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Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry

Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry

by Charles Stone


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Leadership demands constant reframing and reappraisal of the situation at hand. It requires focus, objectivity, honest appraisal of self and others, and evaluation of available resources. An effective Christian church leader must also align the congregation’s vision and practices with God’s vision and the teachings of Christ. Perhaps most importantly, the church leader must love others. Author Charles Stone uses recent neuroscience research to show how basic brain processes affect leadership. He writes in layperson’s language, with memory-boosting illustrations and acronyms, helping readers to increase productivity, handle stress, create and sustain healthy teams, and manage change in the church. Brain science complements and reinforces Christian teaching on life and leadership; Brain-Savvy Leaders equips readers to use that science as a tool for improvement for life and for the church. Brain-Savvy Leaders is… … the best book I have read on the brain science of healthy thinking and effective leadership. Dr. Stone has done an incredible job of balancing modern brain science with Biblical truth, making complex ideas simple to understand and providing practical tools to enhance mental performance. —Timothy R. Jennings, M.D, FAPA; President, Tennessee Psychiatric Association; Vice President, Southern Psychiatric Association; author, The God Shaped Brain: How Changing Your View of God Transforms Your Life … an engaging and fun read that's also insightful, informative, and practical. A valuable resource for spiritual leaders. —Golnaz Tabinia, neuroscientist and assistant professor, Carnegie Mellon University … will help you with emotional regulation, personal productivity, team collaboration and change management. It's a winner! —Dan Reiland, Executive Pastor, 12Stone Church, Lawrenceville, Georgia; author, Amplified Leadership … shares helpful tips on how to master leadership in the church. I needed this book. —Ron Edmondson, Senior Pastor, Immanuel Baptist Church, Lexington, Kentucky … can help you take your church to the next level and help you better align your leadership with God's desires. It will help you achieve greater focus and design more cohesive and collaborative teams. I highly recommend it. —Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D., author of You Are Not Your Brain and Brain Lock

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426798337
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 05/05/2015
Pages: 234
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Dr. Charles Stone has been a senior pastor, a teaching pastor, an associate pastor, and a church planter in his thirty-four years of ministry in the U.S. and Canada. He currently serves as Lead Pastor at West Park Church in London, Ontario. The most recent of his four earned degrees is an executive masters in the neuroscience of leadership. Learn more at his website,

Read an Excerpt

Brain-Savvy Leaders

The Science of Significant Ministry

By Charles Stone

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2015 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-9834-4


Brain Science and the Bible: Uneasy Bedfellows?

Brain Surprise 1:Gratefulness is actually good for brain and body health (see the end of the chapter for the brain basis behind this brain surprise).

* * *

I assume you're reading this book because at some level you see value in understanding how your brain works. You want to lead at your best and hope a book like this will provide tools for your leadership toolbox. Perhaps you're reading it because the brain interests you. Perhaps you're reading this because your ministry or business needs a boost. Whatever your motivation, I believe it's important to address some concerns that intersecting neuroscience with the Bible may raise in some leaders' minds.

My interest lies somewhat in that I'm a geek and enjoy having my mind stretched. I also like technology and gadgets; perhaps you're like that too. I'd buy the latest Apple anything were it not for my wife (and my checking account). Catecholamines, action potentials, and neuroplasticity interest me. Perhaps you're also like me in that you like to "cut to the chase" without a lot of jargon. So I promise to keep the overly technical language to a minimum. If you'd like to read more about the science, you can read the studies listed at the end of the book. I've backed up the book with over two hundred references to scientific articles and research studies.

It's also important to know that I'm not a neuroscientist. I am a pastor-leader who loves to learn. I followed my undergraduate degree in engineering with master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees. At the publication of this book, I've just completed an executive master's in the neuroscience of leadership. But even with my extensive education, I recognize my limitations writing about neuroscience. So, I hired a highly qualified neuroscientist to review this book.

Dr. Grace Y. Chang (PhD, UCLA) is researcher for the UCLA Center for Research, Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing and lead professor at the NeuroLeadership Institute. Yet, even with the latest research, I realize that as scientists continue to research the brain, it's highly possible that some facts and studies to which I refer may have been supplanted by new learning since the book was published.

