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The Power of Emotions in Church: How Your Leadership Can Shape Your Congregation's Emotional System

Leadership is disappointing and disrupting people at a rate they can handle. 

Change is always needed. Change starts with you. The primary change is moving from anxious, angry, shame-filled, and sad to peaceful and passionate for God’s mission, centered in your baptismal identity. Peaceful leaders can then recognize the change that must occur in their church family system. Change will breed corporate anxiety. Expect it. You are disappointing and disrupting people. 

Face it. Who really wants to change? People, and organizations, and churches often choose the short-term pleasure of equilibrium around the status quo, failing to recognize the long-term displeasure of equilibrium, turning to ministry paralysis.  

Ministry paralysis sounds like these well-rehearsed seven words: “We’ve never done it that way before.” 

When anxiety arises due to potential change and opinion leaders complain, you have a choice. Will you fold to the highly anxious few and stop leading in fear of people not liking you? Many pastors and leaders make this choice. May that not be so for you. May you recognize your anxiety, ask Jesus for peace and strength, and then lead God’s people confidently and clearly to make the needed change.

Why does the local church need to adapt and change?

  1. The world is changing so fast. 

Advancing technology. Increasing secularism. Multiple felt needs. Idols are worshiped everywhere. God’s plan A is the local Church striving to develop a missionary mindset to engage people walking in darkness in need of Christ’s light. This does not require a change in doctrine. At least, it better not. We boldly stand on the Holy Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions. And our strategies for meeting felt needs of those walking in darkness must adapt. Build, measure, learn…and build again. 

  1. Hell is real. So is the new heavens and new earth. 

God is on a mission to get His kids back. The means of getting His kids back have not changed–Word and Sacrament. Is your church concerned about friends, family, and neighbors dying apart from God’s grace? Faith creation is the Holy Spirit’s work. And how will they hear unless someone speaks the Gospel to allow the Holy Spirit to work? 

The days are short. Jesus is coming soon to make all things new. Our sense of urgency should be high. People are dying apart from the Gospel. The Church should deeply care about this reality. 

The ULC is praying for more leadership courage at every leadership level in the LCMS. We’re too passive. Some are passive-aggressive. We’re afraid of upsetting our friends in respective “camps” by making challenging and disruptive statements of truth, especially to those in positions of high influence, with the foundation of brotherly love. 

Some have forgotten their primary baptismal identity–you are in Christ. He lives within you. He loves you. His love casts out leadership fear and anxiety. Therefore, lead boldly and expect your church system to be disrupted. The disruption will create anxiety. Ask for peace. The Prince of Peace lives in you. 

I close with a quote from family systems psychologist, Ronald Heifetz, as found in Teaching Fish to Walk: Church Systems and Adaptive Challenge by Peter L. Steinke (New Vision Press, p. 83, 2016).

The hope of leadership lies in the capacity to deliver disturbing news and raise difficult questions in a way that people can absorb, guiding them to take up the message rather than ignore it, or kill the messenger.” 

Leader, take up the missional message. It is Christ’s message and mission. Some will take it up with you. Praise Jesus! Others may want you dead. Good thing Jesus raises the dead. 😀

If the ULC can help you build an empowered team of fellow messengers, helping to set and sustain a healthy and adaptive church culture, please reach out to us at


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