Real Tools: Finding your voice: anxiety and pastoral leadership

April 24, 2016

Many years ago I was traveling from my hometown in southwest Kansas up to Denver with a one of my best friends from college.  Knowing I sang in the college choir, he asked me to help him to “find his voice.” He loves to sing but also realized he sang off key.  
So we spent several hours of trip trying to teach him how to hear a note and then match the frequency. I would sing a note and he would try to match it.  When he was off I had him, like a siren, wind up or down until I could say: "That’s it."  Then he would try to match the note a second time.   
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He just couldn’t hear it.  He wasn't monotone, but he was clearly tone challenged. 

Even though he couldn't sing on key, he sang "Sweet Baby James" with all the gusto, enthusiasm and vitality that springs forth when you Find Your Voice!  So for the last several hours of our ride to Denver, we sang with great enthusiasm (if out of tune) our own playlist of James Taylor tunes. 

Personally and as a leader finding your voice" feels solid, integrated, and resonant.  It is a place of feeling centered, confident, connected, and calm.  There is an ability to be fully present without being guarded. In pastoral leadership it is the intersection of grace and gifts.   

When we are not any of those things, we feel disconnected, angry, depressed, anxious or defensive. Sometimes we just feel stuck, numb or out of tune. 
Gary Carpenter
Many in pastoral leadership have heard about being a “non-anxious presence (ala Edwin Friedman “Generation to Generation”).  During my 20 years of working as a pastor, I have had plenty of mentors talk about being a non-anxious presence; very few articulated tools that could be used while in the heat of reactivity.   

During these past 10 years of my work as psychotherapist, I have discovered many tools to manage anxiety that can be used while "on the run."  Here are just a couple. 

Brain wave music

While writing term papers in grad school, I discovered that listening to classical music increased mental focus and clarity.  I was able to stay on task for longer periods of time. Years later, research on the impact of classical music was named the "Mozart Effect." 

Today, different companies have developed brain wave music that is highly effective. Listening to brain wave music that increases Theta Waves for 5-15 minutes can rapidly eliminate mental fatigue. Any music you find relaxing is changing your physiology. Brain wave music strengthens the response by embedding different technologies (isochronic tones, binaural beats or biolateral sounds) within relaxing sounds like ocean waves.   
There are too many sites to list, but two that I recommend are  (I like “Beyond the Inner Mirror”) and (I would recommend starting with Total Relaxation).   
What is effective about listening to brain wave music is that you will get a benefit even if you turn the volume way down and don’t actively focus on the music.  

The dimmer switch (one-eye technique) 

Typically when we are reactive and anxious, the right hemisphere is overactive. By blocking visual input on your left eye you are reducing stimulation to the right hemisphere (for some folk it is the opposite). 

When anxious or stressed, r
ate your intensity on a scale of 1 to 10 ( 0 is chill; 10 is freaked out). Keep both eyes open and place your palm over your left eye to block input. Hold for 60 seconds. If you use deep or relaxation breathing this will strengthen the effect. After one minute, rate intensity on the same scale. Many persons report a reduction of two to four points. Rinse and repeat to bring your reactivity down further. Sometimes folk need to cover their right eye to get results. 
Unchecked anxiety burns underground and, until it rises to the surface, to sabotage efforts to create positive growth and change in the life of the Church.  It is difficult to effectively “find your voice” with the mental noise of fear and worry. The Parish Consultants are able to serve congregations and leaders by helping them to recognize and effectively respond to the anxiety in their own unique context for ministry.       
Greg Carpenter, one of the New England Conference Parish Consultants, is a church consultant, leadership coach, and therapist with 30 years of experience leading churches and organizations through the transformation process.