1. Fear.  This is when you feel an unusual pain in your chest and you assume the worst.  How do you calm your fears?  You schedule a visit to the doctor, who assures you it’s only a pulled muscle.  When we fear, we need accurate information.  In ministry, we may grow paranoid when we fail to accurately understand a situation (which often leads us to act unfaithfully or even irrationally).  Here’s a question:  in what relationships do you need to stop speculating and seek understanding?  With whom are you assuming a motive for a particular action, when in reality you simply don’t know?  Research suggests that 90% of the time when we try to guess why people act toward us in a certain way, we guess wrong.  The only way to know is to ask, not assume.  James 1:19 instructs us to be “quick to hear and slow to speak.”
  2. Need. You lose your objectivity when you go to the grocery store when you’re hungry.  Marketers know that the smell of popcorn at the movie theater will entice us to spend money that we would never have spent otherwise ($7.64 for a box the last time I checked).  The answer here is to stop and think before acting.  It is often true with our words when we feel the need to defend ourselves or speak our mind.  Proverbs 18:13, however, gives some wise counsel: “To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.” Watch your words when impulse says you need to speak, and stay out of the candy isle when you’re hungry.
  3. Personal relationships. I’ve heard it said many times in business:  “You should never hire someone you can’t fire.”  In consultations with church leaders, I have observed this to be a common pitfall of elderships.  Family members are chosen or hired to serve in ministry positions, or children are perceived to be given “special treatment” when it comes to leading areas of ministry.  When it comes to making decisions regarding a child, an elder should always step away and defer decision-making to other leaders.   A leader’s inability or refusal to recognize this pitfall causes much distrust between church members and leaders.  So when it comes to a decision about a family member, step out of the room.
  4. Defensiveness. When we are attacked, emotions run high and we lose our objectivity.  Dealing with an aggressor calls for humility and prayer.  Remember David hiding from Saul in the back of the cave (1 Samuel 24)?  When Saul stepped into the cave to relieve himself, David was encouraged by his men to take Saul’s life.  David, however, refused to render evil for evil against the Lord’s anointed when faced with unfair aggression.  He sought to neutralized Saul’s attacks through humility and respect.  Again and again, David said by his words and actions, “I’m not going to fight with you.”  Later, his son Solomon would write in Proverbs 24:29, “Do not say, ‘I will do to others as they have done to me; I will pay them back for what they have done’” (NRSV).  I can’t help but wonder if he was thinking about his father.  Every day we are faced with opportunities to do good or to do evil.  Jesus shows us the better way: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps . . . .  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21,23).