Let’s talk about self-control. It’s not always easy to stay cool, calm, and collected, especially when we’re in the midst of challenging situations, high-capacity leadership, and shepherding a congregation. But as a ministry leader, it’s important to develop this Spiritual fruit of self-control so you can effectively manage difficult conversations and confrontations.
Now, self-control isn’t just about reigning in our actions. It starts with our thoughts. We can choose which train of thought to nurture and which to derail. We can also apply self-control to our actions by choosing to do some things while refraining from others.
But let’s be honest, the hardest part of self-control can be managing our powerful negative emotions. When we lose control of our emotions, it becomes much more difficult to manage our thoughts and actions because our thinking and behaviors are primed by our emotions. So, it’s crucial to develop emotional self-control.
Thankfully, there are some practical principles we can apply to grow in our capacity for this.
1. Say what you feel.
Knowing what you are feeling is the first step to emotional self-control. Say what you are feeling to yourself, if not to others. This is most important when you are in emotional pain. Identify what emotions lay underneath the negative feelings that are on the surface. Are you feeling unsafe? Scared? Alone? Judged? Abandoned? Identify a recent event. Can you name the deeper emotions that might lie submerged beneath your surface emotions (e.g. anger, fear)?
2. Say what you normally do.
Our feelings prime our actions. In this step, you simply name how you typically react. Think of what you normally do as a “knee-jerk” reaction; you do it without thinking in response to some event that triggers negative emotions. Do you withdraw? Take over? Give in? Distract yourself with tasks? Criticize others? Can you describe what you typically do in response to emotional pain?
3. Say the truth.
What does Scripture say about how God thinks about you? Naming this truth is important (John 8:32). First and foremost, you are a child of God and a person of worth. Too often you may replay the negative messages you believe about yourself deep down inside. These negative messages keep your knee-jerk reactions well-oiled. Can you name God’s truth about who you are?
4. Say what you will do differently.
What we normally do often keeps us in cycles of pain. Now is the opportunity to do something different, something that will change your cycle of pain for a cycle of peace. Based on the truth about yourself, what would be your logical response? For example, if you tend to lash out with angry words, counting to ten to bring your thoughts under control is an example of doing something different. What might you do differently?
5. Practice, practice, practice.
Emotional self-control doesn’t just happen. You will need to practice the four steps in order to change your brain’s automatic responses. Perhaps you can partner with someone on your ministry team and together support one another in developing the skill of emotional self-control. You may want to write the four steps in a memo on your smartphone and rehearse the process at every opportunity you get. What kind of reminders will help you to put the four steps into practice?
Developing self-control is vital for ministry leaders, and it’s not always easy, but by following these practical principles, we can grow in our capacity for emotional self-control.