Sadly, we’ve all seen Christian leaders fail because they lacked emotional wholeness.
Our godly intentions can be overrun by our personal shortcomings. Angry reactions, lustful impulses, conflict avoidance, emotional distance, prideful self-reliance, power plays, or the inability to work well with other people sabotage godly purposes and lead to failure. Usually when leaders fail or fall it’s because they’ve been overtaken by hidden character weaknesses or sins, as in Romans 7:16, “I do what I do not want to do.” They’re not well formed by the life in the Spirit that brings peace and power, as in Romans 8:37, “We are more than conquerors through [Christ] who loves us.”
Emotional immaturity undermines our influence for Christ. This is true for pastors, elders, parents, and all kinds of leaders—even those who are highly gifted or successful. It’s even true for leaders who are very committed to Christ and earnest about loving other people because neglecting personal emotions weakens our ability to hear the Lord’s voice, experience his presence, and act in step with his Spirit.
When church leaders lack emotional health and corresponding relational skills they are likely to harm people and even whole communities. Thankfully, more people and churches are waking up to the opportunities of offering discipleship training in emotional-relational wholeness.
Emotionally smart leaders and servants regularly get help with their emotions from a counselor, coach, spiritual director, or soul friend so that their worship, personal discipleship, and ministry operate with emotional balance and relational health.
Typically, we assess prospective pastors, elders, and lay leaders on their doctrine, values, spiritual gifts, and leadership skills. We need to add in assessment of candidates’ emotional awareness, empathy, and intimacy with God, all of which are essential to effective spiritual leadership.
We can learn from the Psalmist’s very high emotional intelligence (EQ). This is one of many places that the Bible makes clear that mature faith is a lot deeper than the typical Christian message to “believe and do” what’s right. “The Lord looks on the heart,” the prophet says (1 Samuel 16:7).
Consider the emotionally honest faith of the Laments. These are the most common type of prayer songs in the Book of David and they can be shared by the gathered community of God’s people.
For instance, everyone prays together: “Search me out, O God, and know my heart. Shine your light on my anxious feeling-thoughts. Show me if any of my ways are hurtful or sinful and lead me in your way of life” (Psalm 139:23-24, paraphrased). In the Amplified version the words “anxious,” “wicked,” and “hurtful” are indicated as three related ways that we may be diverted from “the everlasting way.”
The good news is that you can increase your EQ! Receiving empathy from God and other people helps us grow in the fullness of God’s life.
In the Soul Shepherding Institute, we teach you how to be a SMART person and leader who is Self-aware, Manages emotions well, Activates to do good work, Relates to people with empathy, and Teams effectively in and for God’s kingdom. Contact us to learn more or get on the interest list for our next cohort!
Listen to this week’s SoulTalk: Hear from Bill as he teaches about SMART leadership in a session from the Soul Shepherding Institute. Learn how to increase your emotional intelligence, which is necessary for Christly character!