Creativity

Stretched vs. Stressed: What’s the Difference and why does it Matter for Leaders?

by Sarah Holtan, Ph.D.

“How do you do it all?” I’m asked regularly by friends and colleagues. My answer: “I don’t.” I watch their eyes get round and their eyebrows shoot up. They know I’m the solo parent of two young children, a full-time employee, and hold numerous other roles. I explain that I used to try to do it all… yes, I tried to be a SuperMom. I even took multivitamins by that name! But the SuperMom Phenom was a dangerous trap for me. The pressure to maintain control over all the moving parts in my life– or the illusion of control – was utterly exhausting and stressful.

Leaders are prone to high levels of stress. The Bible refers to stress as anxiety, worry, and troubles (Matt. 6:25; Ps. 142:2-3). God wants us to come to Him in prayer with our troubles (2 Sam. 22:7). Prayer is the antidote to anxiety: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6-7). He wants us to learn to love and trust in Him fully to provide for us (Prov. 3:5-6). Furthermore, our general well-being is at stake. We serve no one well when we are highly stressed because we make poor decisions and/or withdraw from situations and people.

I was in a position of leadership at work and in a low place in my personal life when I realized I couldn’t function well anymore. I was no longer challenged in a positive way; I was just overwhelmed. My adrenaline was pumping almost constantly. After prayerful consideration, and to the shock of many, I requested a demotion at work. It was the hardest and best decision of my professional life.

How did I know I was stressed out and not just stretched? At first, I didn’t. Like most of us, I just tried to “power through” the daily grind of managing work, family, and Everything Else. I told myself it would get better after I adjusted. It didn’t. Looking back, I can see I exhibited some of the signs that are commonly associated with stress:

  • Negative emotions being close to the surface, such as irritability and frustration
  • Resentful attitude
  • Forgetfulness
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed, especially at night and upon waking
  • Sleep disturbances (too much or too little)
  • Over-reliance on over-the-counter medications for headaches and other ailments
  • Lack of self-care, such as exercise
  • Increased escapism activities, such as television

But I’m an overachiever, classic Type A, so I had trouble discerning the difference between the challenges that stretch us – those that are positive, healthy, productive, and growth opportunities – and challenges that stress us, which are those that might debilitate us.

Here are some signs of being stretched:

  • Feeling energized by the new role, task, event, life change, etc., even if scared about it
  • Brain automatically begins visualizing possibilities
  • Able to manage negative emotions reasonably
  • Sense of accomplishment surrounding it

If you are exhibiting signs of stress, what can you do about it? I’d recommend the following:

A.     Pray. Read Scripture, such as Psalm 118:5-9, John 14:27, and Matthew 6:25-34. Trust in the Lord to provide the necessities of life.

B.     Identify the top 1-3 stressor(s) in your life (macro level) or regarding one particular aspect of life (micro level).

1.     Decide if the stressor(s) can be fixed with a technical solution.  For example, I don’t mind cleaning the house. But I do mind the time that it takes to vacuum snack crumbs out of the carpets, scrape silly putty off the fireplace hearth, and pick up two dozen toy trucks and half-finished art projects. My technical solution was to add a household budget line item for a housekeeper.

2.     If a technical solution is not readily apparent, you might need to consider if you have a deeper, philosophical issue.  Maybe it is fear of changing or delegating work to someone else, and thus, losing control.

C.     Ask yourself what could or will happen if you do nothing? What are the short- and long-term consequences? What will you regret?

D.     Consider what you could do for others to help ease their troubles and anxieties (Luke 11:46). Are you creating obstacles for your co-workers or family members? Could you help them overcome their obstacles? Could you serve them in a meaningful way, and thus, experience their tranquility and joy by proxy?

I’m proud to say I’ve shifted away from the SuperMom trappings. But since I’m Type A, I’ll rebrand myself as a TopMom.

Adult Learning Styles: What Do They Mean For Bible Study Leadership?

How do you learn best? By listening to others speak? By reading and writing? Through a hands-on activity? Each of us has a preferred method of learning (notice that it’s a preferred method and not the correct method) and that can create a paradox for us as Bible study leaders. You see, the way that is most comfortable and most effective for you as a learner is probably the way that you tend to teach. But not everyone learns that way. When you lead a Bible study, you may need to step outside of your comfort zone and deliberately look for ways to engage and reach those who learn differently than you do.

Think about how Jesus taught. He lectured in the Sermon on the Mount, first using conceptual ideas in the Beatitudes and then following that with some practical application. He told parables or stories that allowed others to find themselves in the story. He asked questions; He answered questions. He took people aside and explained things to them. He used teachable moments and familiar objects. Jesus definitely used a variety of teaching strategies! Not all good teachers use the same strategies and techniques, but good teachers – and Jesus was the perfect teacher – will always find a way to include a variety of teaching strategies.

There are several ways of categorizing learning styles, one of which recognizes four learning styles: Verbal, Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic. Let’s think briefly about each one.

