5 Questions to Help Pick Your Battles

I received an from someone about a conflict they are having with someone else. For context:

It is not a clearly defined Biblical issue. Both parties feel they are right. Neither is willing to budge on their position due to personal experience and conviction. Both parties are believers, but not related by blood or by marriage. They have no mandated relationship, such as work or marriage.

They are at an impasse.

They’ve been advised by well-meaning believers that they must address this conflict with the person. They are certain it will be received wrong, but they were told it’s the “Biblical” thing to do.

I may be wrong, which wouldn’t be that unusual, but I don’t think that’s always true. I think what they have to be able to do is forgive in their heart, reconcile the disagreement in their own mind and move forward with their life without the conflict continuing to haunt them. If they can’t do that then I would agree they must confront the conflict.

Not every conflict, however, is necessary to be resolved. Sometimes two people may have to agree to disagree and, if necessary, be willing to go separate ways to avoid future conflict. (Read the conflict between Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15.)

Based on the disclaimers listed, here are 5 questions to help pick your battles:

Can I move forward without holding a grudge or being resentful in my heart? – If not, do you need to confront simply to clear your heart to be whole again?

Will I be able to change their opinion if I confront them? – If not, then is there any value in the confrontation?

Is it impacting other people? – If your conflict is simply between two people then what’s the urgency of the conflict. If others are affected by your disagreement, then some sense of resolution may become necessary.

Does my heart lead me to confront? – We can’t dismiss the Spirit of God working in our life. If the issue won’t leave your mind, you need to do something.

Am I at peace with things as they are? – If you are at complete peace and the thought of confrontation only makes you miserable, then are you sure you are supposed to confront? Again, a conviction to confront should not be avoided, regardless of the fear involved, but if you are already at peace, why disrupt the calm?

Have you had a relationship you simply couldn’t reconcile? What questions would you ask?

5 Don’ts of Healthy Communication

In my career, I work with a lot of people in a lot of settings. You might say my job involves a lot of relationships. In the process, I have learned the key to healthy relationships is communication.

Communication is an art of sorts. Some are better at it than others.

I have seen relationships destroyed because of poor communication. I know marriages which could improve if we improved the communication in the marriage. I’ve seen people avoid other people, because they know how the communication will go when they encounter them. I’ve known people who are short on quality relationships, and, honestly, many times it is because they never learned or don’t practice healthy communication techniques. Careers are made and destroyed by a person’s ability to communicate effectively – or not.

So, sincerely, this post is intended to help. I want to share some things not to do in attempting healthy communication. We are all guilty or some of these at times – this blogger/pastor included.

Here are 5 Don’ts of Healthy Communication:

Don’t always have a bigger story.

This is the one I’ve been guilty of the most of these five. Someone is telling you their story and their experience reminds you of your experience. So, naturally, you interrupt their story, or don’t appear to be listening closely, because you want to share your story. But, remember, right now they are sharing “their” experience. It is important enough to them to share it with you. Don’t try to trump their story. It is rude and it shuts them down. Discipline yourself to wait for the right opportunity – and be okay if it doesn’t come – sometimes your only role is to listen.

Don’t talk more than you listen.

This will address the person you’re thinking of in the first point that is always sharing their story. They never listen. They don’t give you a chance to share yours. If this is you stop talking and listen. Ask questions. Show genuine concern. Be interested in what others have to say too. You’ll find people more interested in what you have to share when it’s your turn.

Don’t always be negative.

All of us are negative at times. Life is hard and it impacts us. That’s partly what friendships are for – to share our burdens with one another. But every conversation and every comment we make shouldn’t be negative. It makes it difficult to build a sustainable, healthy relationship, because sometimes the other person needs you to be positive on the day they are especially negative.

Don’t consistently have the last word.

Sure you’ve got one more word to share. We get it. Most likely you’ve already proven that point. But, sometime let the other person say the final word. It’s humbling for you – and good – for you and them. And, the conversation. And, the relationship.

Don’t speak before you think.

