Avoiding Amygdala Hijacks That Derail Your Ministry

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“You’re an idiot. I think I’ll quit and see how you manage without me! You pastors have no idea what it’s like to do day-to-day ministry and not just preach on Sundays! And while I’m at it, none of the staff likes you or your wife!”

That kind of comment is what the brain’s amygdala is supposed to keep you from saying. The amygdala is the brain’s veto center.

In Daniel Goleman’s book Primal Leadership, one specific concept really struck a chord with me… the amygdala highjack. It’s when our brain’s veto center doesn’t act in time. We respond quickly, crudely, and in anger. This  often leads to the feeling of instant regret. It can also lead to the loss of a job or relationship.

A Christian and specifically a leader of Christians can’t afford too many hijacks. One poorly timed amygdala hijack can undo a lifetime of service.

Our primary defense to the highjack is the Holy Spirit’s control. An additional combatant is development of our emotional intelligence. I’ll never have a high IQ, but my emotional quotient (EQ or EI) has increased over time. It’s still way below emotional genius, but with the Spirit’s help and some intentional practice, it’s improved.

How high is your EQ? How high would your staff say your EQ is?

If you can learn the discipline of emotional intelligence, you can avoid most amygdala highjacks.  And avoiding hijacks exponentially increases your chances of keeping your current job and relationships. Emotional intelligence also allows you to better connect relationally with others.

Developing the fruit listed in Galatians 5 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control) will lead to Christ-likeness and high emotional intelligence.

Your EI needs to be high enough so your first reaction stressful situation is not a high-jacked stress reaction.

No matter your vocation, each day we’re faced with situations that can lead to an amygdala hijack. Whether or not you allow for these situations to be high-jacked is a matter of Spiritual and pragmatic discipline.

Practical takeaways:

  1. Begin assessing the Fruit of the Spirit in your life. Celebrate what God has developed in you, and work on areas that are lacking.
  2. Read Goleman’s book.
  3. Get feedback from others about your EQ, and what they’ve noticed are triggers for your hijack occurrences.

These sound like good 2014 self-development goals.

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