Road Hazards & Low Joy Congregations – Part 2 of 3

Understanding the metaphor of five common driving hazards is critical to the life and health of individuals, churches and communities. These hazards/conditions are a picture of low joy congregations. They also apply to the individual in that an individual low on joy can experience these same symptoms. Today we look at rain and fog (impaired vision leading to lack of growth), and black ice (an inability to manage emotions).

Hazards3 Suddenly out of the driving wetness you see a massive grill about to annihilate you…Rain and Fog create conditions similar to what happens when the strong and weak do not mix. Rain and fog impair vision so you cannot see what is coming or anticipate making corrections. Many near accidents happen because of those road conditions. Many accidents and casualties happen in congregations also when the strong, who have the resources and maturity, do not connect with those who are weaker.

 Part of how the strong continue to grow is by sharing and giving life. Those with few resources, or little maturity, grow by receiving and then giving. But when the two camps do not interact within the same community the weak stay stunted. The transaction of giving and receiving life does not happen.

Ed Khouri[1] says a kind of “recovery ghetto” develops within those churches. When you hurt, all you can focus on is what hurts. People with pain and problems are over here, and those of who are “fine” and “have it together” are over there. The goal for God’s body is for the two groups to interact and share life together, lest the weak remain in their pain and develop a problem centered focus.

I (Chris) recently sprained my back and it has been a very painful ordeal. But when my back is hurting and I am sitting there trying to focus on my computer, all I can think about is this throbbing pain!

That is what happens for those who find themselves in this place of pain. They focus on what hurts and may not know how not to focus on the pain.

The strong—those who have some maturity—remain in their comfort zones. They want to keep the status quo and do not rock the boat. They stay where they feel it is safe, which leads to a form of “keeping up appearances”.

I remember growing up in the church. I always believed that I had to have my best look—my best smile, my best clothes—I had to have the best for God and for people. The problem was that I didn’t feel like I could bring any dirty laundry. I wanted to hide my dirty laundry. I didn’t want people to know that I had dirty laundry. That kept me weak and stuck. And that is a common pattern.”

God’s Solution

tender response Isaiah 58 lays out God’s solution to these dynamics. It talks about a certain kind of fast that God wants from His people—a fast that cares for the weak. It stresses how those who seem to have it all together need to share—need to give some of that life.

Those who do not have a lot of life to give, for them it is time to receive. As pastors and leaders we want mutuality between the two camps so that the congregation becomes one camp, one body.


When the strong and weak do not mix there is a lack of a transformation zone, a comfort zone replaces it. The comfort zone impairs the vision much like rain and fog. There is a loss of vision and transformation doesn’t occur. People may know the words and talk the talk. A congregation may have the best music and the pastors give the best sermons, but if the strong and weak do not mix something is missing.

clip_image006.gifYou still go home and still fight with your wife; you still might have anger issues or struggle with hidden addictions. There is no change. The lack of growth is often attributed to lack of faith. Many people who are stuck might feel, or may have heard, “if only I had more faith, if only I tried harder; if only I’d prayed harder; if only I’d served more—if only I had made better choices everything would be fine.” Photo Courtesy of Microsoft

Those are all good things, but if you see somebody who is drowning, they don’t need a sermon. They need a life- jacket or a tow rope to get them to shore. They need to find “Where God was in all that. What does God have to say about this stuff?” The strong must be able see ahead to provide what the weak need for stability and maturity.

Separation of the camps leaves people feeling guilty, particularly the weaker camp because they feel, “What is wrong with me? I am a failure? God is not going to want to share life with me.” All kinds of unhelpful stuff follows that thinking.

Hazards of Low Joy2Black Ice — Black ice is hazardous. You can see the frost and ice on the landscape, but not always on the pavement. It is very scary hitting black ice because you have no control of your vehicle. You can press the brake; try to turn your wheel, but you slide wherever your momentum will take you. This same kind of thing happens when emotions and conflicts cause ruptures. Having little to no emotional control indicates little capacity—meaning that you or I have little capacity to manage feelings or recover from upset. When there is little capacity for recovery, people tend to avoid the troublesome emotions.

If you grew up with a raging parent, you will likely have a hard time dealing with angry people. You will try to people please. You will try to make them happy; and want to avoid making them mad so you try to please. Or, if you don’t know how to get back from shame then when there is a conflict or a disagreement or a rupture, you feel stuck in shame.

For many churches patterns developed over years  where a leader, staff member…someone acted out and got into some kind of trouble. No one knew how to explain it so leaders put more rules in place to prevent these disasters from happening and yet they keep happening.