This is so important. Maybe the most important one. It includes the saying, “If you can’t say something good, don’t say anything – or nothing at all.” (If you want to be like Thumper.) If we could catch our words before they exit our mouths, filter them through the power of love and grace, then release them, we could keep from injuring those with whom we are trying to communicate. And, relationships could thrive apart from the injury of inappropriate or awkward – often even mean-spirited words.

Okay, be honest, upon which of these do you need to improve?

Remember, I shared mine. Now your turn.

7 Quick Tips for Handling Stress

Stress is all around us. Every day I encountered burned out and stressed out pastors. Regardless of your career, it appears life is more stressful than ever.

I would say learning to handle stress may be one of the more important things you can do to lead effectively and long-term.

I hope this post can help a few stressed-out leaders.

Here are 7 ways I handle stress:

Prayer – God really does answer this request. When I’m really stressed out, I get alone with God. Prayer doesn’t always change my situation, but it always changes me to remember who is ultimately in control.

Time management – Most times a well planned schedule will greatly diminish stress. I try to plan my activities at the beginning of the week in a way which allows for unexpected interruptions, yet still also allows me to complete the tasks required of me.

Exercise – This may be my best secret for battling stress. The more stressed I am the more I need to run. I’ve been known to disappear on a busy day to get some exercise.

Disciplined life – There are activities and habits which simply add to stress. If you stay up way too late and never get enough rest, your stress-factor will increase. When I’m especially stressed, I try to build in down time and time just for me.

Balance – I have learned to say “No” to some things and balance my time between all the things that pull for my attention. I find when I try to be all things to all people I am not much good to anyone.

Addressing known problems quickly – If a relationship is causing stress, the sooner I deal with it the less likely I am to stress about it. If I need to make the hard decisions – I make the now. The sooner I deal with those things I know I need to the less long-term stress it brings.

Asking for help – When I am really at my limit with stress, I am not too proud to tell someone. I have learned to delegate well and allow people the freedom to speak into my life as needed.

What tips do you have for people to lower their stress? How do you handle stress?

7 Suggestions When a Leader Offers Praise

One aspect of leadership is appreciating the people one leads. I must admit, this has to be a discipline for me, because I’m not naturally wired for this. I can be guilty of expecting too much from people. When someone does the extraordinary work it comes easier for me to praise them, but I don’t always feel the need to acknowledge the normal work people do – especially when they are being paid to do it.

I realize, however, that all of us, including me, enjoy hearing we did a good job. Some people are even fueled by it. So, offering praise is a necessary part of a leader’s responsibility. We should all do it whether we are wired to or not.

And, when we do, there are certain things which can help us.

Here are 7 suggestions when a leader offers praise:

Be specific

Tell the person what he or she did well in specific rather than general terms. Make sure they know what they did or are doing well. 

Be honest

Make it genuine. False praise or praise offered only for person gain is seldom appreciated.

Be intentional

Some of us have to discipline to praise. That’s okay. It’s worth it. Don’t assume someone else will do it or that the person receives enough praise. (I try to intentionally praise at least 2 or 3 people per week among staff and volunteers.)

Be timely

People shouldn’t wait long after a job done well to receive praise for it. 

Be creative

Find unique ways to offer praise. Send a handwritten note. Not many do it anymore.  Give an extra day off. Recognize them in front of others. And, of course, don’t forget the personal, face-to-face approach. 

Be unique

Don’t say the same thing everyone else is saying or the same thing to every person. Find the thing or aspect to praise that no one else has noted.

Be helpful

Offer praise which helps the person recognize strengths and encourages them in that area.

It does take intentionality to be an appreciative leader. Our staff would probably tell you I have much work to do. I would have to agree with them. But, I do recognize the value and keep striving to improve.

7 Thoughts to the Families of Introverts

Whenever I post about the subject of introversion I hear from fellow introverts. Some of these are apparently even more introverted than me. And, that’s a lot of introversion.

I usually am addressing introversion in leadership, but in talking with a young pastor after one of these posts I discovered there was another issue we needed to address. This particular pastor was having some issues at home with introversion. He had managed to be extroverted for his church, but when he got home, he had nothing left to give. He felt the tension. He wanted to push through it, but he didn’t know how. He didn’t want to talk about his day. He didn’t want to share what he was thinking. He was done. Words spent. Empty.

