend can be exasperating for those around me.  Folks never know if the party otter or the introverted worker bee will show up on any given day.  But these days, I am grounded in the knowledge of the unique person God created me to be, flaws and all.   My job is to walk uprightly before Him and let Him put his finger on the edges of my diamond that need polishing.  Criticism is simply one of the polishing tools He uses.

If you are a leader, scrutiny from others is a fact of life. People trash talked Jesus’ ministry and character frequently.  While Jesus responded, the disciples usually reacted.  How are you handling negative remarks?   Do you feel like the complaints outnumber the compliments?  How many bear snoots have you bopped?

You cannot control other people; you can only control your response to them.

Dishing out grace to our critics doesn’t happen with determination and grit. This type of maturity is the fruit of intimacy with God.  He enables you to be confident in your strengths and honest about your raggedy edges. He insists that your first priority is pleasing Him, not others.  Criticism may still wound you but you will respond to it instead of reacting to it.

 

How you navigate negative remarks will strengthen you, drawing you closer to Christ, or weaken and embitter you.  In the next few posts I’ll describe my personal process for handling criticism.  I’m still tempted to nurse grudges or retaliate, sometimes, but usually I don’t. That behavior grieves the Holy Spirit too much and derails my intimacy with Christ.

The first question I ask myself, when confronted with an unflattering assessment is, “Does this comment contain any truth?”   I choose to shift my mind away from instinctive reactions.  Instead, I choose to look objectively at the situation and my role in it.  Did I bang the piano too hard? Yup, and it probably did hurt some ears.  My critic’s tone and timing were poor, yet kernels of truth resided in what she said.  I could have kindly explained my challenges to her, after the service, and maybe gained support for purchasing a sound system upgrade sooner than we did.

Receiving criticism humbly and measuring our response is Christ-like and pleases our Father.  The bonus is that God can use the sharp edges of other’s words to chisel away our faults and make us more like His son.   Let Him do His work!

In my next post we’ll explore handling criticism further.  If you’ve got some tips and strategies for this common ministry challenge, please share them on my Facebook page.  Let’s encourage one another!

“Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery.” Proverbs 29:1 (NLT)