As ministry leaders, it can often be hard for us to talk about our feelings. But if the last two years of your ministry have been anything like mine—filled with global, communal and personal events that have been unpredictable, chaotic, traumatic, life-changing, dramatic, BIG—then maybe you need a safe space and time like I do to ponder and talk about what you’re feeling.
After all, if my time in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) taught me anything, it was that our feelings can have a big impact on the choices we have made or will continue to make in ministry.
The Rev. Bob Shenk, M.Div, BCC and Chaplain Professional Development Specialist for Bon Secours Mercy Health in Richmond, VA writes:
“The textbooks for CPE include in-depth study of ‘the living human documents.’ By ‘living human documents,’ we mean both the people who receive care as well as a study of ourselves, the givers of care.”
We are our own first case studies. Let’s talk about our own feelings before we return to helping others.
Personality and feelings
According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), I am an INFJ – an Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging personality. I am both logical and emotional, creative and analytical. I tend towards acts of compassion, advocacy and helping. I am often aware of the emotional energy of those around me. I cry easily but I can also be tough and stubborn. Growing up, my family just called me “the sensitive one.”
- Do you know your personality type? (check the suggested readings list for a link to learn more)
- How do you think your personality is intertwined with your sense of emotions/feelings?
Why is it so hard to talk about our feelings?
I am aware that I think and feel deeply. But just because I HAVE those feelings, doesn’t mean it’s always easy for me to TALK about those feelings.
- Is it part of my personality? INFJ’s make up less than 3% of the American population. We are the rarest personality type to be found. As such, we can often feel like we are misunderstood. (I know I have felt that way.) If we’re not understood, why even bother trying to talk about it?
- Is it the nature of my role as public caregiver? I confess that often I struggle with an ingrained sense that because I’m the caregiver or leader, I’m supposed to be the strong one. If I were to show or talk about my true feelings, that could be a sign of weakness either to those for whom I care and/or my colleagues and bishops.
Mental health experts offer the following as some of the top reasons we often have difficulty talking about our feelings:
- Fear of rejection or being judged
- To avoid conflict
- Lack of trust or secure attachment
- Low self-esteem – why say anything if what you have to say isn’t worth hearing?
- Too painful or traumatic
- Don’t know how to describe/define it
- They’re too “ugly” and hard to admit
- Which of these reasons resonate for you? Why?
- What other reasons make it hard for us as ministry leaders to talk about our feelings?
Jesus was a human with feelings
But, as previously noted, our feelings have an impact on the ministry we do—or don’t do. They can, both consciously and unconsciously, lead us to make certain choices and to avoid others. Oh, the value of those dreaded CPE verbatims…
So maybe, after two years filled with a global pandemic, social upheaval, racial injustice, encounters with crises in our communities, personal crises and now war in Ukraine, maybe, just maybe, it would be good to stop and reflect on the feelings we’ve had and the possibilities for how they shaped the ministry we’ve done and the ministries we yet see before us.
And who better to explore our feelings with than Jesus? After all, we believe and confess Him as both Son of God AND Son of Man, fully divine and fully human at the same time. If HE can feel it, then maybe we can allow ourselves to feel it.
Reflect Upon the Word:
- Read Hebrews 2:14-18
- What does it mean to you that Jesus came to help you by becoming like you in every respect? (verses 16-17)
Reflect Upon Your Feelings:
Choose one or more of the following feelings. Read the recommended Scripture passage. (Consult a commentary if you wish.) Consider and discuss the following questions with each:
- Why was Jesus feeling the way He felt at this point of His ministry?
- Have you felt this way about something in your ministry in these past two years? How might that feeling have impacted the way you ministered?
- How might other members of your congregation have expressed this feeling? Could it have impacted the way they responded or didn’t respond to you?
Anger – Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-17 (Jesus Clears the Temple)
Agony/Sense of Being Overwhelmed – Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46 (Gethsemane)
Joy – Luke 10:21-23; John 15:10-11
Compassion – Matthew 9:35-38; Mark 6:30-44 (compassion on the disciples and on the crowds)
Where do we go from here?
Being aware of the ways our feelings have shaped our choices in ministry leadership is a powerful tool. It gives us an opportunity to gauge whether it helped us or hurt us, and then to either continue forward or readjust. Based on your reflections today, where might you embrace the ways your feelings led you as a leader and where might you want to take steps to adjust course?