99. Emotional and Spiritual Intelligence: Capacity for Board Leadership

Congregations usually appoint people to serve on church boards because in their view these individuals are spiritually mature and have demonstrated spiritual leadership. These qualifications fit well with Paul’s list found in 1 Timothy 3. There is also an expectation that emotional maturity will accompany spiritual maturity. In the operational life of a church board this maturity should find constant expression in the interactions, the discernment, and the self-care of the respective members. The chairperson in particular in most respects needs to embody and exemplify this maturity, even as we acknowledge that no one is perfect.

Spiritual and emotional maturity both depend upon and demonstrate spiritual and emotional intelligence. Spiritual intelligence in the Christian context describes the ability of a person to think and make decisions in alignment with God’s values and purposes expressed in Scripture and enabled by the Holy Spirit. Emotional intelligence within the Christian context is the Holy Spirit assisted capacity to discern, evaluate and control your own emotions as well as those of others, individually and in groups, in a manner that advances the Kingdom.  Spiritual intelligence should enable emotional intelligence capacity. When a believer is operating within a situation using spiritual and emotional intelligence appropriately, relationships, decisions, modes of operation, should evidence Christian values with clear attention paid to God’s mission in the world.

Of course, Evangelical Christians usually acknowledge another spiritual personality, Satan, who seeks to impair both spiritual and emotional intelligence capacity within human beings, so that these become destructive of self and others, and thwart God’s agenda. The New Testament describes this as blindness, arrogance, and hardness of heart. Mature spiritual intelligence within a believer will recognize these threats and not be naive in regards to their potency.

What relevance do these ideas have for the person chairing a church board? Let me suggest a few applications.

1. How chairpersons conduct themselves in their role influences the tone of board meetings and affects the ability of the board members to do their job well. People are quick to sense verbal and non-verbal cues that signal emotional upset. Shifts in spiritual attitude are a little more difficult to discern, but are no less influential. I am not suggesting that chairpersons should be unemotional or always spiritually effervescent, but rather as facilitators of the board’s “life together”  they lead by expressing a sense of deep faith and confidence in God and emotional stability in the face of significant challenges or surprises (e.g. a board member who fails to fulfill expected responsibilities). If the leader “loses it,” then the team becomes dysfunctional. I would not underestimate the difficulty of sustaining spiritual and emotional poise in the midst of “fierce conversations,” or when patience wears thin, or when you experience disappointment at the behaviour of a board member. If you do “lose it,” the only way back is through contrite apology and a commitment to rely upon the Holy Spirit so as not to fail in this way again. However, credibility once lost, is incredibly difficult to rebuild.

2. More often than not the chairperson will need either to discern potential direction in the comments of specific board members or to distill it from the multitude of voices participating in a debate. This requires both spiritual and emotional intelligence. We do not know through whom the Holy Spirit may choose to communicate the wisest direction or option. Sometimes the entire board seems to be at odds and ends and you may discern that a ten minute “prayer break” will enable the board members to regain necessary focus. Spiritual intelligence is alive to the Holy Spirit’s direction and responsive. It is also aware of Satan’s devious and destructive ways. When is the board finished with discussion and ready to make a decision? Where discussion ends with some indecision, it is the chairperson who needs to help the board find its way forward. Spiritual and emotional intelligence are important capacities in such times.

3. Instilling faith-based confidence in a board will require the chairperson occasionally to express such confidence personally.This will not be easy to do when the issues are significant and threats are compounding. Fear can drive out every ounce of spiritual and emotional intelligence very quickly. Remember the disciples’ response to the storm on the sea of Galilee in Mark 4:35-40. However, the chair’s spiritual preparation for each board meeting will be an important factor in leading with confident faith. This is particularly important at times when congregational life and vision seem especially vulnerable, e.g. pastoral transition, major conflict, financial exigency, moral failure, etc. While not the only one who carries such spiritual responsibility, the chair can become an important “anchor” for the board in the midst of the tumult. But this requires you to lead with spiritual and emotional intelligence.

4. Self-care as a board chair requires you to build your capacity for exercising spiritual and emotional intelligence. The weight of the chair’s role can be quite significant. Constant prayer, strong perseverance, confidence in God’s provision and wisdom, discernment, a teachable spirit — are all important components of spiritual intelligence. Cultivating the fruit of the Spirit generates emotional intelligence — peace, self-control, patience, joy, etc.

As he concludes his first epistle Peter urges the spiritual leaders of the churches he is addressing to “shepherd the flock of God” with a willing and eager spirit and to exercise that leadership by example, not coercion. He then tells them that in the midst of the most difficult circumstances they must “humble themselves under God’s might hand…casting every care you have upon him, because he cares for you” (5:1-4, 6-7). In this he demonstrates how spiritual and emotional intelligence work to enable us to be fruitful servants of God in the role of church board chair.

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