While discussing The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey with some Christian buddies, one man said, "I have some friends who say we shouldn't read stuff by Mormons, or Muslims, or people of other faiths. What do you think?" I told him he should find some new friends.
Without question, we should use discretion regarding the images and ideas we allow into our mind, but God often reveals his wisdom in unexpected places. As someone once said: "Some books are like catfish: good eatin' but you have to spit out the bones." Such is the case with the writings of Dr. Albert Ellis.
Albert Ellis (1913-2007) was a psychologist, a devout atheist, and until late in life, openly hostile toward all things religious. His views on human sexuality were antithetical to the teachings of Scripture. For those reasons (and because he's dead) he would not be on the short list of speakers at most pastors retreats, but he does offer some wisdom and sanity for weary Christian leaders.
Ellis is most widely known for his Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, so named because it is directed at irrationality. Ellis theorized that much of our inner turmoil is caused by our tendency to embrace irrational beliefs, which leads to stress, low self-worth, frustration, conflict, anger, avoidance, procrastination, diminished productivity, and difficulty in relating to others.
He identified three irrational core beliefs that cause the most trouble:
#1: "I absolutely MUST, at all times, perform outstandingly well and win the approval of significant others. If I fail in these important—and sacred—respects, that is awful and I am a bad, incompetent, unworthy person, who will probably always fail and deserves to suffer."
#2: "Other people with whom I relate absolutely MUST, under practically all conditions, treat me nicely, considerately, and fairly. Otherwise, it is terrible and they are rotten, bad, unworthy people who will always treat me badly and should be severely punished for acting so abominably to me."
#3: "The conditions under which I live absolutely MUST, at practically all times, be favorable, safe, hassle-free, and quickly and easily enjoyable. If they are not, it's awful and horrible and I can't ever enjoy myself at all. My life is hardly worth living."
Each of these statements is clearly irrational. In our best moments, we would reject them as ludicrous, wondering, "How could anyone think this way?" but then:
After leading a successful weekend planning retreat, several leaders email you saying that you're doing a great job, but one emails you a stinging critique. You ruminate on the critique to the exclusion of the positive emails.
Your frustration rises as the day you've allocated to sermon prep is interrupted by a succession of crises.
After an intense week of pastoral care including several nights away from family, a congregant approaches you after your message and says, "That was a great message, but you know, people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Feeling under-appreciated, you barely stifle a verbal tirade.
Those irrational beliefs are more common than we like to admit. They're so ubiquitous we are tempted to believe that they are harmless or mere annoyances. But each of these beliefs, left unchecked, can have a debilitating impact upon your leadership.
Four Damaging Responses
These irrational beliefs share these characteristics: (1) they are unrealistic; (2) they result in no-win scenarios; (3) no-win scenarios lead to four bad options: