6 Reasons Why Anxiety, Worry, & Fear are Particular Problems for Christians

Desperate man holding his face in hands appears in a miserable state of unhappiness.

As a supplement to the message I did on anxiety and trust I asked my friend Dr. Jennifer Degler to do a guest post on my blog with her thoughts and observations on the issue of anxiety and Christians.

A psychologist, life coach, author, speaker, wife, and mom, Jennifer is passionate about helping people create healthy, successful relationships. You can find Dr. Jennifer podcasting and blogging about marriage, sex, parenting, friendships, and spiritual and personal growth on the Healthy Relationships Rx website at http://healthyrelationshipsrx.com.

About 20% of the US population has an anxiety disorder. That’s about one in five people, or 40 million adults. If you were allowed to pick your psychological disorder, pick anxiety because it’s very treatable. Not every psychological condition is treatable, but anxiety responds very well to treatment; however, only about 1/3 of suffering anxious people ever seek treatment. If left untreated, anxiety can lead to depression.

When I was in graduate school in the 1980’s, depression was the common cold of mental illness. Now it’s anxiety. Americans live in one of the safest countries in the world, but after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the anxiety levels of Americans skyrocketed.

I think overexposure to and over-consumption of anxiety-provoking material, like 24/7 scary news stories and increasingly violent movies and video games, has contributed to the rise in anxiety disorders. You would think anxious people wouldn’t watch a lot of news and crime shows, but they tend to be heavy consumers, usually because they are subconsciously watching for what the victim “did wrong” in a misguided effort to keep themselves safe by avoiding similar behaviors. Unfortunately, instead of making them feel safer, overexposure to anxiety-provoking shows and news stories just makes them feel more unsafe and keeps their brains in a hypervigilant state.

Anxiety tricks our brain, and the amygdala in particular, into activating our fight vs. flight response when we aren’t actually in danger. For example, when we watch a scary movie, our brains are tricked into thinking we are in danger even though we are safe in the theater. So our heart pounds, our palms sweat, and we breathe faster—until the movie is over. Then we realize we are safe, and our brain and body calm down.

For chronic worriers or those with an anxiety disorder, worry about the future is the scary movie. Those “What If” worries about an uncertain future hijack the brain, trick it into activating the fight vs. flight response, and cause physical, emotional, and spiritual distress. Once anxious people understand this neural hijacking, they are much less self-condemning of their anxiety and better able to use body-centered techniques to calm their anxious brain.

Here’s my favorite quote to use in conjunction with teaching clients body-centered techniques, such as mindfulness or progressive muscle relaxation, which help them use their five senses to pull their anxious mind back into today. 

Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me today.” Elisabeth Elliot

And, most of the time, we are okay in today. Dry, warm, fed, roof over our heads–that’s today, and we are okay in today. It’s in the imagined future that we aren’t okay.

It’s so much better to live in the Land of What Is instead of the Land of What If.

In my opinion, fear, worry, and anxiety are particular problems for Christians for the following reasons:

1) Christians over spiritualize fear and anxiety. They tend to believe it’s all a spiritual thing and overlook the genetic, personality, and trauma contributors to anxiety issues. And when believers hear another person tell of their anxiety struggles, they tend to prescribe only spiritual solutions for a mind/body/spirit problem. If you have an anxiety disorder, you are unlikely to be able to “pray it away” any more than you could pray away diabetes.

2) Christians carry shame over their anxiety and fear because they tend to believe it always indicates a lack of faith or an immature faith. They believe lies such as “Good Christians never feel afraid or anxious” or “If I struggle with worry, I am a weak Christian.”

3) Because of the shame, they tend to cover over how much they are suffering from an untreated anxiety disorder. They gloss over it, call it being “stressed out,” and don’t share their stories in community where they could possibly receive support and encouragement to get treatment.

4) Christians can give each other truly unhelpful but sounds-so-spiritual advice for managing crippling fear and anxiety, like “Just let go and let God” or “Just give it to Jesus” or “Just lean into Jesus.” What in the world does this look like practically?

5) Christians can be suspicious of helpful body-centered techniques for managing anxiety. It’s like we are Gnostics who believe the body is evil and only spirit is good, when in fact, body-centered techniques work well to reduce anxiety because of the way God made our brain.

6) Because Christianity offers peace, hope, and a certain eternal future, it is particularly attractive to anxious people. So baseline, you’ll find more anxious people in a church than waiting in line to bungee jump. I don’t have hard statistics on this, but I think the incidence of anxiety disorders in a church congregation is higher than the 20% you find in the general US population. Plus anxious people tend to also be imaginative, deeply feeling, empathetic people–the kind of people who are drawn to the kindness and compassion found in good churches.

If you are the 1 in 5 persons who struggles with anxiety, worry, or fear, please get treatment from an experienced mental health professional. While treatment may not make the anxiety go completely away, it should help you suffer much less and be able to enjoy the abundant life and peace Jesus promises.


7 Things We’ve Learned about Reaching Millennials

young people

The statistics are staggering. The older a child gets today, the greater his or her chances are of disappearing from the church. The church must intentionally plan to reverse this trend.

I was a part of a church plant built around a desire to reach people who may not have previously been interested in church. We were amazed at the number of young people we reached. Defying statistics.

I’ve now updated this post, because we are currently in a growing, revitalized established church and — amazingly — our fastest growing group is the millennial generation. Again, defying statistics.

It must be more than structure or age of church — or even style of worship.

Along the way, we’ve learned a few things — and these are the things which regardless of type of church have remained true. 

Here are 7 thoughts for the church to reach millennials:

Love them – Young people today seem to crave genuine, no strings attached, healthy love from other adults — and they want it to be unconditional love — through the good times of their life and the times they mess up. And, they want us to love first, without qualifications added.

Be biblically true – Millennials don’t want fluff or sugar-coating. They want an authentic, honest approach to the Bible. Whether they believe all of it yet or not, they want the people who teach to teach what they believe — and then be willing to discuss it with them as they explore.

Be culturally aware and relevant – This generation has been exposed to the problems, challenges, and changes in the world. And, changes are coming fast. They are more socially conscious than in years past. They want the church to be addressing the needs they see in the world around them.

Give them a place to plug-in – They want to make a difference. They want to be a part of change. They want you to support them in their pursuits. They want to serve somewhere they believe is doing good work and makes a positive impact on the world — and they may even want to help lead the effort.

Value their ideas and input – You have to allow Millennials to do things their way — often with technology — within groups of friends — sometimes unscripted. A church which is bent on protecting the past over creating the future turns young people away from the church.

Be genuine/transparent with them – The overused word is authentic, but this generation wants to learn from the mistakes of those older than them. Pretending as if we’ve always been wonderful doesn’t help them deal with the issues they are dealing with today. They need living examples of battling life’s temptations, struggles, and fears.

Guide them – I love this about them — they are wisdom-seekers. They want help making life’s decisions, but they want it done in a way that helps them understand wise choices, but gives them freedom to choose their own path. Young people today crave older adults who will walk with them through the obstacles they face on a daily basis; while extending love, grace and support.

What would you add to my list? How is your church reaching Millennials?

Again, notice I didn’t say anything about music. It’s a bonus if you give them worship styles they enjoy, but I’m not convinced it’s as much a necessity if the others on this list are kept.

There’s a Modern Day Bullhorn in Town

A grandmother yelling into a bullhorn.

I remember the first time I saw someone standing on a sidewalk with a bullhorn in their hands, shouting to the crowds, “Repent or Perish”.

They meant well. They had a passion for their work — they wanted people to come to realize the amazing Gospel of grace. I get that. And, I applaud the desire. And the effort. 

But, I never thought it was an effective method of evangelism.

I always wondered if anyone ever came any closer to the gospel because the one shouting on the street corner frightened them into repentance. Maybe someone did, but somehow I doubt it’s a large number.

It doesn’t seem to me a bullhorn on a street — or a sign saying “God hates ______” is the best way to share a message of love. And, isn’t that the message? “For God so loved the world…”

Well, there’s a new bullhorn in town.

It’s loud and it’s on every street corner – figuratively speaking.

It’s called social media. It goes by names such as Facebook. Twitter. Blog.

It’s where the bullhorn holder posts or shares a condemning statement towards someone with whom they don’t agree — sinners we call them. They make a proclamation against them. They complain. They bash. They condemn. They attempt to frighten. 

They are loud. 

Don’t misunderstand, the person with a bullhorn almost always means well. They have strong passion and intent. I applaud them for believing what they believe. (Personally I think we each hold that right.)

