Every good church leader has this quality

By Kathy Ferguson Litton

There’s one characteristic in a church leader that’s invaluable to the church but isn’t easily quantified.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from the e-book Five Markers of Healthy Planting Wives, edited by Kathy Litton. Download your free copy today.


There’s one characteristic in a church planting spouse — and church leadership in general — that’s invaluable to the church but isn’t always easily quantified.

Emotional health.

WHAT IS EMOTIONAL HEALTH?

The term “emotional intelligence” gained popularity in the mid-90s. Swiftly, the world began to recognize that understanding, identifying and managing our emotions was truly a marker of health.

The concept of emotional health entered the Christian context with the ground-breaking work of Peter Scazzero’s (a church planter and pastor in New York City) book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.

While reading Peter’s work, I made the stunning discovery that as a visible spiritual leader, my emotions and emotional health were on public display — and I wasn’t even conscious of it.

So, what does “emotional health” mean? Emotional health is:

  • The ability to identify and manage your emotions, as well as recognize and identify the emotions of others
  • Our ability to cope with life events and how we acknowledge our own emotions as well as those of others
  • For believers, understanding the work of Jesus Christ through the cross and applying that to our emotions and emotional needs

None of us are born emotionally mature. But fortunately, our emotional maturity isn’t fixed. We all can grow in our understanding of the powerful role our emotions play.

Our emotional health is directly related to a brokenness of the soul and heart brought about by deception of sin and our sinful nature. Yet God desires to bring fullness and maturity into every area of our life, including our emotions.

6 QUESTIONS TO DETERMINE YOUR EMOTIONAL HEALTH

These six questions may help you understand how your emotional health manifests itself:

  1. Can you identify your emotions and express them in a helpful manner, or do you have a reputation for explosive, destructive emotional occurrences?
  2. Do you say “yes” when you should say “no” on a regular basis?
  3. Do you have a history of broken relationships?
  4. Do you rarely share your weaknesses and flaws with others, or do you feel the need to project something that is not true about yourself?
  5. Does disapproval crush you?
  6. Do you consistently over-function at home, work or church and then resent others?

The answers to these questions are revealing. When others’ disapproval devastates or crushes us, it indicates we are too dependent on what people think.

A constant cycle of out-of-control outbursts hurts relationships and will handicap interactions with everyone around us.

Taking on too many responsibilities to impress others or fear of losing their favor is a big indicator of our emotional health — not merely a scheduling problem.

WHAT DOES EMOTIONAL HEALTH LOOK LIKE?

So, what does emotional health look like? In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero teaches us that emotional health allows us to:

  • Name and recognize feelings
  • Develop empathy (identifying with and having compassion for others)
  • Initiate and maintain meaningful relationships
  • Break free from destructive thought patterns
  • Express thoughts clearly
  • Learn how the past impacts the present
  • Clearly, directly and respectfully ask for what we need, want or prefer
  • Accurately assess our own strengths, limits and weaknesses and freely share them with others
  • Develop the capacity to maturely resolve conflicts

We can take this list, open our Bibles and see many instances Jesus’ emotional health was on display. Jesus incarnated human flesh, the human experience and human emotions without sin. He was emotionally expressive — we see scenes of His joy, sadness, anger and even discouragement and despondency. He built healthy and intimate relationships. He was emotionally honest and vulnerable. While He served people tirelessly and generously, He did not please all the people around Him. His identity was secure. He withdrew from people to seek isolation and recharged often.

Being emotionally healthy does not imply we will be happy all the time. It means we are aware of our emotions. Emotionally healthy people:

  • Still feel stress, anger and sadness, yet they know how to manage negative feelings
  • Can share failures and weaknesses instead of feeling compelled to project an unflawed life
  • Aren’t easily offended
  • Can receive criticism without becoming wounded, and in fact, they understand criticism helps foster their growth

The moment we’re redeemed, the Spirit begins applying the liberating effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection to bring spiritual transformation, which includes the power to transform our emotional health.

Our spiritual maturity is the basis of our emotional maturity. If we overweight the accumulation of factual Bible knowledge and theology as spiritual maturity and fail to note the necessary fruit of personal spiritual transformation, we miss the dynamic power of the gospel in the restoration of believer’s wholeness.

HOW DOES GOD PROVIDE EMOTIONAL WHOLENESS?