These people do not understand that lack of maturity and low joy is why train wrecks continue—they have no language for joy. Trouble is right around the corner when joy levels start to sink. Problems become very big and the environment fear based because people don’t know how to manage what they feel.

If you know how to manage what you feel, you can feel upset, come back to joy and it’s okay. You can still keep in relationship and still remember what is important.

You might have a fear of upset, for example. Then you don’t want to upset the pastor or certain elders; you don’t want to upset certain congregants because they have resources or they are an important part of the church. I frequently advise pastors, “don’t make decisions out of fear.” Rather, look at the fears that motivate you because they will hamstring you in some way, shape or form.

clip_image004.gifA fear of hopelessness is common …Then you will find yourself not knowing how to sit with people when they feel hopeless about something, so you stay busy. This is part of the BEEPS phenomenon where if you don’t know how to manage some emotion, you find other ways to deal with it. You may stay busy; you may overwork, you may… Whatever it is, it is solving a problem in an unhealthy way. The goal is to learn to manage what you feel and know that it will not kill you.

The Psalmist says, “I will not die but will live!” Psalm 118:17

Low coping capacity leaves people feeling disconnected. You may have been going to a church for 10-15 years but you don’t feel like people know you. You may not feel seen by other people, or by the leader—there is a disconnect that you can’t put your finger on. Those are some of the things that you hear when joy levels are low and people don’t know how to manage what they feel—not a fun dynamic.

Footprints_thumb.png Action Step: To help you examine your own life for fears and low joy, meditate with the Lord on the following questions. You might want to share these questions with your family, staff and/or board to make an assessment of joy levels in your congregation.



1. What hinders joy for you?

2. What are some of the obstacles?

3. What helps or hinders your joy?

4. What hinders joy for your congregation?

5. What role does fear play?

Next week will be the final blog in this series. We will be highlighting the solution to low joy.

May your joy be full,

Chris & Carol

Chris Coursey, MA Theology — Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer, 

Carol Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive                  

[1] Ed Khouri is one of the co-authors of Joy Starts Here. He specializes in addiction recovery.

This post drawn from a Pastor’s Weekly webcast by Chris Coursey, Sept. 12,2013

What do road hazards have to do with low joy?

There are five road conditions or driving hazards that are metaphors for low joy within churches. Understanding these hazards is so critical to life and health of people and communities that we are going to deal with them in a series so that you can take in the full impact. This is part I.

You hop in your car anticipating that you will arrive at your destination and with good results—you expect to accomplish the purpose for which you started out. But, your anticipation can be short lived and your happiness cut short with hazardous conditions. The same is true in the church. You can be drawn to Jesus and go to church to learn more, to develop relationships with God and others that will help you grow and mature, that will be satisfying, fulfilling. Those are good reasons to associate with other Christians but just like with your road trip, you can encounter hazardous relational conditions!

You have all seen these as you drive:

· Distracted drivers: people texting, tweeting, reading email, eating and drinking

· Drunk drivers: untold numbers of families have been devastated, crippled, bereft of loved ones…and it could have been easily avoided

· Rain & fog: you cannot see clearly to anticipate what is ahead

· Black ice: these are hidden hazards

· Drivers Running Red Lights & Stop Signs: this is a lack of awareness of one’s surroundings and immaturity on the driver’s part

You can expect to find these same hazards for relationships within low joy congregations. This will apply to leaders as well as congregants.

Distracted Driving. I am sure you have seen it, I am sure you’ve done it. Distracted driving or distracted leadership of churches and congregations involves immaturity. Immaturity means that you are not anchored; something is missing. Some part of your identity or your character is not fully developed. So there is some weakness and as soon as weight is put on that foundation, problems will be around the corner.

Immaturity in congregations leads to work becoming a higher value than relationships. There is an atmosphere where you serve, and serving is a very good thing, but when serving becomes a higher priority than relationships, burnout is right around the corner. When people are not anchored with their maturity, they are missing tasks and skills. Just because a person has a 38 year old body does not mean they possess 38 year old maturity. Adults can be stuck at infant level maturity—not knowing what satisfies, having never learned to do hard things or not knowing how to get back to joy from upset. These are skills and tasks that everyone has to learn and we learn them from other people who have them.

Some signs of immaturity:

· I am adrift at sea. I don’t know…

· I’m not goal oriented. I float around.

· I don’t really have a sense of who I am and that is not expressed very well when I am upset.

· Being right trumps being relational.

Where being right is valued more than the relationship, people do not feel connected in the community. It is easy to leave the church because there is no real anchor—there is nothing keeping them there. In this environment wounds are nearby. You want to have a healthy balance between “rightness” and relationships.