But, my head is spinning about this new bullhorn. With all its good intent, I simply don’t think it’s working. At least not in my opinion.

Certainly it makes the person holding the bullhorn feel better. Like they did their part. It’s a release of bent up a motion.  

And, frankly, we even celebrate the practice. It’s how a post goes viral. You’ll get the most shares and likes the more divisive you are. The more controversial the subject the more it gets shared. If simply getting attention is the goal – – the bullhorn works.  

Here’s the problem – again, my perception. 

The only people an angry online discourse appeals to is other people just as angry about the same issue as the person making the rant. 

And, the other side — it makes the people who don’t agree angrier and more firm in their own position.

The online bullhorn forces people to choose sides. It backs them in the proverbial corner where they feel they have no option other than to come back fighting with their own bullhorn. 

And, both sides get louder. 

The bullhorn approach comes across as having very little grace. And, in the bullhorn shouter’s heart, the grace may be there, but it’s covered over by the loudness of what they view as truth. (And, that’s key, because it’s usually “their view”.  The loudest bullhorns are many times subjective — an opinion — often based on truth but full of their own spin or interpretation.

And, this is just my opinion — and go ahead and say it — I’m doing in this post what I’m criticizing others for doing, and maybe I am, but it needs to be said. We shouldn’t use our platform to provoke people. Especially as believers, we should use it to make the world a better place with the ultimate goal of showing the world the love of Christ.

Without love we are clanging gongs. Semi-useless. Bullhorns

That certainly doesn’t seem to be Christ-like.

If we want to do things like Christ then, rather than blasting sinners on the street corner we will have to meet the woman at the well. We will have to dine with Zacchaeus and his tax collector friends. We have to value the poor widow and not ignore an opportunity to love the little children.

To my believer friends I have a suggestion – maybe a plea – let’s drop the bullhorn. Let’s build some relationships, genuinely love people so we can have any hope of sharing truth.

And, that’s the end of my rant. 

(Pre-post thought. In some occasions God may call us to the “repent or perish” type message – He did Jonah — but in the days of grace and with Jesus example, the relational approach appears to work better, again, in my opinion.)

I loved this post from Desiring God recently: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-should-christians-comment-online. I shared earlier this post on how Christians can be less mean online.

We Need A Labor Day – Frequently


The title of the day has always confused me. It’s called Labor Day and yet it’s supposed to be a break from our labor.

And, of course, some will work today. When I was in retail this was a busy day. Thank you to our emergency personnel and hospital workers and those that keep our commerce and lifestyles going today.

But, something tells me you need the day off — or a day off — as much as I do. If there is anything Americans are not good at its rest. It might be the one command of the 10 commandments we dishonor the most.

I wonder if that’s one reason we are so tense with each other all the time — but, I’ll save that thought for another post.

I read the following in this mornings Denison report:

Americans work too much. In the U.S., 85.8 percent of men and 66.5 percent of women work more than 40 hours per week. We work 100 more hours per year than the Japanese, and 250 more hours per year than the British. What about the work-obsessed Germans? We work 500 more hours per year than they do. We take less vacation time than other nations, work longer days, and retire later. If anyone needs a Labor Day;to cease from labor, it’s us.

(I highly recommend the Denison Report as a resource for pastors.)

Saddest of all — we often celebrate it as “the American Way”. We call it progress. Efficiency.

But, it may be causing more harm than good. Personally and collectively.

If I’m going to write a post like this I have to point four fingers back any direction I point one finger to others. I could easily be accused of being a workaholic.

Years ago, however, I learned a secret. It’s a secret about myself I believe is probably a secret about you. If I will shut down one day – and periodically shut down for several days – I am far more effective when I am working. It’s a key to long-term success.

When I go to long periods without resting I am more tempted towards burnout, anxiety, and even depression. I’m not as much fun to be around and I worry more than I pray. (Again, could this be a reason we are so tense with each other at times? — again, another post.)

It’s like God knew what He was doing when He issued the command.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m still very much American when it comes to my work ethic. I work far more than 40 hours a week. But, when I shut down – – I try to shut down. I’m not perfect at it (and I have to read this in case my wife still reads this blog), but I’m getting better with age.

Do you need a break? Do you need to invest in yourself?

I highly recommend the practice. Even if you have to work today – schedule your own “Labor Day” soon – and often. 

