It was the first time in 25 years of ministry that I was asked this question. And it was asked of me twice in the past several months! A neighbor came over to our house one Friday night in July, saying that our cat, Shadrach, seemed quite sick and was lying in her yard. I rushed over, carried Shadrach home and took him to the emergency animal hospital.
Of our 4 cats, Shadrach, who is 12 years old, is my favorite, so I was pretty worried. I joined a dozen other animal lovers in the waiting room. Eventually, I was taken into a private room where the vet shared her preliminary diagnosis and discussed treatment options. All of a sudden, she stopped talking, stared at me and asked, “Are you a doctor?” I said, “No, why do you ask?” She said, “You seem so calm. Most people who bring their pets to the animal hospital are very anxious and stressed.” I replied, “I’m a pastor, and I am used to being in these situations with people, not animals.” Of course, if I had agreed to the myriad of tests and treatments that were offered, I’d be highly anxious at my ability to pay for it all.
The next time the question was asked was last Saturday. I needed to get Garth’s birth certificate out of our safety deposit box at the bank. I figured something was amiss when the teller took 10 minutes to look for the keys. Finally, she directed me to the manager, who admitted that the keys to the vault were inadvertently locked inside the vault, and no one could get in until they received outside assistance. She was very apologetic, so I said, “That’s okay. If you get the vault open yet today, give me a call. If not, I’ll come back on Monday morning.” She then asked, “Are you a doctor? You seem so calm. Obviously, you can see how upset I am.” “I’m not a doctor, I’m a pastor,” I said. She replied, “Yes, I guess you’re used to dealing with people in difficult situations.” I reassured her, “Relax. You’ll get the key eventually. It will be okay.”
As pastors, we know the importance of being a non-anxious presence. The ability to be present to others through self-differentiation, without absorbing the anxiety of others or being sucked into relational and emotional triangles, is characteristic of leading from the heart.
Pastoring demands both intellectual as well as emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman, in his book Emotional Intelligence, defines emotional intelligence as the ability to “motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathize and to hope.”
I know how challenging it is to pastor in situations where organizational systems are immature, self-differentiation evokes sabotage from those unwilling to honor boundaries, and honesty and truth-telling are avoided at all costs. That’s why it’s critical for pastors to assume responsibility for their own emotional well-being. That includes faithfully taking days off, protecting vacation time, pursuing hobbies, cultivating relationships outside of church as well as within the church, being self-aware, and, above all, listening to the heart.
When we are emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and physically well, we allow the Holy Spirit to work through us by modeling healthy work environments, encouraging open and clear communication, providing a non-anxious ministry of presence in the most traumatic situations, and leading churches through highly charged issues with grace and calmness.
By the way, Shadrach did recover, I retrieved the birth certificate on Monday, and, no, I’m still not a doctor.