  1. The gospel

The gospel is just as necessary for my transformation as it was my initial justification. In fact, God’s purpose in our redemption is our complete transformation. Not only can the gospel change us from the inside out — and it absolutely should — it also changes and matures us emotionally.

The gospel is a life-long journey of greater personal understanding and application, which produces change in our hearts and lives. Peter helps us see that in 2 Peter 3:18 when he says, “We grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We grow as we apply these gospel truths to our everyday realities.

  • I am forgiven (1 John 1:9).
  • I am sanctified (1 Corinthians 1:2).
  • I am free (John 8:36).
  • I can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13).
  • I am an heir of God (Romans 8:17).

Walking in a vibrant understanding of the gospel helps us receive criticism. Criticism can evoke humility and growth, or criticism can drive create anger, hurt or personal devastation.

When your kids’ ministry is criticized or your husband’s leadership is attacked, it doesn’t have to devastate you. Because your identity is not built on any performance or accomplishment, but on Christ’s unconditional love and His work on the Cross on your behalf.

As Tim Keller says, “When I forget the gospel, I become dependent on the smiles and evaluation of others.”3

The gospel gives us unprecedented freedom. Walking in a vibrant understanding of the gospel gives us freedom regarding our sin and failures. None of us have to pretend we have it all together. Spiritually and emotionally healthy people are aware of where they fall short. They live in genuine community as they confess sin to one another to seek wholeness and healing from the power of that sin. Bringing sin to the light is the pathway of freedom.

Walking in a robust understanding and application of the gospel has the power to set us free from:

  • Needing constant approval of others
  • Being easily offended
  • Avoiding conflict
  • Covering up weaknesses and brokenness
  1. The love of God

Our hearts are to be wired to be satisfied by love, security and significance. Christianity is built on the concept that God lavishly loves us (I John 3:1), and we are created to be entirely and completely satisfied in that love.

I made a huge step in my emotional wholeness when I made two discoveries. The first was that only the unfailing love of the Father would meet my deepest spiritual and emotional needs, and the second was that all other sources would eventually fail to do that because they were never designed to completely meet my needs.

In Psalm 33:13–18, David reminds us our hearts were designed to be satisfied by Him. Yet we look to marriage and a loving husband, raising great kids, a flourishing ministry, a career, finding meaning in causes or achievements, or being admired and respected by others to satisfy our souls.

These aren’t bad things — just the wrong things.

Unfortunately, when we continue to turn to the wrong things, we will struggle with jealously and comparison. When we run from conflict out of fear (believing avoiding it is safer) we will miss finding resolutions.

When we desperately need the applause of people far too much, we worry far too much about our image and far too little about our actual spiritual reality.

Jesus came to show us and teach us how to relate to the Father and live in the Father’s love (John 17:26). We learn from His pattern to seek solitude for continual intimacy and dependence with His Father. He drew peace, strength and stability in His Father’s love.

Scripture also includes a stunning, vulnerable scene where Jesus’s emotional life is in full view. In Matthew 26:38–39, as Jesus is approaching His crucifixion, we get no sanitized version of Jesus’ emotional agony. On full display is His anguish and fear, yet He takes His emotional reality directly to the Father. Jesus trusted the love and nature of His Father. And His loving Father met Him in that reality with His love and even sent an angel to strengthen Him.

There’s a freedom that comes when we know our worth is not on the line every day. We won’t look to be understood or praised. We will serve others expecting nothing. We feel no pressure to impress or compete.

Walking in the love of God sets us free from:

  • Over-functioning to impress others
  • Fear of disappointing people
  • Striving to maintain an image
  • An unhealthy spirit of competition

Your church plant’s success or failure does not validate you nor will it satisfy your soul. That reputation you want to manage to earn admiration is ultimately unmanageable. The rage you try to conceal is only healed when you drag it to the light of the power of the gospel and the love of your Father.

The road to emotional health and growth is found in Christ — put down all your roots in Him.


Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from the e-book Five Markers of Healthy Planting Wives, edited by Kathy Litton. Download your free copy today.


Published January 20, 2022

P.S. Get our best content in your inbox

We send one email per week chock full of articles from a variety of Send Network voices.

Kathy Ferguson Litton

Kathy lives in Mobile, Alabama, with her husband Ed, pastor of Redemption Church. Both lost former spouses in car accidents, and God uniquely gave them new love and life together in 2009. Kathy enjoyed 26 years of life and ministry alongside Rick Ferguson. She has three children and ten grandchildren. Presently she serves as Director of Planting Spouse Development.