And, I can’t even take credit for the idea.

Happy Labor Day!

You may want to read how I protect my Sabbath.

7 Ways to Better Ensure Your Email Gets Read

Young man receive mail over tablet

When our youngest son was in college I realized he wasn’t reading all the emails he should have been reading. A few times we almost missed paying some fees he had due for college, which could have made him miss some deadlines for school.

You see, Nate’s a busy college student. He’s consumed with school work, church activities, and a host of social activities. If you want to lose his attention quickly — send him a really long email.

And, I don’t think it’s just my son. I see it as a trend among a younger generation. They don’t read all the emails they receive. I talked to one millennial recently who said if his inbox gets too full he just deletes a bunch of emails — without reading any of them. He figures they’ll text or call if they need something quickly — or send another email.

I hear some people my age — the age who received some of the first emails long after we were adults. Some would say that’s rude. Inconsiderate. Uncaring. Unprofessional.

And, yet, I feel a certain kindred spirit with our younger generation.

I can’t complain, especially because of my son, because he’s wired like me. He is always busy doing something, hates unproductive time, and some emails — if they tend to ramble — simply don’t capture his attention. I realize it’s ultimately our problem, not the sender, but to us it almost seems a waste of time to process an email which could have been written with the same information in a much shorter form.

Just being honest. I don’t read all the long emails I need to read. At least not in their entirety. Sometimes I miss details, because the email was too long to process or was so poorly written. I never check my Spam folder. I quickly divert emails to other people if I think I’m not the right recipient. And, an email in all caps — please no.  

That’s my honesty. And, for some one who holds responsiveness to such a high value it bothers me not to thoroughly read and respond to each one. It seems, however, I constantly get a ton of chapter length emails. Over the years the volume of email keeps growing yet my time to focus on them hasn’t. It has prompted me to think through what I believe helps an email get read. I certainly want my emails read. If I’m sending it I must believe it’s important enough for someone to take time to read it.  

If you want to ensure I read your email — and maybe other busy people —  people like me who receive literally several hundred emails a day — I want to share some suggestions. Please understand, I’m being brutally honest here trying to help. I realize some who read every line of every email they receive can’t understand. But, everyone is not like you. Yet, I assume you want your email read also.

Here are 7 ways to better ensure your email gets read:

Make sure your name is clearly listed in the FROM line

I am more likely to read an email from an individual than I am an organization or a group. I know it’s probably not fair, but if it’s coming from an “organization” I assume it applies more to the masses than to me personally. If I’m covered up with emails I’ll pay more attention to the ones that are from a person rather than an institution.

Make the recipient — ME

I’m less likely to read an email addressed to a group, even if the group is summarized by your name. I’m okay with being in the BCC line for a hidden group list, but if I see a group of 20+ addresses in the “To” line I’m probably assuming it’s not as important I read it.

Write a great subject heading

“Hey” is probably not a great one. The subject line needs to capture the reader’s attention enough to want to open the email — and read it. Give me some clue the general purpose of the email and what I can expect to learn from it. And, a FWD message rarely excitedly grabs my attention — especially if FWD is in the subject line.

Get started immediately with the main idea

Similar to the rules of writing a letter, you should instantly begin dealing with the subject of the email. If you’re inviting me to something — say that immediately. If you have a suggestion — tell me you do. You can explain later, but you need to hook the reader into the email early.

Give pertinent details, but don’t write a book

Please — don’t send an email just to ask me to call you. That’s so unfair that I have to wonder what you want. Tell me the basics in the email. Just don’t tell me the basics and everything else you every thought about the basics — plus three stories to go along with it. Again, the length of an email is critical to ensure it gets read. I often suggest people write bullet points. Sometimes they help make the email easier to read.

Another way, especially where the email has to be longer is to have two sections. The first section has “just the facts” section at the top with bullet points of pertinent facts,followed by a longer section for those who may want to read more detailed explanations. The person can read all they have to know in a couple minutes and then scan down to learn more details about items about which they are interested.

Finally, I especially appreciate if the absolute most pertinent information — such as dates, times, or the one single question or point you’re making — is highlighted or made bold in the email.

Read before sending

Before pressing send, read the email aloud. Listen for how it sounds. Email can be terribly misunderstood and this helps. Also, look at the overall length of the email. Would you read it? Or, would the length encourage you to put it aside for a later read — or skip it altogether? Remember many — maybe most — may read it on a smart phone and the email will appear even longer.