THE VERBAL LEARNER

The verbal learner is one who prefers reading, writing, and speaking. Asking good questions is one way to appeal to these learners. By ‘good’ I mean questions that are not necessarily yes/no questions or fill-in-the-blank questions. Ask questions that allow the learner to interpret or apply or discuss or share. For example, Jonah’s eventual sermon to Nineveh consisted of 5 Hebrew words. If you were asked to give a 5-8 word sermon, what would it be? Discussing a question in a small group can also engage the auditory learner as he listens to the discussion. Another strategy is to review the meaning of words used in the Bible and then look for how those words are used in a passage. There are three terms used to refer to God, for example, and each has a slightly different meaning. The book of Jonah uses all three terms so looking for when a different term is used can say something about the passage.

THE AUDITORY LEARNER

Another learning style is auditory – learning by hearing or by sound. Having something read aloud is good for this type of learner. Also, auditory learners tend to like to have things repeated so find a way to stress important points in a study in different ways. Another strategy is to have people tell the story or a section of Scripture to a partner in their own words. While this gets at auditory learning, it has another effect in helping people feel comfortable sharing the Bible in their own words. Music is another powerful strategy for some auditory learners – use music to set the mood, sing a song related to the study, ask someone to write a song. For a study of the book of Jonah, I found a Jonah song on the web with a seafarer kind of lilt that I played at the beginning of one class and by the end of the song, most of the class was singing along on the chorus and having a good time.

THE VISUAL LEARNER

Clearly the visual learner needs to be able to see something – a map, a picture, a chart, etc. I like to use photos I find on the web, especially when it gives the class an opportunity to point out how the photo is inconsistent with the Bible story itself.  Another way to reach the visual learner is to ask the class to close their eyes and picture the story or setting in their minds. Visual learners also tend to like to draw as they are learning so you could ask them to draw something about the lesson. In teaching Jonah, I asked the class to use a Venn diagram (two circles that partially overlap) to describe how the sailors and Jonah differed (the two non-overlapping parts of the circles) and how they were alike (the overlapping part). In another class, I asked the class to work in small groups and design a banner that depicted Jesus as healer.

THE KINESTHETIC LEARNER

The last type is the kinesthetic learner or physical learner. These are the ones who learn through experience or by doing things. They tend to learn best by role playing or playing games or touching and feeling objects. In fact, statistics tell us that we learn 15% of what we hear, 35% of what we read, 50% of what we see, and 90% of what we do. You can include objects related to the lesson that allow the students to do something – touch, smell, taste. Be aware, though, that objects lessons can be overused so less is more. You might find that some adults might feel a little silly with object lessons, depending on what you ask them to do or if they are new to the group. So you might want to wait until you sense the group is comfortable before you include an object. If there is a word or symbol that will capture the teaching point, you could have the class make something, even if it’s with clay or a pipe cleaner. Another example is if the lesson is about casting stones, like the story of the woman caught in adultery. Ask each person to hold a stone while the story is read.

Remember that not everyone learns the way you do. Follow Jesus’ example–take the risk—and use a variety of teaching strategies to reach the greatest number of students so they can apply the text to their lives. God will bless your efforts!

Karen Soeken is a wife, mother of two, and grandmother of 6. She retired in 2008 after a career teaching research and statistics courses at the University of Maryland School of Nursing and is now Professor Emeritus. In her congregation, she teaches adult Bible study classes. Karen is also involved in LWML, having served as District President and Planner at the national level. Currently she serves on the Lutheran Hour Ministries Foundation Board and the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia Board of Directors. In her spare time, Karen enjoys working on her family history.

For more great articles like the one you just read, explore the EQUIP page of our website. Get inspired to lead by reading through the ENCOURAGE page, then visit one of our campus EVENTS near you. Stay connected by following us on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.

Christian Leadership: Start and End with Service

By Nancy Stoehr, Pharm.D.

“Come, O living Christ, renew us

As of old in wind and flame;

With the Spirit’s power endue us,

Servants of Your saving name:

Christ the Savior,

Christ the Servant,

Christ whose kingdom we proclaim.”

~ Lutheran Service Book, Christ, Our Human Likeness Sharing Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House

As Christians, we are privileged to be followers of the greatest Leader the world has ever known.  We are blessed with scripture to teach, guide and remind us how to lead like our Teacher.  But what was it that made Christ such an effective leader?  How can we use His model to become better leaders ourselves?

In this article I hope to pass along some of what I’ve learned about Christian leadership through my spiritual journey and walk with Christ.

Mark 10: 42-45 gives us a clear picture into how Jesus viewed leadership.

“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'”  (NIV)

True leadership stems from service to others.  To become great, to be a leader, you must first take on a life and attitude of service.

