While most church leaders prefer to avoid negative emotions such as distress, fear, anxiety, etc., all church leaders will experience a variety of negative emotions at some point. Negative emotions are our survival brain’s early warning signals that something is amiss. This signal tells our survival brain that it requires prompt intervention such as fight (arguing), flight (avoiding), or freeze (mind going blank) reactions.
Sometimes your survival brain’s perception is accurate–but many times, it is inaccurate. While your fight/flight/freeze response may be automatic, you can simultaneously awaken your thinking brain to do its thing.
Your thinking brain can simultaneously (1) evaluate the situation, (2) determine what is rightly amiss, and (3) choose to engage self and others in ways that best fit the context. For example: Are you truly in danger? Or are you facing a challenging board meeting, which may be uncomfortable but is not really life-threatening?
God has empowered you as a pastoral leader to lead, which can best happen when your thinking brain is in the driver’s seat, even if the survival brain is acting like a back-seat driver! If you want to build your negative emotion management skills, try the five recommendations below. (All scripture quotations are NASB.)
- Rejoice in hope. I Peter 1:6 recognizes that we are “distressed by various trials” (NASB). Peter recommends that we rejoice in the living hope that we have in Jesus Christ. How often do you look forward in hope of seeing God’s intervention during your time of negative emotion?
- Ready your mind for action. I Peter 1:13 challenges us to be the boss of our survival brain, saying, “Prepare your minds for action!” Perhaps you take a few deep breaths to help you calm down. Perhaps you take a thoughtful inventory of what is actually happening (i.e., is it really that bad?). The result is clearer thinking and hopefulness. How quickly are you aware that your survival brain is trying to run the show?
- Respond instead of react. I Peter 2:1 commands, “Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Notice that these are regular reactions that fracture communities and are typically triggered by negative emotions. Use negative emotions as a source of information, not destination. When your negative emotions are triggered, can you sort through the information they provide, then decide what your best course of action will be?
- Respect your context. I Peter 2 (and elsewhere) stresses the difficult conditions in which the recipients of this letter were living. Peter’s advice is to “patiently endure” and “do what is right” (2:20) when faced with the negative emotions of others. When you are the recipient of somebody else’s negative emotions, Peter advises us not to respond in kind. Can you “keep your cool” and remain thoughtful and kind when faced with the negative emotions of others?
- Return to the Lord. 1 Peter 5:7 commands, “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because he cares about you.” When you are faced with your own or others’ negative emotions, turn and return to the One who can surround you with His peaceful presence. How quickly do you turn and return to God when you are anxious?