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Many faith communities are facing an uncertain future. The sea of changes include:
Together, these shifts have contributed to unprecedented anxiety and uncertainty for administrators, pastors, and congregations—leading many to wonder, where do we go from here? There are many possible responses to this critical question.
Though, I believe stable and steady leadership is needed most. I am convinced that the strength of leadership is best tested in conditions of high anxiety and deep uncertainty, both of which can be found in the Church. Pastoral leaders need two critical skills to lead and negotiate unprecedented changes effectively: pastoral imagination and emotional intelligence.
First, pastoral leaders must possess great and vivid imaginations. Imagination is one of the most significant gifts we have as human beings. It is deeply divine. Indeed, God’s creative ability designed and constructed the world. Imagination provides hope—the antidote to anxiety and fear.
Pastoral imagination, in its basic form, is the capacity to see things as they might be in the future rather than what they are in the present or have been in the past.
Effective pastoral leadership requires the continued exercise of imagination. It requires leaders to imagine the movements of God in the world. Unfortunately, when pastoral leaders only imagine returning to a place of yesterday, their organizations stagnate or completely collapse. Imagination requires flexibility and an openness to change.
Second, pastoral leaders must possess great depths of emotional intelligence. In essence, emotional intelligence is a creative process of using our emotions intelligently to guide our behaviors and to think in ways that reduce conflict and promote collaboration within ourselves and with others.
Emotional intelligence requires us to pay deep attention to our emotions (e.g., anger, anxiety, sadness, fear, etc.) and act upon them in ways that lead to improved interpersonal relationships. Pastoral effectiveness arguably rises and falls on the emotional competencies of its leaders. Ministry, like life, is primarily about relationships. It takes great social and emotional skills to lead. This is true in faith communities and commercial enterprises.
Roy M. Oswald and Arland Jacobson noted, “An emotionally intelligent leader is a nonanxious presence amid sometimes infantile congregational behaviors, able to deal with the inevitable conflicts that arise in parish life.” Emotionally intelligent leaders can stay calm and collected when all about them is chaotic and uncertain.
Using a military metaphor, the general earns her stars when the battle seems lost. She stabilizes the troops, develops a plan, and leads the charge. Above all, she maintains her imagination and controls her emotions. Pastoral leaders must do the same.
In sum, I am convinced that when our hearts and minds are filled with hope and, imagination and emotional intelligence, we are in a better position to provide the kind of leadership that the Church needs.
If we embrace and develop these virtues, our communities and world will be stronger and more resilient. Will you take the challenge?
Click here to learn more about the CLL’s Pastoral Excellence opportunities.
Michael Lee Cook, ThD, LMFT, is a licensed pastoral psychotherapist in private practice at Micah Counseling Services in Peachtree City, Georgia. He’s also a Leadership in Ministry faculty member.