Pastoring your emotions

We’ve all heard stories or read news articles, especially in recent months, of pastors flying off the handle at a colleague or getting involved in an affair. At the root of such behaviors isn’t the head, but the heart. Isn’t that why Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it”?

For decades, the business world and the church world avoided the topic of emotions. Emotions were dismissed as “soft skills that were trivial compared to the task of getting things done.” (1) Today, many in the marketplace and the church acknowledge that emotions do matter both for a company’s success and church members’ growth in Christ.  

The authors of Resilient Ministry cite researchers and consultants David Caruso and Peter Salovey who say “We believe that to ignore their [emotions] role, to deny the wisdom of your own emotions and those of others, is to invite failure as a person, as a manager, and as a leader.” (2) Christian author Pete Scazzero states how “emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable.” (3)

A national survey revealed what employers desire in their workers, and it also reflects what congregations hope for in their pastors. At the root of each quality is emotional health:

  • Listening and oral communication skills
  • Adaptability and creative responses to setbacks and obstacles
  • Personal management, confidence, and motivation to work toward goals
  • Group and interpersonal effectiveness, cooperativeness and teamwork, skills at negotiating disagreements
  • Effectiveness in the organization, desire to contribute

As pastors, we want to be emotionally healthy, to have both integrity of heart and skillful hands (Psalm 78:72), but how do we ensure our emotions are addressed rather than buried? How do we grow in emotional intelligence (EQ), or “the ability to proactively manage our own emotions and to appropriately respond to the emotions of others”?

The authors of Resilient Ministry explain that the first step is to diagnose the problems and challenges in the development of pastors’ EQ in order to better shepherd their own emotions. They discovered that pastors self-identify these emotional problems and challenges:

  • People-pleasing
  • Emotion-faking
  • Lack of reflection
  • Conflict avoidance
  • Poor listening skills
  • Inability to express empathy

The remedy? Pastors and church leaders can intentionally set aside time for personal prayer and worship to gain perspective on their emotional state. Consider physical exercise, which has been proven to help with emotional recovery. Experiment with reflection practices that build emotional intelligence. These reflection practices can include slowing down to engage your emotions; journaling; accurately identifying emotions; exploring family history; and receiving constructive feedback from others.

As you minister to others and go throughout your week, consider pausing long enough to pastor yourself and assess your emotional state before you walk in on Sunday morning to pastor others. 

(1) Daniel Goleman et al, Working with Emotional Intelligence (1998) and Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence (2002)
(2) David Caruso and Peter Salovey, The Emotionally Intelligent Manager (2004)
(3) Pete Scazzero Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature (2014)

Topics: Personal Wholeness

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