Give the option to ask questions

Close your email with the opportunity to ask questions if the reader wants more details or information. Even better — if appropriate — provide links in your email to websites or pages with additional information.

The more emails we send and receive, the more important it becomes that we write better emails. Writing emails which are to the point and concise ensures a greater chance of them being read. I would assume this would be a goal if we are going to take the time to send one.

Now your turn to be honest. When you receive a really long email, how do you respond?

What would you add to my list? What ideas do you have for writing emails that get read?

7 False Assumptions Made About Introverts

Thinking man

I am an introvert. Some people can question whether they are or not. I don’t. I’m certified in Myers Briggs, so I know the language well. I’ve studied the concept. It didn’t require much study though for me. I’m in the camp.

It means Sundays I’m more tired when I go home. It means I avoid certain crowds unless I have a clear purpose for being there. It means I run alone…and I’m okay with that. It means I’m probably harder to get to know that some people. I get all that. I own it. It’s me.

I’ve written before about the struggles of introversion in ministry (read that HERE) and ways I work to overcome those limitations (read that HERE). What surprises me is how misunderstood introverts are sometimes. There are a lot of false assumptions made when someone is introverted.

Here are 7 false assumptions made of me as an introvert:

I’m shy – That may be your word, but it’s not mine. I prefer purposeful for me. Others may call it something else. I talk when there’s a purpose. I’m not even afraid to do so. Three year olds are shy when they hide behind their daddy. That’s not me.

I need more courage – Why I oughta… (You’ll get that if you are a Moe Howard…Three Stooges fan.) Seriously, I “ain’t chicken” when I choose not to speak. I’m just being comfortable.

I’ve got nothing to say – Actually I have lots to say. Did you notice I blog almost every day? Do you see how often I update Twitter and Facebook? I have bunches to say. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t express it, but many times how I choose to communicate will be different than how others choose to communicate.

I’m ignorant – Yea, in a lot of ways I am. But, in some ways I’m smarter than the guy who never quits talking. You know the one. I am less likely to say the thing I wish I hadn’t said, because I didn’t think before I talked. It happens, but not as often as it might for some.

I am arrogant or don’t like you – Honestly, I love everyone. Or at least my Biblical commitment and personal goal is to do so. Whether or not I talk to you will not be a good determination of whether or not I like you. It might even mean I respect you enough to listen more than speak. Maybe.

I need you to talk for me – Ummm — actually I’d rather you not. Now that said, I sometimes let my wife talk for me. She’s good at it too. But, if I have an opinion I think needs sharing, I’ll speak for myself. Or regret later than I didn’t. But, either way, please don’t try to be my voice.

I need to change, mature, grow as a person or leader – There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just quieter than some leaders you know — or your immediate perception of a leader. Actually, there are lots of things wrong with me. Introversion isn’t one of them.

Those are some of the false assumptions that have been made of this introvert.

Introverts, what misunderstandings have been made about you?

July 4th Verses of Encouragement

American Holiday

Here are a dozen verses for your Fourth of July encouragement.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. Psalm 33:12

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-2

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Philippians 3:20

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Matthew 18:20

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. 1 Timothy 2:1-3

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. Romans 10:1

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! Psalm 108:5

God bless!

7 of the Most Dangerous Church Cultures I’ve Observed

Seamless chain link fence

I was talking with a couple of pastors recently about leading in church revitalization and growth. Both of these pastors are seasoned church leaders — having far more experience in total than I have in vocational ministry.

Mostly I listened to their stories. Both are currently in difficult pastorates. One of them serves in a church that has a history of very short-term pastorates. The other is in a church that has seen a roller coaster trend in church attendance — every time they get in a season of growth its followed by a season of decline — sometimes rapid decline.

Frankly, I prefer to have conversations about opportunities and possibilities than about challenges and frustrations. But, get a few pastors in the room and there will be some war stories. Leading towards health in a church can be a battle sometimes.

Just like it’s been said numerous times — leading people is easy if it wasn’t for the people.

I tried to encourage them in their call and offered a few suggestions for them in their current situations. But, the conversation stayed on my mind for days afterwards.

A few days after this conversation, I was talking with another pastor friend reflecting on what I had heard in the previous conversation. I didn’t share names or specific situations, but it led us to a discussion about church cultures.

