A Leader’s Emotions


Either we lead our emotions, or our emotions lead us! Even under great pressure, however, we can learn to keep our cool.

What emotion have you most experienced today? Was it joy, frustration, or perhaps impatience?  As a spiritual leader, you no doubt experience a number of emotions each day and yet are required to be self controlled, kind and even gentle! (Galatians 5:22-23)

That’s not always easy.

And what about passion? Doesn’t that count for something?! No leader wants to dumb down zeal, intensity and boldness!

God created the incredible array of human emotion, and these emotions allow the experience of life to come alive. Life would be dull and dreary without emotions! From the joy of a child excited about her fifth birthday party to the raw frustration that comes from your favorite NFL team losing a big game because of some dumb plays, emotion is the expression of human reality.

The first recording of human emotion in the Bible is found in Genesis chapter 3:6-10. Desire and pleasure are evident in verse 6 as Eve experienced the fruit, (it was good). And fear is seen in verses 9-10 as Adam and Eve hid from the Lord.

As I read the gospel accounts it is obvious that Jesus experienced the full range of emotions, such as; love, anger, compassion, loneliness, frustration, and joy. The powerful thing about Jesus and the expression of His emotion is that it always seemed to be perfectly appropriate and perfectly timed.  When I think about my emotions, well, they are not close to perfectly appropriate all the time!

Leading your emotions is not easy. I use the phrase “leading your emotions” because either you lead them or they lead you. It’s a fine line. No one wants to live like a robot, and no one expects perfectly contained emotions. At the same time, people can’t trust someone whose emotions are likely to erupt at any moment.

Even under great pressure a good leader can keep his or her cool. Remaining poised when the heat is on is important, yet so is being an authentic human being who sometimes gets upset! It takes a lot of experience and maturity to be freed up and real and at the same time self-controlled and even tempered. There is no textbook answer, but we can talk about the practical aspects.

There is not as much need to discuss the positive emotions a leader experiences, with one exception. It is important that you intentionally cultivate positive emotion. Your work as a spiritual leader is serious work. It involves people, problems and even spiritual warfare. If you stay there without coming up for air that will make even the most positive personality go to the dark side. You are in charge of your positive emotions. You can choose to laugh more. You can choose to play more. You can hire staff that you enjoy being around! With that said, let’s just be grateful for the positive emotions and enjoy them. It’s the emotions that fall on the “darker” side that deserve more attention.

The three most common “negative” emotions a spiritual leader faces are fear, discouragement and anger. I put the word negative in quotes because I don’t believe these emotions are actually negative. They are not bad emotions. In fact, at the right times they are necessary and good. But we often experience them in the realm of something negative, or something that is not going as we hoped it would. It’s in that context that I’ll refer to them as if on the negative side and therefore requiring attention.

1. Fear

Fear paralyzes a leader. It causes you to hold back from being appropriately bold and courageous. It can prevent you from, for example, having a tough but needed conversation. Sometimes fear can block obedience.

From the fear of looking foolish to the fear of failure, leaders will always wrestle with fear. Your fear can sometimes be conquered by considering the alternative to facing your fear. Perhaps you need to make a tough decision and have a tough conversation to let someone go from your staff team. That is never easy. But if you don’t face that fear the morale and performance of your staff suffers, which effects the mission outcomes of your church!

Another practical insight is to break each fear-producing situation down to bite-sized pieces for action. Tackle it one day at a time.

Sometimes there is nothing else but knowing God is with you, and that is enough!  If you are fearful, ask yourself why. Seek wise counsel, make a good decision, and then take action knowing God is with you.

2.  Discouragement

I think discouragement is one of the top tactics used by the devil in order to take spiritual leaders out of their best game. Discouragement is not enough to disqualify a leader like anger can, and it doesn’t completely shut down a leader like fear can, but it’s just enough to distract a leader from being at his or her best. And over the long haul, that can have huge effects.

You can get discouraged from dozens of everyday things such as an attendance drop on one Sunday or financial pressures or a disloyal staff member. Discouragement can come from your marriage and family, or personal health. Discouragement can come from little things just as much as big things.

Discouragement often originates from a lie based on skewed perspective. For example, your attendance may be down last week but you had a good number of visitors, several people saved and the offering was strong. The enemy wants you to focus on the things that didn’t go right because all the rest will encourage you, and that will motivate you to keep going!

Beating the discouragement blues can most often be achieved by spending some time with a few positive natured people who believe in you, see the good that is happening, and are full of hope. It’s very important that you don’t allow yourself to become or remain isolated from others. That is one of the most common ways to take your perspective off center.

3. Anger

Undisciplined anger is a true nemesis to even the best of leaders. One ill-timed blow up can cost you much. Depending upon the severity of the circumstance or public nature of an outburst, it can cost you your job or church!  The good news is that for one instance, there is usually enough grace to cover. But if you struggle with anger or if there is a pattern, I would encourage you to seek out a wise and experienced counselor to get underneath the anger and discover its origin. You don’t need to remain captive to the force of unresolved issues from your past. Freedom from anger is within reach, but you can’t beat it by yourself. Talk with someone soon.

Do you struggle with any of these three emotions? If so, I want to encourage you by saying that you are not alone and you can work through it. Step one is own it. Step two is to talk with someone who is wise and you trust. Step three lean into God for the things you just can’t do on your own.

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