Our ministry skills may be impressive, but without the inner fortitude to step up to the plate or the emotional ability to cope with the risks and criticisms that come with it, we probably won’t be able to lead. Leadership takes both missional courage and emotional capacity. The two are inseparable. They are what set truly effective leaders apart form the others. But the emotional dimension is often overlooked in leadership.
Emotional management starts with how we think. Feelings are not causes, they are effects; they are the result of what we tell ourselves. Sometimes we tell ourselves true things, other times not. What we tell ourselves, however, right or wrong, will affect our ability to cope emotionally with what we perceive to be reality around us. It’s no wonder that Paul, in the verse immediately preceding his declaration, “and the peace of God will be with you” (Philippians 4:9), tells us to guard our thoughts.
People-pleasing thinking is a challenge for most leaders I know, and I’m as susceptible as anyone. But the apostle Paul leaves us no room for compromise. “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). Obviously, part of the of the problem is a spiritual one. We fear people more than we fear God.
However, some of our people-please tendencies are actually the shadow side of our otherwise good leadership intentions. We want to be sensitive to people, care for them, and influence them to follow our lead as we follow Christ. And they will probably not follow us if they don’t like us. But when taken too far, we can cross a dangerous line into unhealthy dependence on people’s approval.
Nowhere does this become more poignant than when we are criticized. The emotional consequence can be devastating if we don’t handle our critics and their criticisms properly. Here are a few guidelines I’ve learned over the years to help manage the pain of not pleasing everyone:
- Stay a learner. There is often at least a shred of truth to the criticisms we receive, even if most of it is unfair.
- Avoid personalizing the criticism. We need to stay humble enough to not take personal offense at having been criticized, leading to over-reactions and misunderstandings of the real issues on our part.
- Factor in the pain. Unfortunately, people who are hurting tend to hurt others. Some criticism is little more than people projecting their internal conflicts on us.
- Ask trusted people. When we’re hurt by criticism we tend to lose objectivity, so it’s good to have spouses, friends, and mentoring leaders who can help us sort through what’s valid, what isn’t, and how to be respond.
- Pray. Our critics need prayer for their issues, and we need the Holy Spirit’s help to heal our own hurt.
A young ministry leader who had gone through a lot of discouraging times told me that one day he and his wife made the decision that they were not just going to survive, but they were going to thrive. They decided to become people of faith, to live with joy and not let their problems determine their perspective. He described to me the incredible turnaround that occurred in their attitudes and their enjoyment of life. It was later that some wonderful breakthroughs took place in the ministry they led as well.
Taken from Lead So Others Can Follow, by Dr. James T. Bradford, former general secretary of the Assemblies of God, and current pastor of Central Assembly of God, Springfield, Missouri. Salubris Resources, 2015. Used by permission. All rights reserved.