* * *

Throughout history great minds have often intersected the study of God's creation with study of the scriptures. That list includes some of these famous people:

• Saint Thomas Aquinas: noted for his work regarding Aristotle and formulation of natural law

• Francis Bacon: considered to be the founder of the scientific method

• René Descartes: key thinker of the Scientific Revolution

• Blaise Pascal: a genius in physics, math, and theology

• Isaac Newton: considered one of the greatest scientists and mathe-maticians in history

• Louis Pasteur: solved the mystery of rabies and anthrax and developed the first vaccines

• Max Planck: founded quantum mechanics and believed that both religion and science required a belief in God

• Francis Collins: former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute who led it to unravel the human genome

• Brian Kobika: winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2012

• Jennifer Wiseman: chief of the laboratory for Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

• Albert Einstein: although not a Christian, he once remarked as a young scientist, "I want to know how God created this world, I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details." One of his famous sayings was, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind" (Famous scientists, 2011).

These brilliant Christian scientists point to this reality: God gave us a brain not just because our body needed a command and control center to direct it but because God enjoys seeing us steward our brains for his glory. God relishes young minds (and old) peering into microscopes, hooking electronic parts together in garages to create computers, and going to schools of higher learning to become great scientists, engineers, pastors, and poets. From a neuroscience perspective, it's interesting to note that a Christian in the 1600s, British doctor Thomas Willis, pioneered research into the brain and even coined the term "neurology."

* * *

The scriptures often refer to concepts about the brain, the soul, and the mind. Although the Bible doesn't use the word brain and says nothing about neuronal activity, the word mind(s) is used over 160 times. As one author wrote, the biblical writers often used the words heart,bowels, and kidneys to describe the seat of our emotions and volition. "According to the Bible, the heart is the seat of will, the kidneys are the seat of motivation and the bowels the seat of emotions" (Gijsbers, 2003). Interestingly, neuroscientists have discovered that one part of our brains, called the insula, actually receives information from our visceral organs (heart, intestines, sex organs) and gives us that "gut feeling" about some things and also plays a large role in our emotions and intuition. Some have even called our visceral organs our "second brain" (Hadhazy, 2010).

In the Old Testament when the names of body parts were used literally, they were usually limited to the internal organs of sacrificial animals (Steinberg, 2003). However, words like heart or kidneys were almost always used metaphorically. We often use those words in the same way. When we say someone broke our heart, we mean metaphorically that he or she emotionally hurt us, not that our heart physically broke. Even though our emotions largely originate in our brains, we don't use an anatomically correct phrase like, "Her actions caused my subcortical limbic system to secrete neuro-transmitters and hormones that dampened my prefrontal cortex's thinking ability and activated my sympathetic nervous system, which increased my heart rate and respiration."

Heart in the Old Testament could mean the inner person, intellect, memory, emotions, desire, will, and courage, all functions of the brain. When God hardened Pharaoh's heart, it could have meant that God kept Pharaoh from using his mind to think clearly enough to avoid the pending disaster that awaited Egypt.

The New Testament uses the words for mind,spirit, and soul in a similar way, but the word formind (nous) takes a more prominent role than in the Old Testament. Consider how pervasive the concept for mind is in the New Testament.

• What goes on in our minds can cause us to stumble.

* "But he turned to Peter and said, 'Get behind me, Satan. You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God's thoughts but human thoughts.' " (Matt 16:23)

• We're to love God with our minds.

* "He replied, 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.' " (Matt 22:37)

• Repeated sin can warp our minds and further inappropriate behavior.

* "Since they didn't think it was worthwhile to acknowledge God, God abandoned them to a defective mind to do in-appropriate things." (Rom 1:28)

• Our spiritual battle largely occurs in our minds.

* "But I see a different law at work in my body. It wages a war against the law of my mind and takes me prisoner with the law of sin that is in my body." (Rom 7:23)

• Our minds direct where we place our spiritual focus.

* "People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit. The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace. So the attitude that comes from selfishness is hostile to God. It doesn't submit to God's Law, because it can't." (Rom 8:5-7)

• Scripture prioritizes changing our minds to think God's thoughts.

