I often use the word “frustrated” to describe my emotional state. At times, I can’t conjure up another word. In other moments, this is the safest word to use. That’s the beauty of a word such as this. Frustrated is somewhat ambiguous and socially acceptable. It’s much easier than saying that I feel hurt, angry, rejected, embarrassed, insecure, sad, disappointed, conflicted, or another term that is more precise. No one will know what despair or darkness might fester below the surface. That’s also the problem with a word like this. No one will know what despair or darkness might fester below the surface. Limited emotional vocabulary may keep us from greater levels of self-awareness. Limited communication of our internal state may keep others unaware and unable to come alongside us during a time when we need moral support.
One of the tools I introduce to my coaching clients is the feelings wheel. This wheel not only expands our emotional language, it also aids people in discovering their true feelings. For example, my clients often use the word “frustrated.” We turn our attention to the “angry” section of the wheel. When we look more closely, they find new terminology that takes them deeper into their own experience which almost always sends us into new territory. It may not actually be anger and frustration that is brimming…it may be fear, anxiety, and a sense of being overwhelmed. It may be a feeling of sadness, sorrow, and a sense of powerlessness.
Sometimes, we need a wheel and someone who knows how to change a tire. (I have no idea what that even means. It was a horrible attempt at a metaphorical segue.) We can’t always do this work alone. Often, we need a coach, counselor or friend who can help us identify and process our emotions. For pastors and ministry leaders, this can be a dangerous proposition. We have all probably made the mistake of telling the wrong thing to the wrong person only to have it circle back around and cause us damage. (That’s a better wheel-related metaphor.) In the book “Resilient Ministry”, the authors talk about the necessity of understanding the difference between an ally and a confidant. A ministry ally is a partner with whom you have a positive rapport and a healthy relationship. You can share some of yourself and your story with them without fear of reprisal. The ally is on your side. By being careful, the ally doesn’t have any ammo that could later be utilized as friendly or not-so-friendly fire. We must have allies. We must not confuse an ally with a confidant and say too much or get too close.
A confidant is someone who can be trusted to handle your deepest concerns with the utmost care. A confidant can be brought into your confidence without worry that they may betray you and put your credibility or career at risk. You can share yourself and share your story. You can’t say too much or get too close because they will be affirming and supportive even if they must challenge you from time-to-time. A pastor friend cautioned me after a meeting, “Your elders should not be your close friends. They can and should care for you. You need others to be your confidants.” Another friend suggested that those confidants should not only be outside of the leadership team, but outside of the church. We need safe people in our lives who are not church leaders or members…maybe not even denominational or organizational colleagues. Some experts recommend a layer of separation that ensures that you won’t get caught up in the rumor mill (is that a type of wheel? Wheel, circles, mills, oh my!)
I’ll leave you with this. Barna Group conducted a study that illustrated how significantly the risk of burnout, relational failure, and moral failure reduce when pastors have a confidant who they meet with on a regular basis to process their thoughts and emotions. It is impossible to overstate the worth of these measures. That’s why we emphasize these ideas during the Healing the Heart Wounds of Ministry workshop. The complex relationships and complicated emotions we face are beyond what we can manage alone. So, get out your wheel and call your confidant. Find the right words that explain your feelings and explore those emotions with someone who can roll with you. (Dad jokes and puns. Ugh.)