His wife was growing increasingly impatient with a lack of intimacy in communication, limited social life, and simply feeling left out of part of his life.

Of course, I only heard his side of the story. He knows what he needs to do, but he doesn’t know how to do it.

Her side of the story (according to him) – she doesn’t understand how he can be so introverted – even when it’s with his family.

I get it. I really do.

So, this post is to the families of introverts. There are a few things I’d love to say to you. I hope they are helpful.

Here are 7 words to families of introverts:

We aren’t crazy.

Sometimes you think we are, don’t you? Be honest. When we don’t talk for long periods of time – even when we are with people – you assume we must have a few screws loose somewhere. We probably do – as you possibly do – we are all desperately in need of grace. But introversion isn’t one of the things which make us crazy. We aren’t weird – okay, again, some of us might be, but not just because of introversion. In fact, you may not know this, but there are lots of introverts around. Lots. Mega lots. You may even have overlooked some of us because we aren’t always trying to get your attention. We may appear extroverted in public, often because it’s our job, but there are lots of us who are really introverted.

It isn’t personal. 

When we don’t not talk because we don’t want to communicate with someone. We don’t talk because we are introverted. We need to have something to say. We probably think a lot more than we say. It’s hard not to take it personal though, isn’t it? But, it most likely has little to do with you when we don’t talk to you as much as you wish we would.

We do love you.

This one is huge. The crazy thing about introverts – that I know some have a hard time believing – is that most of us really do love people. A lot. More than you can imagine. In fact, the measure of extroversion or introversion, from what I can tell, has no bearing on the degree of love a person has for others. That’s a whole other side to a person’s personality and character. If one expectation you have of love is talking a lot, you’re going to be disappointed at times. But, this may help to know – for some introverts, one expectation we have of love is giving the people we love time to not have to talk. (Figuring out how to balance those expectations is tough, isn’t it?)

We need time to recharge.

The amount of time is relative to the amount of extroversion we had to do to get to the opportunity for introversion and the degree of introversion we have. But, all of us need that time. We may even crave it. This is especially true after very extroverted events or settings. For my pastor friend I mentioned above, that’s Sunday afternoon following a Sunday morning. (Funny how Sunday afternoons always follow Sunday mornings.)

Preparation helps.

If you give us advance warning, we can often better prepare for conversation. We can gear up for it. I know that may be difficult to grasp for especially extroverted people, especially when it involves people we love so much. Please understand, though, that introversion impacts how we relate to others – not how we feel about them. I love my wife. More than anything. And, she shares my calendars so, thankfully, she knows the times I am more likely to revert to my introversion preferences. I find, however, that my wife and I having a routine time where we interact together at night, is the time I’m ready to dialogue with her best about my day and hers. And, she loves this time. I do too. Seriously. It works better for me because I’m prepared for it – actually looking forward to it – and it works better for her because I actually talk. And, want to.

We don’t have a right to ignore you.

Do I need to repeat that one? I will. We don’t have a right to ignore you. And, my introverted friends can get frustrated with me if they want to, but we don’t. You can expect communication. Relationships are built on communication. We just have to figure out how to make it work with your personality and ours. We can do that, can’t we? And, you can tell them I said it. Get an outside party (such as a counselor) to help you if you need it. We can’t expect people to ignore their personality – and we should work to respect other people’s personalities, but we can expect two people in a healthy relationship to find a balance that allows healthy, intimate conversation – at a level that meets the needs of both in the relationship.

Activity often produces conversation.

This may sound strange unless you’ve experienced it, but as an introvert, I talk more — and am more comfortable doing so — when I am being physically active at the same time. Walking with Cheryl helps us communicate better. Our communication is strengthened when we have an activity we do together regularly. So, we walk often. Almost daily. It’s good for our health and our marriage. Certainly we walk enough so she feels we’ve communicated. What’s an activity you could do with your introverted family member which might produce more (and better) conversation? (Play a board game, go hiking, take a drive, etc.)

