Asking “Please” Gives People the Energy to Get Things Done

When my youngest son, Floyd, was 4 years old, we were visiting a family member in Italy, where she and her family were living for a year. This family member Histioteuthis_NOAAis an earnest, dedicated, and accomplished cook. One night, all of us crowded around the table in a small apartment kitchen, the main dish came out—calamari pasta in a tomato sauce. Now, I don’t usually like calamari because to me it tastes like squid, but I was willing to try it. Floyd, on the other hand, took one look and with indignation proclaimed “I’m not going to eat that yucky stuff!” My wife took Floyd away from the table and talked to him about being polite. When he returned to the table, he sat in the chair that was a little too big for him, looked up with sincere blue eyes, and asked as politely as possible:

Want to Live Longer? Go to Church

Funny church signWhen I was growing up, I was a kid. My friends were kids, too. As I kid when I thought about my kid friends, I viewed of us all as roughly social equals. Sure, one friend could run faster, and another was smarter, and another more good looking, but these differences were dwarfed by our common statuses. We were all children in families and students in school and watchers of the same several television shows the night before (a time before cable television). Somewhere in my young mind, I just assumed we would all grow up to be about the same. Fast forward several decades, and every class and family reunion brings new realizations of different social outcomes. One friend has been happily married with four kids, while another is on their third bad marriage. One has a steady, mostly-satisfying job, another has had endless temporary lousy jobs. A common starting point, but such different outcomes.

Now I wonder if the same thing is happening with health.

Three reasons that having an internal motivation matters, a lot, for Christian leaders

bicycle_flickr-pesisIn early spring every year, not long after the crocus bloom, I get out my bicycle. It’s silver in color with large, narrow wheels, a black bag above the rear wheel and with several water bottle holders. It’s ten years old and has some well-earned rust spots. It’s a joy to ride. Riding it is like connecting with an old friend. My goal each summer is to ride about a thousand miles—long enough to get me into good cardiovascular shape and far enough to see much of the local countryside. This year, I started recording my rides with a new app on my smartphone. This app automatically tracks speed, elevation, and distance. It also identifies key segments of the ride and compares how fast I ride each segment versus every other user of this app who has ridden that segment.

About halfway through this summer, however, I noticed that

References for “Pastor, Can I Come to Your Church?” in Christianity Today

The July/August issue of Christianity Today has an article about a recent research project of mine. I wrote it for the non-academic, so I left out references; however, if you want them, here they are.

The article in JSSR is scheduled to come out in the June 2015 issue. Production delays have meant that it this issue isn’t out yet. You can check here for it.

Two Simple Questions for Finding a Great Pastor (for Search Committees and Anyone Else)

My wife is on a pastor-search committee this fall and that has got me thinking about how one would predict if pastor will be highly effective. The role of pastor requires so many different skills—it’s part theologian, accountant, counselor, teacher, property manager, and so on—that it might be difficult to know what, exactly, to look for. Having the right pastor, however, makes all the difference for how well things will go for a church. Over the years I’ve seen churches falter because of different shortcomings of the pastor. Perhaps they could not teach effectively or were abrasive or were mired in their own sin. This makes the work of the search committee vital. What, then, should they look for?

After interacting with a potential pastor, one can ask two simple but powerful questions:

1) Do I feel loved? Presumably most pastors believe that they love the people that they lead, and I assume that they do. The key issue, then, is whether they can convey that love in a way that other people feel loved. This is not at all easy. Effectively communicating love requires clear motivation, strong interpersonal social skills and a fair degree of mental health. Not everyone can pull it off, but it’s so important. Think about the people with whom you interact. How many of them make you feel loved? It probably isn’t many, but I’ll guess that you are eager to spend time with them. This type of person makes a good pastor.