When there are disagreements can they be resolved? Do you have a relational approach to problems? Do you keep relationships bigger than problems?

· You will also see that there is a loss of focus with a lack of maturity because of not being anchored. People feel seen and defined by what they do, by what they can contribute, but don’t feel a part of the family. It’s painful when that happens, when joy levels are low.

· People become critical… critical of the service, the worship, the message, of the carpeting in the lobby, etc. People are not glad to be together. Or they do not feel joy from the leadership, or joy with each other. There is a lot of floundering that goes on when maturity is lacking.

Results of immaturityI feel I have to perform to stay connected—not a good feeling. What frequently happens is that you also come to interpret this as “this is how God sees me—God loves me as long as I do all the right things but the moment I don’t do all the right things He wants nothing to do with me anymore.” That goes against what Jesus did on the cross by keeping the relationship bigger than the problem.

alcoholDrunk Driving is another common reason for accidents. People use poor judgment. Many families have been devastated by drunk drivers. The thing that is so painfully frustrating about drunk driving is that it could be avoided by the intoxicated person asking for help. Calling a taxi; asking someone who is not intoxicated to drive them home. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

The same thing happens in your congregation in terms of driving relationally–you struggle with hidden addictions. Hidden addictions are as catastrophic for relationships as drunk driving. Addictions are a broken approach to fix problems. Addictions are there for a reason. It is a very unhelpful way that you learn to help manage something or to solve a problem.

clip_image004If you have someone who is drowning you don’t tell them to swim harder or to stop splashing. You throw them a life preserver.

In churches where joy levels are low, people don’t feel like they can share their struggle.  They don’t feel like they can ask for help or they are afraid to ask for help because of what people will think of them.

Low joy levels means that there is an increase in artificial or pseudo-joy, what Ed Khouri calls BEEPS—his acronym for Behaviors, Experiences, Events, People, Substances. These are all things people use to make themselves feel better.

BEEPS become a problem when they start to replace whatclip_image006 you really need which is genuine joyful relationships where you can give and receive—where it is safe to give and receive. And when it is not safe to share weaknesses, you feel like you have to hide addictions because you are ashamed of them. It is especially hard for leaders because whatever you share can/may be held against you.

Many leaders find it difficult to share their weaknesses because weaknesses may be pounced upon or used against them. Or, they might lose their job. As staff and elders you want to create an environment, starting at the top, where it is safe to share weaknesses, find healing and grow.

When you have a congregation where it is safe to be weak, people feel like they can deal with their stuff and start to grow joy. But, when you have to hide weaknesses they feel isolated, both leaders and congregants. You feel isolated. A common feeling for those wrestling with hidden addictions is, “if you really knew this part of me, you wouldn’t like me anymore.”

Praise God! There is a solution—establish a joy filled zone! In a joyful zone it is safe to be weak or immature. Mature people who have relational skills are there and glad to be with you whether you are weak, immature, upside down or crossways with the world! By interacting with those who have the skills, you learn. And joy grows.

Footprints_thumb.pngAction Step: Put your hands on these two resources.

1. Joy Starts Here for more information on starting joy in your congregation and community.

2. 30 Days of Joy for Busy Married Couples starts joy in your marriage and family! (not listed yet on the Thrive Today website, but it is available. Email or call Chris Coursey at 309-367-4020.)

Share your glory stories or let us know how we can help!

Blessings, Chris & Carol

Carol Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive                  

Chris Coursey, MA Theology — Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer, 

Storytelling works in the work place!

Today our guest from Pastors Weekly is Ken Smith, continuing with joy and storytelling. Ken is a business man and long time friend. Last time he talked about 5 stories that he has been using in discipleship groups. He asks questions that tie into principles that are in The Life Model, and storytelling as part of a maturity step! This week the emphasis is on applying what we learn in our work week.

Joy Stories–Joy needs to be the beginning of everything we do.

In our groups we ask people what they are thankful for and if they would share a story of what has been good that week, something that they would want to repeat.

We encourage them in what they shared but then with each of these stories we are looking for people to go out into the week and use what they have learned with other people.

Two stories come out of joy stories, the story of what I am thankful for and the story of how I have been a blessing to others.


One way to share your joy story is to give thanks to God in front of other people and see what kind of response you get.

It is good to remember that we cannot control people’s responses. But we still have the responsibility to speak.

A second way to share is to give a blessing or encouragement to the people of that place you go into. Just as we when we enter into relationship with God we need to give thanks, as we enter into relationship with other people we need to give a blessing or encouragement to them.

In the group we ask, “How have I/we used an encouraging word or a blessing or peace on what others are doing? And what kind of response did we get? In doing that week after week, telling the stories and being mindful that that is how Jesus wants you to live your life, real discipleship starts happening. Christianity becomes a moment by moment thing. You apply it to your life.