GIVING THOSE WE SERVE WHAT THEY NEED

The world has a bad habit of associating service with being meek, mild mannered, a person who can be walked over.  According to worldly views of leadership, these are not characteristics of greatness.  Though, service to others is not simply giving others what they want.  It is giving others what they need.  Sometimes, what people believe they need is really a want.  It is our job as the leader to make these distinctions and convey what is best for those we serve.  I see this exemplified while parenting my five-year-old.  She wants to eat candy with every meal and snack in-between. However, this is clearly not what she needs.  She thinks my withholding of her peanut butter cup is authoritarian, a demonstration of power.  Often I hear, “I can’t wait to be a grown up so I can do whatever I want”.  What she currently lacks is not the age she desires, it’s the perspective I have on nutrition and making good life choices.  We as leaders have perspective on what is needed to move our children, family, group, organization, or church forward.  We have the perspective to help them make good life choices, good Christian choices.  We as Christian leaders have the servant attitude to successfully and sustainably give those we serve what they need to succeed.

LOVING THOSE WE SERVE

James C. Hunter (1998) wrote the book titled, The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership New York: Random House, Inc.  In this book he links the qualities of a good leader, or characteristics of a true servant, to love.  Hunter (1998) goes on to discuss that the “love” he is referring to was originally written as the Greek word “agape”.  This isn’t the “feeling” kind of love one might have for a spouse or family member, this is a sacrificial love, a love exemplified by commitment.

Paul tells us in Galatians 5: 13 “You, my brothers, were called be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (NIV).

He goes on to give us a definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7:

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (NIV)

I personally never liked the verses given to us in Corinthians.  The ideal they were embracing was so far away from my reach I could never read them without feeling completely hopeless in my attempt to walk the faith.  Patience?  Don’t have it.  Self-Seeking?  That, I can do.  Slow to anger?  Forget it.  So, I ignored these verses.  I ignored them to the point of omitting this very traditional wedding verse from my wedding ceremony!

It’s true. We will never achieve the ideal of self-sacrificing love while we are here on earth. We will never master all of Paul’s definitions of love.  But God understands our faults and our sinful nature.  He simply wants us to be committed to practice these actions and attitudes throughout our journey with Him.

In talking to a student group about this verse, one of the students shared that his church suggests substituting the word love with Jesus.  When done, what a great model for leadership!  When we espouse to be like Jesus and follow these characteristics of love in our leadership style, we become true servants to those we lead.  When we put our frame of mind into one of patience, kindness, trust and perseverance we can see that those we touch will be built up.  They become more confident, more willing to take on responsibilities, more willing to follow our strategies.  The organization or group we are leading will prosper because we are leading as Christian leaders; dedicated to service and love for those we serve.

MAINTAINING OUR DEDICATION TO THOSE WE SERVE

1 Peter 4: 11 tells us how we are provided with the strength to serve.

“If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.  If anyone serves, he should do it with strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (NIV)

We must remember that we can’t serve on our own. We need the strength that God provides.  God provides us with this strength through the Holy Spirit.  First and foremost we must ask God to give us strength, discernment and wisdom through the Holy Spirit to allow us to successfully and completely model our Teacher.  This needs to be done not once, not twice, but continually along our journey to be great Christian leaders.

I’m a pharmacist, and in the pharmacy world we talk about the “half-life” of drugs.  The half-life is how long it takes for the drug to divide in half, be half as strong as it should be or be half as effective as it should be.  Drugs that have a short half-life don’t stick around very long.  We need to take these drugs often throughout the day to keep them at the levels they need to be to work in our bodies like they should.  On our own, commitment to serve has a short “half-life.” We continually need to ask the Holy Spirit for His assistance to maintain the strength, the perseverance, the servant attitude we need to succeed in our leadership roles.

As we move forward with our dedication to being servant leaders in whatever area of Christ’s church we serve, I encourage you to pray.  Sit quietly with the Lord and give Him your concerns.  Listen to His responses and follow His calls.  Below is a prayer that may get you started on this journey to become a great servant leader.

Dear Father in heaven,

Thank You for the opportunity to be Your servant and for the guidance You give us through Your Word.  Thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus Christ, to model true servant leadership.  Help us to use Your teachings as we lead those around us.  Please send the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and minds with Your grace and love so we can glorify Your name through our encounters with those we serve.  Bring discernment to our decisions, humbleness in our approach, and kindness in our words.  Help us to be slow to anger, patient with those around us and practice forgiveness to those who may do us harm.  Help us to maintain our commitment of love for all people.  Forgive us when we fail.  Be with us as we serve and use us to bring all into your Holy Kingdom. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

About the author: Dr. Nancy Stoehr earned her Pharm.D. from the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Pharmacy in 2006 and is currently enrolled in the Master of Education – Teaching and Learning program at Concordia University Wisconsin. Dr. Stoehr is carrying out her vocation as an Assistant Professor at Concordia University Wisconsin School of Pharmacy where she primarily teaches in the pharmacy compounding laboratories. She is the chair of the WLI education committee.

For more great articles like the one you just read, explore the EQUIP page of our website. Get inspired to lead by reading through the ENCOURAGE page, then visit one of our campus EVENTS near you. Stay connected by following us on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.