Nine years ago, I was on the path to success in ministry, but I was in danger of losing my fiancé. I was gaining the knowledge needed to pastor through seminary, but I was ill equipped in the art of relationships and did not have the emotional health to fix it. At times, conflicts with my fiancé triggered issues of insecurity that manifested in either lashing out in anger or shutting down. It was easier to pretend that everything was fine and disengage, because I couldn’t articulate the root issue for my sensitivity– other than “I’m just so mad” or “This is unfair.” This often led to us arguing about superficial things and she almost broke it off.
Fortunately, we ended up going to a conference together called Emotionally Healthy Leader, and while the conference was geared towards fostering emotional health for pastors, it ended up saving our relationship. The conference helped me to understand that you can have leaders who are intellectual giants in biblical studies, yet complete emotional infants – not knowing how to deal with difficult emotions such as anger or grief. You could be a top-notch seminary scholar, and yet be completely untrained in how to deal with things like criticism and other things that trigger your insecurities. Spiritual maturity should create emotional maturity.
Emotional health is usually not considered as one of the top five desired characteristic among pastors, which I believe is a serious detriment to the pastor’s family and church family. A statistic shows that 45% of pastors have experienced depression or burnout to the point where they needed to take a break away from ministry. I’ve seen many pastors who are able to grow the church quickly but their emotional issues can crush the church just as quickly. This was true for me. While I was doing all the right things in ministry, my inability to express my emotions, communicate clearly, deal with conflict, manage stress and handle failure was impacting my leadership and relationship with my fiancé, and church members, and my personal joy in my work.
So why is this happening? I think there is a fundamental flaw in how we view our spiritual development and training among pastors. There is a heavy emphasis on biblical studies and knowledge – and that’s certainly needed! However, the standard of training for pastors can’t be limited to just head knowledge of the Bible—it also needs to encompass the development of pastors as a whole person. This includes providing tools to help pastors cope with stress, anger, conflict resolution, mental issues and setting good boundaries and limits. I only had one class in seminary on counseling and I wish I was given more tools and training on these topics because I now know personally just how liberating it could be not just in ministry but in marriage. I’m learning that pastor’s emotional intelligence (EQ) is just as important and impactful as their ability to teach the Bible.
These are some books that have helped me in my emotional development. It’s my hope for you that you would read some (or all) of these books as the first step in this journey, and also discussing this topic with your friends and peers. In the context of my marriage and ministry, these books have helped me express my opinions, engage in healthy conflict, be contemplative about my own inner self, the importance of setting good boundaries, and learning to say no. These are critical spiritual issues that all Christians especially pastors need to incorporate as part of their spiritual walk.
- Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero
- How People Grow by John Townsend and Henry Cloud
- Boundaries by John Townsend and Henry Cloud
- 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
I believe that as the leader goes, the church goes. If our pastors are unable to wrestle with their emotions then how can we expect our church family to be any better? If our pastors work without limits and boundaries and don’t know how to balance work and family life, how can we expect our church family to learn from us? As pastors we have the opportunity to model spiritual and emotional maturity for our members, so that they can grow holistically. Emotional health and growth is something that needs to be done in community and relationship. A lot is riding on us as pastors so it’s important that we invest in the discipleship of our emotions.