Emotional Intelligence in Ministry - The Crux of the Matter

By Rachel Van Harmelen

(First appeared in the December 17, 2007 issue of the Christian Courier.)

Daniel Goleman’s bestselling book Emotional Intelligence: Why It can Matter More than IQ billed itself as “the groundbreaking book that redefined what it means to be smart.” On his blog (www.DanielGoleman.info/blog), Goleman admits that he was surprised when the concept of Emotional Intelligence (EI) spread like wildfire after the release of his book in 1995. “Perhaps the biggest surprise for me has been the impact of EI in the world of business, particularly in the areas of leadership and employee development,” Goleman writes.

Although Goleman deserves credit for bringing the concept of EI into the public realm – The Harvard Business Review hailed emotional intelligence as “a ground-breaking, paradigm-shattering idea” – the term emotional intelligence was actually coined in 1990 in an academic paper written by Peter Salovey of Yale University and John D. Mayer of the University of New Hampshire. Salovey and Mayer defined EI as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

Emotional intelligence hasn’t negated the importance of IQ or made it irrelevant, experts say, but it has shown that intelligence is made up of more than just cognitive smarts. In a paper entitled “Emotional Intelligence: What It Is and Why It Matters,” Cary Cherniss of Rutgers University says it would be absurd to suggest that cognitive ability is irrelevant. “One needs a relatively high level of such ability merely to get admitted to a graduate science program at a school like Berkeley,” writes Cherniss. “Once you are admitted, however, what matters in terms of how you do compared to your peers has less to do with IQ differences and more to do with social and emotional factors. To put it another way, if you are a scientist, you probably needed an IQ of 120 or so simply to get a doctorate and a job. But then it is more important to be able to persist in the face of difficulty and to get along well with colleagues and subordinates than it is to have an extra 10 or 15 points of IQ. The same is true in many other occupations.”

In the years since the publication of Goleman’s book, academics have published volumes of research demonstrating a clear link between emotional competencies and personal and professional success. Many workplace studies have shown that employees who demonstrate emotional intelligence are more productive and contribute more positively to a company’s bottom line. “Today companies worldwide routinely look through the lens of Emotional Intelligence in hiring, promoting, and developing their employees,” writes Goleman in a recent web blog. “For instance, Johnson and Johnson found that in divisions around the world, those identified at mid career as having high leadership potential were far stronger in EI competencies than were their less-promising peers.” (DanielGoleman.info)

In another study cited by the Institute for Health and Human Potential (www.ihhp.com), supervisors in a plant were trained in emotional competencies such as how to listen better and help employees resolve problems, how to empower and inspire others, and how to become more effective personal leaders. Results of the study showed that the training had immediate benefits for the plant, resulting in a 50 percent reduction in lost-time accidents, far fewer formal grievances and increases in net profits.

With research demonstrating the intrinsic value of EI to the business world, it is not surprising that some in the church are now looking to training in emotional competencies to minister more effectively. One only needs to “Google” the words “Emotional Intelligence and the Church” to discover that there is small but growing list of training resources available to church leaders in this area. One such workshop by the Center for Congregational Health in North Carolina is entitled “Improving Congregational Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence.”

Rev. Phil Reinders – pastor of a large, established congregation in Calgary, Alberta – agrees that it is time for church leaders to consider EI in equipping themselves for ministry. “It is vital to consider emotional intelligence, because pastoral ministry involves human dynamics,” he says.

“We’ve too easily divorced spirituality from emotional health,” says Reinders. “John Calvin said that all wisdom is found in knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves. So often, we focus on the first but neglect the second. But true wisdom must pair theological depth alongside of deep self-awareness.”

Ron Klok, a parish pastor in Edmonton, Alberta, also agrees that EI plays a significant role in a life of ministry. “If emotional intelligence is about cultivating and learning to feel the full range of human emotion, then the importance of EQ in pastoral ministry is a no-brainer,” Klok says.

Both pastors agree that training in emotional competencies was mostly lacking in their formal education but they’ve sought out – and discovered – how to hone those skills in other settings. “Generally speaking, my training failed me in that its focus was almost exclusively on training in theology,” says Klok. He credits reading and praying, seeing a therapist, having a spiritual director, attending professional development seminars and good literature for helping him to focus on the sources of his deeper emotions and unhealthy emotional responses.

Reinders, too, wishes his education had taught him more about dealing with the inner self. “There is not sufficient attention paid to training pastors to be self-aware,” Reinders says. He adds that pastors interested in developing these skills don’t need to look too far to find the right training ground. “The best pace to train for emotional competencies is in the real life of my immediate family relationships,” Reinders says. For instance, Reinders says that family relationships can teach us a lot about how to handle conflict and work through emotional issues.

It all comes down to knowing yourself, says Reinders. “When I have a strong awareness of who I am, I’m freed up to not get freaked out about conflict. I don’t need the other person’s approval so I can speak the truth in love. I can be present without taking on someone else’s anxiety.”

Many pastors intuitively know that empathy is key when ministering to their parishioners in difficult situations. Now research is affirming the value of empathy in other human interactions as well. Experts point out that empathy, or the ability to identify with others’ emotions, is a crucial component of EI. “[Robert] Rosenthal and his colleagues at Harvard discovered over two decades ago that people who were best at identifying others’ emotions were more successful in their work as well as in their social lives,” writes Cherniss.

Klok agrees that empathy is a key emotional competency, and it is essential in pastoral ministry. “If you want to be in the business of ministry, there is nothing more critical than empathy,” says Klok. “Those who have cultivated a wide range of feelings are much better equipped to help others,” he says.

While both Klok and Reinders believe they have become better pastors by working on issues of emotional competencies and personal emotional health, they caution churches against looking to EI for reasons of productivity. Churches should look to EI with different motivations than those in secular settings, they say. “The idea that we want people to be emotionally healthy so that they can be more productive feels crassly secular,” says Klok. “In ministry and in the body of Christ, we want people to be healthy because we are interested in building healthy communities.”

If churches with emotionally healthy leaders are more efficient, that’s just a happy by-product, Reinders says. The real value of EI is that it allows us to more accurately portray the love of Jesus. “I’m loved, I’m accepted, I’m approved by God,” says Reinders. “That identity is spiritually and emotionally the crux.”

Resources

Center for Congregational Health – See the section “Services” and “Leadership Development for Clergy” on the website at http://www.healthychurch.org

The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations (www.eiconsortium.org) – This website provides many resources on EI in the context of organizational leadership.

www.DanielGoleman.info/blog – Daniel Goleman’s website includes a web blog highlighting many research findings about Emotional Intelligence.

“Emotional Intelligence: What it is and Why it Matters” by Cary Cherniss, Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Rutgers University. (View an online version of this paper at www.businessballs.com/emotionalintelligenceexplanation.pdf)

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman, copyright 1995 Daniel Goleman (Bantom Books)

Emotional Intelligence Information: A Site Dedicated to Communicating Scientific Information about Emotional Intelligence, Including Relevant Aspects of Emotions, Cognition, and Personality. (http://www.unh.edu/emotional_intelligence/)

Emotional Literacy Resources: This website is the gateway to a variety of helpful resources on emotional literacy/intelligence. (http://www.datehookup.com/content-emotional-literacy-resources.htm)