Here’s the disclaimer. Not all introverts are alike. Just as not all extraverts are alike. And, there are varying degrees of introversion and extroversion. It’s important not to put people into boxes – and that’s not what I’m trying to do here. Maybe the best follow up to this post is a conversation with your introvert on how the two of you could communicate better. More than anything, as a relationship counselor and pastor, I want to help people better communicate. Sadly, I’ve sat on the outside of dozens of relationships in trouble and communication is almost always one root of the problems in the relationship. This post isn’t counseling – and my intent was a very soft approach, but the issue here is huge for some couples. Don’t be afraid to get help if needed.

Are you an extrovert married to an introvert? Any tips you’ve learned that can help?

4 Ways to Process The Emotions of Betrayal as a Leader

I was reading a Bible passage the other day and, as I read, I had the weirdest emotional response to the text. I realize Scripture is supposed to impact us this way – if we allow it to – but, suddenly I was feeling a stirring in my stomach. I became slightly nervous. It was a brief encounter, but I quickly realized I was being reminded of a few very painful experiences in my own leadership and life.

I was recalling the emotions of betrayal.

To understand the passage, it helps to be able to count to twelve. (Or at least eleven.)

Here’s the passage:

And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.Acts 1:13

Do you see what jumped out at me?

Count them. There are eleven names. Eleven. Not twelve.

One name is missing. One person was no longer in the group. And, I remembered why.

For three years there were twelve. They had been Jesus’ disciples. His closest companions. His trusted friends. Jesus had invested time, energy and life into them. Now there were eleven. One was missing.

The betrayer.

If you don’t know the story, another named Judas betrayed Jesus. For a hefty sum of money he handed Jesus to the authorities where He was arrested, beaten and crucified. Of course, it was used for a divine purpose, but the fact is one of the disciples betrayed the others and Jesus.

I don’t think I ever considered this before, but what were the emotions of betrayal for the remaining disciples? Did they miss their friend? In spite of his betrayal, he was a close companion on a mission. A team member. There must have been some attachment. Were there moments of bitterness, anger, or rage? Were they sad? Was there one in particular who got hurt most? He was closest to the betrayer, perhaps, (I don’t know. But, I do know people and team dynamics so it prompts me to ask the questions.)

As I reflected on their experience, I couldn’t help remembering some of my own times of betrayal. There have been a few significant, very painful times in leadership (and life) where I was severely disappointed by people I trusted most.

But, that was my experience reading the text that morning and this post is really about you.

Have you ever experienced the emotions of betrayal?

We don’t talk about it much in leadership or ministry, but maybe we should. Those emotions are real. They are heavy. And, they are common.

Have you been hurt by your own betrayer? You trusted him or her. You may have even called them friend. They let you down. Disappointed you. Betrayed you.

Anyone who has served in any leadership position has experienced betrayal at some level. It could have been the gossip started by a supposed friend or a pointed and calculated stab in the back. Either way it hurts.

Learning to deal with, process, and mature through betrayal may be one of the more important leadership issues, yet we seldom deal with the issue.

How do you handle betrayal?

Here are a few quick suggestions:

Grieve

Give yourself time to process. Be honest about the pain. Don’t pretend it didn’t matter. It does. You were injured by someone you trusted – maybe someone you love.

Forgive

As much as it hurts, refusing to forgive or holding a grudge will hurt you more than the betrayer. (And, if you are a believer you have no option. It’s a command of God.) Embrace and extend grace. Let it go! If there are realistic consequences you can let those occur, but in your heart let it go. Forgiveness is a choice not dependent on the other person’s response. It is the most freeing decision you can make. It may take time to do this, but the longer you delay the more you are still held captive by the betrayal.

Analyze

It is good at a time of betrayal to consider what went wrong. Was it an error in judgement? Do you need stricter guidelines for yourself or those you lead? Would it have happened regardless? You can’t script morality and shouldn’t attempt to, but you should use this as a chance for a healthy review of the parameters in which the betrayal occurred.

