the shape of leadership

Four Ways Empathy Can Positively Impact Your Ministry

Following the example of Jesus

Influence Magazine on May 24, 2018

Empathy is the ability to see and feel what others experience. It’s switching your framework so that you are able to look outside yourself and get a sense of what someone else is going through. It’s putting yourself in another person’s place.

Many leaders overlook the importance of empathy. After all, developing it can take time and energy. It requires listening — not just hearing, but actively listening to another person. It requires sincere caring on your part. Some people naturally have a high capacity for empathy, but everyone has the ability to become more empathetic.

In ministry, you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on lives. Growing in empathy is one way to increase that impact. Considering the feelings and desires of others can improve your life and ministry in at least four ways.

1. It Improves Your Leadership

All leaders have emotions, but great leaders are able to use their emotions for the good of the Church. Empathy is one component of emotional intelligence.

In his book, Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders, Aubrey Malphurs says there are two components to emotional intelligence: self-awareness and other-awareness. He writes, “Healthy leaders are able to perceive emotions as they arise in response to various situations — good and bad. As a result, they are better able to address any problems and handle any further complications.”

As you empathize with your team, your ability to lead them well increases.

Jesus felt our pain — and willingly took our place.

2. It Increases Unity in the Body

Not everyone will agree on everything. Having empathy allows you to see the viewpoint of those with whom you disagree. This is incredibly useful in conflict resolution. When a problem arises, empathy will give you the edge in diffusing situations and resolving issues quickly.

Without empathy, we tend to want everything our way, but when we see things from another person’s point of view, we can joyfully pursue group goals.

3. It Promotes Healing

Healing spiritual, emotional and even physical needs are at the center of every minister’s calling. When we are merely sympathetic, we can understand that others feel hurt, but this doesn’t necessarily drive us to action.

Empathy is different than sympathy in that we can feel what others feel. Empathy brings an urgency to our response.

4. It Spreads Personal Evangelism

When you feel the pain of sin in the lives of others, you will be sure to share your saving faith with them. Evangelism becomes more than just promoting membership in a local body of believers; it’s about finding a real solution to the mess in which we’ve all found ourselves. Adding empathy to evangelism brings a new level of sincerity.

Jesus provides the supreme example of empathy. Hebrews 4:15 says, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin.”

Jesus felt our pain — and willingly took our place (Isaiah 53:4-5). As you seek to become more like Jesus in your life and ministry, ask God to help you grow in Christlike empathy for others.


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