Shalom StoriesThese are the difficult moments when God restored peace to your life.

clip_image004The question that elicits these stories is: “What was difficult this week; what was distressing?”

Maybe you forgot that God was with you and you became discouraged and started acting out in a certain way. But, there was that point where you remembered that God is with you and it made all the difference.

It helped you put things back in perspective. God is bigger than the circumstance that you are in and He is with you.  His presence and the awareness of His presence impacts your life in a powerful way.

Sharing these stories can be a very rich time to learn how to share the difficult things.

Practicing telling these stories helps people find balance—to help those that want to talk about everything to focus on one thing and help others learn to take steps in identifying the stresses in their lives and think about God being with them in the midst of that.

Then we go out…

To prepare, I like to use Psalm 23:4 which talks about “yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for the Lord is with me.”

You could also use a passage like 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

As you see people in distress use that as an opportunity to connect them to God and let them know that God is with them in that circumstance. You want to build into your life that habit of turning to Him in distress.

In your own moments of trying to restore shalom/peace, that sense that everything is in the right place and God is in the right perspective in your life…that is a lot of what other people are looking for—someone to understand them in their distress.

Helping Stories — moments in our lives when we need help and acknowledge that we can’t do everything.

clip_image006Part of maturity is that God gives you tasks that are bigger than you can handle so you need to work with other people or learn from other people.

As we age we can do more and more ourselves, but God always has more that needs other people to work together to do. You start to get that sense of there being bigger and bigger tasks when you realize that you are not just an individual but part of a community.

Sharing the stories of what you need and how can the group help? Maybe they can’t, maybe they just pray for you but we also want to learn how to help other people in need. It is the strong helping the weak, but acknowledging your need is part of the step in maturity.

For helping stories look at Philippians 4:6 where it says “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” There needs to be thanksgiving that goes along with the request; but make your needs known! Jesus said we don’t have because we don’t ask.

But on the other side, have you gone out and looked for other people who have needs and have you helped? When you see people in the community, do you offer help?

We look for stories of how people have reached out and made connections and what God did in those circumstances. We want to share stories  about those people who are responsive when we offer help to others, when we love our neighbor as Jesus did.

Learning stories — moments when you tell others what you are learning and practicing.


Storytelling is one way to practice sharing what you are learning. Storytelling helps move learning into more permanent memory. So it becomes a lesson you won’t have to learn again.

So group time is time to remember what you learned last week, what you learned from the passage you looked at, and what God impressed on you that you needed to obey. As you obeyed did you see a difference, did you see any impact? That is sharing what you have received and shared with others.

Matt. 5:19 talks about those who are great in the Kingdom…”they are those who practice My commands and teach others to practice them.” Christianity needs to be something that we do, not only something that we hear. We also need to encourage others to hear from God and practice what they hear.

The last story is the stories of God and His People.

clip_image010In discipleship groups we work through different scripture passages of 1 – 10 verses so we can read them, paraphrase them and put them into our own words to share with one another in the group; and then we start to look at meaning. We clarify what do we not understand and talk about it but then focus on what it is that God is really asking us to do as a result of that passage so that we can make personal application.

Psalm 119:11 says “I have hidden Your word in my heart.” As you share a story and learn to be able to tell it, you will then have opportunities in the week to share that story with someone else.

There are all kinds of ways to do that. Some are real simple such as saying, “I am really encouraged about what God is teaching me.” Then wait for those who ask, “What is that?” And then share with them.

Questions for Discovery Groups:

· What’s been the best part of your week?”

· What’s been the hardest part of the week?

· What needs do you have that we can help meet?

· How did you apply what you learned last week?

· How did you share what you learned last week?

· What is important for us to know as we look at the new Scripture passage?

Be mindful of three things:

1. Stay focused on the story teller and don’t change focus to yourself, “that reminds me of….”

2. Validate what they said. If you stick to how big the feeling or how important the experience was that they just shared you can be pretty safe because you are not agreeing or disagreeing with what they felt but are validating. This is especially important with the “Return To Joy” stories, the distressing stories that often show up.

3. Make sure to offer comfort. After the validating so that they know that they are understood,  offer comfort that God is bigger than their story and that He is with them. There is hope in that.

Action step: Practice telling 2-3 of these stories this week.

We would love to hear how it goes!

Blessings, Chris and Carol                                                                      

Carol Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive                  

Chris Coursey, MA Theology — Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer,

P.S. For the full interview between Chris Coursey and Ken Smith,                   For help telling 4 + 1 stories, click here.