Continue

You can’t allow a betrayal to distract you from the vision you have been called to complete. But, equally important, don’t allow this time to build up walls where you never trust again or unnecessary structure which burdens the rest of the team. There will always be betrayers as long as there are people. Jesus had them. They show up unexpectedly at times. And, if you read on in Acts, they replaced the twelfth person again. They moved forward in spite of betrayal. Eventually you will have to take a risk on people again. It’s the only way to lead in a healthy way.

Betrayers will come. The way we deal with them often determines the future quality of our leadership.

Stop Seeing the Bible as a Reference Book

A guest post by Chandler Vannoy

Dictionary.

Thesaurus.

Encyclopedia.

We all know what these are. These are all reference books, and a reference book is only used when you need to use it as a source to make a point. The definition reads, “a book intended to be consulted for information on specific matters rather than read from beginning to end.“It’s a source that we pull up when we need to back up a point or further clarify what we are trying to say.

And this is exactly how many of us treat the Bible, simply as a reference book.

We see it as a resource in our pocket to be searched when we are trying to win an argument. As a book of inspiration to post on social media. Or as a book we consult on specific matters but have never thought about reading beginning to end. And this is a dangerous habit for us to fall into.

Why? Because we need to see the Bible not as a book to be referenced, but as a book to be lived, and then let our life be saturated by it. It should be the source of life for us. Not a source that we footnote or cite to make a point.

Honestly answer this question: how do you mainly interact with the Bible?

Do you pull a verse here and there to tweet or Instagram?

Do you Google for a verse every now and then to back you up in an argument?

Or do you daily read it to soak it up and let it transform the way you live?

I promise, this is not a gotcha type of question. I only ask this question to you, because I recently asked the same question to myself. And when I answered it, it made me realize that I had not made the Word of God a big enough of a priority in my life.

It is so easy in our “information at our fingertips” lifestyle to go about our day and simply see the Bible as a reference book that supplements our lives when it is convenient to us or we have a question to be answered. And when we do this, we are missing out on the true riches of Scripture. As Matt Chandler would, “We are adults playing around in the kiddie pool of faith.”

After being convicted of this myself, I found a few ways to get past this type of thinking:

1. Simply, read the Bible daily.

The greatest way to get out of the habit of seeing the Bible as a reference book is to make a daily habit of reading, studying, and applying it to your life. This will cause Scripture to be in your mind and vocabulary constantly rather than just as a reference. It will begin to flood your mind throughout the day, so you are thinking about it not just when you need to defend something, but in every decision that you make.

2. Before you share a verse, read the whole chapter for context.

Sadly, often when we share Bible on Instagram or Twitter, we morph Scripture to fit into our life rather than fitting our life into Scripture. Because of this, we’ll take verses out of context and post them as inspiration even if that is not what the original author intended.

One example is Jeremiah 29:11, you know, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” We love to post this one in hard times, like right after a break up or unexpected job change, but we end up using a verse as inspiration that the author was writing to show God’s judgment to His people.

3. Create a habit of memorizing Scripture

Memorizing Scripture is normally thought of as a super-spiritual habit. But it should be seen as essential for all believers. Think about this, we can memorize lyrics to a song, but we don’t have the capacity to memorize God’s Word? Yeah right. It’s just that we don’t focus on it, so we allow our minds to be filled more with culture’s influence than the Spirit’s influence. But when we memorize Scripture, we are keeping a reference book of the Bible in our mind. When we draw from it, we aren’t looking it up, but rather we are drawing it out from a past reading or devotion.

What are some ways you have made Scripture more of a priority in your life?

Chandler Vannoy is the Brand Manager for LifeWay Leadership. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and is now pursuing his Masters of Divinity at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He loves the NBA, C.S Lewis, and good coffee. Connect with him on Twitter: @chandlervannoy.

Mother: What a Great Word!

Demonstrating love in so many ways.

Mother

Is there a sweeter word in the English language?

Maybe your word is:

Mom

Maybe your word is:

Momma

Or, many of the tousands of words in any other language which comes with the same deep meaning and emotion.

Unconditional love.

Sacrificial giving.

Forgiving easily.

Striving to provide perfect environments for others.

Incredible patience.

Strength beyond measure.

Always believing the best from and for her children.

A model and teacher of compassion.

Skilled for laughing at kid jokes – even those which aren’t even funny.

Accepting of others.

Stability during chaos.

A tender touch and a firm hug that never lets go – even when no longer physically together.

Mother

I’m always reminded of the mother’s heart who doesn’t have children of her own, but who displays the applied meaning of the word every single day.

Thank God for the mothers of the world.

What do you think of when you hear the word mother?

7 Things Forgiveness IS…

I often wonder if the reason we don’t forgive as we should is because we don’t understand the subject well enough.

Yesterday I posted 7 Things that Forgiveness is NOT. It seems appropriate to also post 7 things that forgiveness IS. I should warn someone. The previous post was easier to write – and probably read – than this one. Especially if you are the one having to offer forgiveness.

But, as difficult as forgivesness may be to extend, it is often a most important ingredient in healthy relationships and in being a completely healthy person. 

Here’s to a better understanding of forgiveness.

Here are 7 things that forgiveness IS:

A choice

Granted – it’s a very difficult choice. Forgiveness is never easy. And, the deeper and more frequent the wounds were the harder the choice is to make. In fact, holding on to pain is an easier choice. But forgiveness is a conscious decision made by the injured party. You simply – and, of course not so simply – choose to release the injury and forgive.

Letting go of a right to get even

This is a hard one. You give up the right for revenge when you forgive someone. In the truest sense, it’s a clean slate approach to forgive. In fact, God actually encourages us to hand revenge over to Him – letting things happen in His time which make things right. “Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”” (Romans‬ ‭12:19‬ ‭MSG‬‬)

Moving forward

Forgiveness is like saying, “It hurt. I didn’t like it, but I’m moving forward with my life in spite of the pain.” Imagine running the a road race with a sack of potatoes hanging from your neck. Until forgiveness is granted theirs a proverbial weight around your neck. Often the weight is more on you than on the person who did whatever has to be forgiven. The author of Hebrew illustrates that for us also, “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us,” (Hebrews 12:1, emphasis mine)

Dropping resentment and grudge

Forgiveness releases the angst towards the person who did the injury. One definition of forgiveness – knowing you really have forgiven someone – is what happens when the person comes to your mind again. If the pain they caused is still the first thought you have about them – you may not have really forgiven them yet. (Now might be a good time to go back and read the first post of what forgiveness is NOT.) 

A step towards healing

Again, forgiveness releases a weight from the injured, which opens the door for emotions to eventually heal. And, it does take time. It’s not an overnight thing, but when true forgiveness occurs most people feel a huge weight released from them immediately and then emotions begin to heal and trust rebuilds over time. 

An opportunity to display grace

There is no greater picture of God’s forgiveness to others than for us to forgive one another. It’s literally being the example of Christ. Paul wrote in Colossians, “bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive.” (‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:13‬)

The removal of a roadblock

Forgiveness removes the barrier between us and living at peace again with ourselves, others, and God. “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:18‬)

I know these are difficult. I know some of the pain runs deep. I can’t describe it for you adequately, but I can tell you forgiveness IS all it’s claims to be.

As a small story of my personal journey, the hardest person for me to forgive was my dad. He was absentee most of my childhood and I resented it greatly. I didn’t understand why I had to forgive him when he did wrong against an innocent child. One day – and over time – God convicted me. In one moment I chose to forgive him. And, yes, it was a conscious choice I made to release the pain I held against him. I cannot describe the freedom which came to me when I did. It wasn’t really about him at that point – it was about me. (But, that moment changed our relationship and the way I saw my dad from that point forward. I wish he were still alive today to enjoy time together.) 

If you truly want to be free of the hold the injury has on your heart, forgive the one who injured you.

(As I stated in the previous post. This is not a new post. This is one of my most frequented subjects, so there have been others who have used portions of this post and the other one in blog posts and books (some even with permission). If you see others who have posted it prior to me remember I first wrote this a decade ago. I bring it forward because it is such a relevant issue.)