Every church has its own culture.

Both of the pastors in the original conversation just seemed to find themselves in some very bad church cultures.

I’ve seen lots of different cultures while consulting and working with churches for over a decade.

Regardless of what some believe — there are some healthy churches.

And, there are some who are not so healthy.

It’s always breaks my heart to encounter a church that is ready to implode. Frankly, some churches live in that tension continually. Some cultures are dangerous — toxic even.

Why do some churches seem to have such a hard time keeping church staff for any significant length of time? It usually has something to do with the culture of the church.

Why are some churches more resistant to change than others? It will almost always reflect back to the culture of the church.

Why do some churches have a history of church splits? Culture.

This friend in the second conversation said to me, “There’s a blog post for you. You need to talk about some of those dangerous cultures.”

Sadly, according to numerous statistics, more churches are in decline or have plateaued than are growing. Certainly not all growing churches are healthy. I would never define a “healthy” church exclusively as growing church. I do believe, however, most healthy churches will eventually grow.

Some of that health in a church depends on the culture of the church. How do people respond to church leadership? How do they respond to each other? How do they react to change? How are decisions made? What upsets people most? What is the atmosphere — the mood — of the church during the week and on Sunday? How does the church treat vocational staff?

All those are usually relative to and indicative of church culture.

So, I decided to post about some of the more dangerous church cultures I have observed. Most likely you’ll have some of your own to share.

Here are 7 of the most dangerous church cultures:

Selfish – Some churches are filled with people who just think they have to have it their way. And they fold her hands — and sometimes hold their money – – until they get it.

Prideful – This is a culture that is proud of their heritage — which is a good thing — but is resting on their laurels. They refuse to realize it’s no longer the “good ole days”. Their pride keeps in the past keeps them from embracing the future. They resist any ideas that are different from the way things have always been done.  

Rigid – A rigid culture would never kill something — even if it isn’t working. These churches do tradition well. They don’t do change well. Try to change — and it’ll be the death of you.

Cliquish – I’ve heard this from so many people who felt they just couldn’t break into the already established groups within the church. In this culture, it takes years for people to feel included, find a place of service, or begin to lose the “new person” label.

Bullying – Sometimes this is disguised and called church discipline, but in some of the stories I’ve heard I would tend to call it legalistic. If it’s a “one strike you’re out” culture or people are made to feel they can’t be real about their struggles for fear of retribution — the picture of grace that Christ died on the cross to provide is diminished. People are encouraged to put on masks to hide their struggles.

Stingy – In this culture, there is a greater concern that the balance sheet look attractive than meeting the needs that God brings their way. This church rarely walks by faith because that seems too irresponsible.

Depraved – This one may in some ways be a summary of the previous six — because there is sin in all of these cultures — but I wanted to expose it on it’s own. If the Bible is left in the rack attached to the pew and no longer the foundation guide for the church — the culture will obviously suffer. Church culture can begin to decay whenever the focus is more on things like money, programs, buildings , even worship style — as good as all of those can be — rather than on living our lives as children of God for the glory of God. Whatever distracts us from the very core of the church — our Gospel mission and calling — will injure our church culture.

Those are from my observations.

What dangerous cultures have you seen?

I should mention again — especially to those outside the church, those who have experienced pain from these type churches, or those entering into the ministry in whom I may have raised caution — there are healthy churches. There are healthy church cultures. There are no perfect churches, but there are some who have staff with long tenures, where change is manageable and where people truly live out the Biblical model of church.

And, as someone who loves the local church, that’s where I hope to lend help through this blog in the majority of posts I share.

In a future post I will try to expand on some thoughts and experience I have in helping to change church cultures.

The Power of Tenacity By Samuel R. Chand

Young man climbing

The statistics on the longevity of pastors isn’t encouraging. A major survey of pastors says 80 percent leave the ministry within five years.(1) Jimmy Draper, former president of the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and former president of Lifeway Research Group, observed that for every twenty people who enter the ministry, only one retires from it.(2) That’s only a 5 percent retention rate.

I don’t know any leaders—of churches, businesses, or nonprofit organizations—who haven’t thought about quitting at some point. Leadership is a magnet for pain, and sometimes our capacity to endure is severely challenged. We can receive some encouragement by looking at the world of sports.

Tom Fleming, a two-time winner of the New York City Marathon and now a coach, described his mind-set in races: “I was given a body that could train every single day, and a mind, a mentality, that believed that if I trained every day—and I could train every day—I’ll beat you. The mentality was I will do whatever it takes to win. I was totally willing to have the worst pain. I was totally willing to do whatever it takes to win the race.”

Sports doctors have analyzed the tenacity of the best marathon runners. Dr. Jeroen Swart, who works for the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, concluded, “Some think elite athletes have an easy time of it,” but that’s a wrong assumption. “It never gets easier” as your time improves. “You hurt just as much.” Accepting the reality of pervasive pain, he explained, leads to more realistic expectations and faster times:
“Knowing how to accept [the reality of the pain] allows people to improve their performance.”

During points in races when the pain is most intense, some runners tend to dissociate, to try to distract themselves from the pain by thinking of something else. This strategy seems to work for a while, but sooner or later they hit a mental wall that hinders their efficiency. In contrast, Dr. Swart discovered, the best long-distance athletes concentrate even more intensely on their running, cycling, or swimming when they experience grueling pain. He concluded, “Our hypothesis is that elite athletes are able to motivate themselves continuously and are able to run the gauntlet between pushing too hard—and failing to finish—and underperforming.”

The best of these athletes don’t avoid the pain; they push into it and past it.(3)

When we’re in pain we quickly notice the default setting on the human heart: run, blame, smother the hurt in busyness, or act like nothing’s wrong. To persevere, we need a vision for the future that’s bigger than our pain. We may not see it clearly, and we may not like the process of getting there, but we have to be convinced in the depths of our hearts that enduring the pain will someday be worth it. This confidence enables us to raise the threshold of pain so we can respond with courage and hope.

Wayne Cordiero wrote an eye-opening and challenging book, Sifted: Pursuing Growth Through Trials, Challenges, and Disappointments. He insisted that all Christians, especially leaders, go through a necessary process of sifting. He identified it this way: “The process of sifting, coming to that moment when our strength is spent, is how God builds our faith. It’s a process that forms new character, tearing away old perspectives and putting fresh truth in its place. Former habits are discarded and wrong tendencies abandoned.”(4)

Failure isn’t the end of the world for those who are open to God’s tender, strong hand. It’s the beginning of a new wave of insight, creativity, and effectiveness—but only if we pay attention and learn the lessons God has for us. When we receive a vision from God, we’re excited, and we dream about the steps it will take to fulfill it. We generally assume God will supply everything to accomplish the goal he’s given to us, but we often fail to realize that he needs to do a deeper work in us so we can do what he has called us to do. And the way he works deeply in us is through all kinds of opposition, stress, heartache, loss, and obstacles. In other words, God works most powerfully in and through our failures.

Do we face opposition? The civil and religious authorities opposed Jesus at every turn. Do we encounter evil in all its forms? Satan himself tempted him? Do we feel betrayed and abandoned? The crowds that yelled “Hosanna!” soon cried, “Crucify him!”

And almost all of his best friends ran for their lives at his greatest hour of need. Do we feel misunderstood? The Lord of glory stepped out of heaven to rescue sinful people, and they killed him. Do we feel vulnerable? He was stripped, beaten, and hung on a cross in public humiliation. Why did he do all this? Out of love for the very ones who had run away from him, who had driven spikes into his hands, and who jeered him as he hung on the cross.

People like you and me.

When we feel like quitting, we can think about Jesus. In the greatest act of love ever known, when he was unjustly dying for those who despised him, he could have come down from the cross and killed them all—but he stayed where he was placed.

This article is excerpted from Chapter 9 in Leadership Pain by Samuel R. Chand.


1. Fuller Institute, George Barna, and Pastoral Care Inc., “Why Pastors Leave the
Ministry,” July 21, 2009, http://freebelievers.com/article/why-pastors-leave-the-ministry.

2. See J. D. Greear, “Why You Should Pray for Your Pastor, and President Obama,” Archives for Leadership, www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/category/leadership/page/10.

3. Gina Kolata, “How to Push Past the Pain, as the Champions Do,” New York Times, October 18, 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/10/19/health/nutrition/19best.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

4. Wayne Cordiero with Frances Chan and Larry Osborne, Sifted: Pursuing Growth Through Trials, Challenges, and Disappointments (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 10.