* "Don't be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God's will is—what is good and pleasing and mature." (Rom 12:2)

• Our minds are finite in what they can understand.

* "But this is precisely what is written: God has prepared things for those who love him that no eye has seen, or ear has heard, or that haven't crossed the mind of any human being." (1 Cor 2:9)

• The believer's mind has been mysteriously endowed with the mind of Christ.

* "Who has known the mind of the Lord, who will advise him? But we have the mind of Christ." (1 Cor 2:16)

• Spirituality engages the mind.

* "If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind isn't productive. What should I do? I'll pray in the Spirit, but I'll pray with my mind too; I'll sing a psalm in the Spirit, but I'll sing the psalm with my mind too." (1 Cor 14:14-15)

• Satan can blind the eyes of unbelievers to keep them from understanding Jesus.

* "The god of this age has blinded the minds of those who don't have faith so they couldn't see the light of the gospel that reveals Christ's glory. Christ is the image of God." (2 Cor 4:4)

• We're to focus our minds' attention on certain things, and attention is a core component of learning. In other words, thinking affects behavior.

* "Think about the things above and not things on earth." (Col 3:2)

* "From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise." (Phil 4:8)

• Self-control is a component of mental activity.

* "Therefore, once you have your minds ready for action and you are thinking clearly ..." (1 Pet 1:13)

• Lack of faith negatively impacts the mind.

* "Whoever asks shouldn't hesitate. They should ask in faith, without doubting. Whoever doubts is like the surf of the sea, tossed and turned by the wind. People like that should never imagine that they will receive anything from the Lord. They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways." (Jas 1:9)

With this scriptural backdrop that I believe supports intersecting spiritual leadership with brain insight, I quote a leading neuroscientist, Andrew B. Newberg, who studies and writes about neurotheology, how theology and neuroscience integrate. Although he does not profess to be a Christian, he represents a growing number of neuroscientists who appreciate faith perspectives into how the mind works:

The ability to relate theological concepts to mental and brain processes does not mean in any way to imply that these concepts have been reduced to brain chemistry, but rather they may provide at the very least, a new perspective, and at most, an important method for further evaluating the true basis of those concepts. (Newberg, 2010, Kindle e-book loc. 95)

In other words, spirituality cannot be reduced to brain chemicals and firing of neurons. And even as scientists debate if the mind and the brain are the same things, there seems to exist a clear interplay between our brains/minds and our spiritual lives and leadership.

Newberg also writes, "Neurotheology should be prepared to take full advantage of the advances in fields of science such as functional brain imaging, cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and genetics. On the other hand, neuro-theological scholarship should also be prepared to engage the full range of theological issues" (Newberg, 2010, Kindle e-book loc. 280).

* * *

So in summary, these beliefs have guided my thoughts in this book. I believe we were created in God's image and that our souls are more than our brains. Because of sin, we were separated from God. God saw our predicament and made a way for that relationship to be restored. It came through the person of Jesus Christ, who experienced the virgin birth as God's Son, lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death on a cross for our sins, rose from the dead, and lives today in heaven. One day Jesus will return and restore everything back to its intended purpose.

Anyone can come into a relationship with God through repentance and faith in Jesus's finished work on the cross. God's spirit changes us to become more like God in belief and behavior through a process called sanctification, but only as we choose to cooperate with him. Through the process of sanctification, God changes not only how we think and behave but also our brain structure. Our bodies and brains embody our souls, of which one component is our minds. We have a free will, and by exercising that free will, we can actually change the wiring in our brains, a process called neuroplasticity.

Scripture promises that when believers die, although the neurons in their brains no longer fire, their souls go to be with the Lord as they await a brand-new body at the great resurrection. After that they will live forever in heaven to enjoy God's presence and the fellowship of other believers. As a Christian, this is my hope. But in the meantime, I want to make the most of my days on earth as a follower of Jesus and as a Christian leader. Yet, in my case, God has used personal pain to whet my interest in the brain. In the next chapter I briefly write about that journey.

A brief note to the reader: The first page of each chapter begins with an interesting neuroscience insight I call a brain surprise. At the end of each chapter you will find a short explanation with source material about the neuroscience behind the brain surprise.

* * *

The science behind ... Brain Surprise 1: Gratefulness is actually good for brain and body health (Korb, 2012).