2) Do I feel inspired? The promise of Christianity is that it leads us to something bigger than we are, that there is more than life than taking the trash out on the right day, saving money for retirement, and eventually dying. The problem is that our vision for a bigger life is routinely swamped by the minutiae of everyday life. We look to pastors to turn our eyes upward, to what ultimately matters. Conveying vision to others requires recognizing it oneself and having the verbal skills to communicate it to others. The people that I know who communicate this kind of vision naturally attract followers. This type of person makes a good pastor.

Notice that these two questions ask about how we react to people. This makes them easier to answer because we only have to identify our own perceptions. This also makes them potentially more accurate. If, in a group such as a search committee, most people feel loved and inspired by someone, that is probably a good sign for how the congregation as a whole will react. And if a church feels loved and inspired by their leader, there’s potential for vitality and growth.

Easily the most effective pastor that I’ve ever met epitomizes these two qualities. Whenever I talk to him, I find myself afterwards basking in his warm concern for me as a person and feeling excited about what could happen in my life and the church. This is love and inspiration.

When people leave one church for another, it can be due to something missing in these two areas. Maybe they don’t feel loved by the people at the church, perhaps due to interpersonal conflict or just plain neglect. Or, maybe they don’t feel as if anything is happening, that there is nothing to rally around.

The importance of love and inspiration dovetails nicely with psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Right above physiological needs and safety is the need for social belonging, which entails love. At the top of his hierarchy is self-actualization which, like inspiration, regards realizing potential. Maslow’s hierarchy regards our basic needs in life, but it also fits well with what makes organizations flourish.

Obviously there is more to being a pastor than just loving and casting vision. Still, it’s difficult to imagine a highly successful pastor who can’t do both well. So, want to predict how effective a pastor will be? Start by asking yourself two simple questions.

What do you think? Are these useful questions? Are there other simple indicators?

The planning fallacy: Overcoming the frustration of underestimating how long work takes

Work is important to me, very important. I enjoy doing it, think about how to get more done, and feel antsy if I’m away from it for too long. This includes my work as a scholar and teacher as well as even just work around the house.6521248195_c7b7d4ce3a_b

There is, however, one aspect of work that frustrates me to no end—my inability to predict how long a given project will take to complete. Not only can I not accurately predict how long something will take, I routinely underestimate it—sometimes by a lot.

Looking out my window right now,

Sometimes we have to work on our own lives if we really want to love others

Back in the day, when I was in high school, I heard a sermon on love, and it had the punch line was that we should view ourselves as third in importance, after God and others. Being the clever high-schooler that I was, I wrote “I am 3rd” on my tennis shoes to remind me of the message (and also because tennis shoes cost a lot less back then so writing on them wasn’t a big deal).


Now, getting high schoolers to think of anybody other than themselves is a noble if not perhaps futile cause. However, that message (and hundreds like it that I’ve heard over the years) can overlook an important point about the self and loving others.

If you want to have a meaningful life, should you think about the past, present or future? Yes.

The past gets a bad rap. We’re told to “let go of the past” and “not to live in the past.” Common wisdom roots us in the presence. We’re to live “one day at a time” and “be in the moment.” A recent study, however, suggests that thinking about the past, as well of the future, can give you a more meaningful life.


Generally speaking, having a sense of meaning about life entails understanding why things happen. Life needs to make sense to us. (What is meaning?) As such, part of creating meaning is…

Tony Gill, of the Research on Religion Podcast, interviewed me about the SoulPulse study. We talk about both the long-term goals of SoulPulse as well as more technical methodological. As always, it’s fun to talk to Tony, and he has great questions (and is funny, too).10338745_716362898427298_4828598623355621070_n

List to the podcast here

Tony’s description of it: “On this week’s Research on Religion with Anthony Gill we talk with Brad Wright of UConn on a very interesting sociological study he is doing called “SoulPulse.” Great interview.
But what is more awesome is that you can participate in this study for two short weeks yourself by going to They are very easy and fun surveys. No one calls you and your information isn’t shared for marketing or anything. It is all above-the-board social science.”

Appearance: Interviewed on Research on Religion Podcast
Format: Podcast

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”

Maya Angelou