June 13, 2011
One critical skill most leaders never master
As Christians, we live in a performance-based culture that measures success according to how much you can cram into your life. The more you do, the more you're doing, so to speak. This mentality has, by and large, infiltrated the church, and you don't have to look beyond the church's leadership to see that. Many pastors are over-worked and burned-out, and their families suffer as a result.
This over-commitment is also the reason many pastors are more susceptible to moral failures. A recent study gave each participant either a two-digit number or a seven-digit number to remember. Then, each participant was sent down a hallway, individually, where they were presented with two options: a sensible cup of fruit, or a delicious (but extremely unhealthy) piece of chocolate cake. The participants had to choose which one they would accept.
What the study found was this: The participants who were trying to remember the seven-digit number were TWICE as likely to choose the cake.
Why did this happen? According to the scientist who conducted the study, Professor Baba Shiv, "Those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain—they were a 'cognitive load'—making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert. In other words, willpower is so weak, and the prefrontal cortex is so overtaxed, that all it takes is five extra bits of information before the brain starts to give in to temptation."
Jonah Lehrer, who authored the book How We Decide and included the above study in his research, summarized the findings saying, "The part of our brain that is most reasonable, rational and do-the-right-thing is easily toppled by the pull of raw sensual appetite, the lure of sweet. Knowing something is the right thing to do takes work—brain work—and our brains aren't always up to that."
In other words, the more we have going on in our brains and in our lives, the more likely we are to make bad decisions. Or at the very least, it clogs our brains in a way that makes consistent, good decision-making difficult.
This study has very real implications for Christians, but especially for leaders. All Christians must bear in mind the consequences of cramming our schedule instead of making time to rest (Ex. 20:8) and be still (Psalm 46:10): We are much more likely to make bad decisions otherwise. But Christian leaders should be especially mindful that their scheduling choices set an example for the rest of their church. When Christian leaders feed into the performance-based, frenetic pace of the surrounding culture, they risk causing their flock to do the same.
Fortunately, we do not measure our schedules according to worldly standards of success. We measure them according to a God who says that rest is good and He designed us to have it. Does your schedule reflect this truth?
Sharon Hodde Miller lives outside Chicago with her husband where she is currently pursuing a PhD in Educational Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. You can read more of her writing at sheworships.com.