In one study researchers asked participants to keep a daily journal of what they were grateful for. They asked another group to write about what annoyed them. The group who recorded what they were grateful for showed greater determination, attention, enthusiasm, and energy compared to the other group. In another study the same researchers discovered that even keeping a weekly gratefulness journal reduced aches and pains. And in a Chinese study, gratefulness decreased depression and improved sleep.


The Agonizing Journey: Brain Science Becomes Personal

Brain Surprise 2:Your devotional life just might help you live a longer life.

* * *

I squirted a glob of caramel-colored antibiotic soap on my hands and realized that my sink didn't have any faucets. I didn't want to look dumb, so I quickly glanced at the surgeon next to me as he leaned over the other galvanized sink. His sink was missing faucets as well, but as he leaned against the side of the sink, water automatically came out of the goosenecked spigot. I mimicked what he did, and the water flowed in a gentle stream without splashing onto my blue scrubs. I lathered with the bristly sterilized sponge and focused on my fingernails as the nurse had instructed.

As I scrubbed, my thoughts drifted to a nameless father who stood in the exact same place perhaps two hours earlier, as had hundreds of dads before him. A new lease on life, permanent disability, or even death awaited that dad's child. The same possibilities awaited my daughter. My fears would soon turn to faith through the unintended instruction of my five-year-old daughter, and God would begin to birth a new passion into my soul.

* * *

Five years earlier I was overwhelmed with joy as I nestled in my arms for the first time my newborn, Tiffany. She was our "surprise" child after having two other children. My wife, Sherryl, had experienced her easiest pregnancy with Tiffany, and we enjoyed a problem-free first year with her, until her first Christmas.

We would often spend Christmas in the small town of Laurel, Mississippi, with Sherryl's family. I would joke with my friends and tell them that the best vacations for me consisted of all-you-can-eat buffets, long naps, and big-screen TV football. Our trips to Mississippi gave me exactly that experience, until that year.

Christmas day arrived with the expected commotion that three excited preschoolers bring. Sherryl's dad had strategically placed the video camera to capture their delighted expressions when they ran into the living room to see the gifts piled under the tree. After we thanked Jesus for his gifts to us, we excitedly watched them tear into the colorful packages. After what seemed like forever, they opened the last one, and we moved into the kitchen for our Christmas breakfast.

The two older kids sat at the table, while I got high-chair duty with Tiffany. As I cajoled Tiffany to eat pureed peaches and scrambled eggs, I noticed something unusual about her right eye. It seemed to quiver like Jell-O. None of our other kids' eyes had done this, and as you might imagine, it was disconcerting. The next day we saw a pediatrician, and he told us not to worry because it was a common condition. He suggested, however that we see a pediatric eye specialist when we got back to our home in Atlanta. When we returned we quickly scheduled the appointment. After that doctor examined her, he too cautioned us not to worry. He scheduled a CT scan just to be sure. A few days later we took her to the hospital for what the doctor described as a routine scan. If anything unusual showed up, he promised to call. This is a picture of what a normal brain scan looks like.


Excerpted from Brain-Savvy Leaders by Charles Stone. Copyright © 2015 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

About the Author ix

Introduction Why You Might Want to Read This Book xi

Section I Why the Brain and the Bible?

Chapter 1 Brain Science and the Bible: Uneasy Bedfellows? 3

Chapter 2 The Agonizing Journey: Brain Science Becomes Personal 11

Chapter 3 The Brain-Savvy Leader: Why You Should Become One 21

Section II Meet Your Brain

Chapter 4 Meet Your Brain's Parts 37

Chapter 5 Meet Your Brain's Players 51

Section III Brain-Based Leadership Competencies

Chapter 6 Using Your Brain to Stop the Emotional Freight Train 75

Chapter 7 Brain-Savvy Personal Productivity 95

Chapter 8 Brain-Friendly Tools That Build High-Performing Teams 119

Chapter 9 Sticky Change and the Brain 141

Chapter 10 Three Brain-Friendly Skills Easily Overlooked 163

Section IV Going Forward

Chapter 11 Final Thoughts 179

Chapter 12 Team Development Plan 183

Reference List 197

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