Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

EQ is RARE but growing

Written by: on February 19, 2024

I first heard the term EQ or Emotional Intelligence about 15 years ago. I was hooked from the start. The deeper I went into learning about EQ the more it changed my perspective in myriad ways. It’s no surprise, then, that emotional health and maturity is a cornerstone of my NPO project. It also seems to be a recurring theme in our leadership readings.

This week we learned from Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder about a leader’s need for EQ. They connect emotional intelligence to what they call “fast-track” leadership (as opposed to “slow-track” leadership which deals more with managing results and the like), emphasizing the need for leaders to develop the relational side and grow in emotional maturity. [1] Their RARE model highlights the following:
R : Remain relational
A : Act like yourself
R : Return to joy
E : Endure hardships well [2]

Warner and Wilder’s work in Rare Leadership and Rare Leadership in the Workplace is reflective of Simon Walker’s counsel to lead out of who we are. [3] I even see connections to Daniel Lieberman’s discussion of the shadow self and the emotional intelligence it takes to face the darker parts of ourselves. [4]

EQ and the Church
I’m about to make some sweeping generalizations, so buckle up. It seems that in some Christian traditions, we have historically been taught to suppress emotions, mistrust emotions, or even treat them as sinful. I’ve also witnessed some bizarre toxic positivity rebranded as trusting God.

I want to take a minute and acknowledge that this by no means the case in every church nor in every denomination. One of the things that I most appreciate about our cohort is seeing a broader perspective outside my own church experience, so I invite you to speak into this topic and nuance what I’m saying. Where have you seen examples of emotional unhealth in the church? Perhaps you can also share encouraging examples of the church embracing emotional maturity. One such example comes to mind. That is emotionally healthy discipleship championed by leaders like Pete Scazzero. In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality he argues, “God made us as whole people, in his image (Genesis 1:27). That image includes physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and social dimensions.” [5]

Emotional Discipleship and Cross-Cultural EQ
If this blog post has turned down a winding path, it’s because I’m retracing my own winding journey of learning about the emotional-spiritual connection. Last year I was introduced to one of my favorite thinkers on this topic. Becky Cassel Miller is a PhD student who is developing a model of emotional discipleship. One aspect of her work is to dive deep into how emotions are constructed and how they are understood very differently across different cultures. She describes a lovely example of a Dutch word that means a cozy together-ness around the fire with a warm drink in a way that makes one feel safe.  [6] As I’ve followed her work and learned more from her, I see growing implications for my own spiritual growth and church leadership, especially cross-cultural discipleship and leadership. As many of you are in beautifully multicultural contexts, I’ll simply conclude by sharing a few questions I’ve been thinking about.

1. How do we handle the emotions, or the expression of emotion, in those we lead? As a reminder, the RARE leadership model urges us to remain relational and act like ourselves even in the midst of anger. [7] How are we (how am I) doing with that? How am I teaching those I lead to do the same?

2. How am I allowing space for others, particularly others of different cultural background, to experience emotions differently. What questions could I ask to better understand their emotional experience?

3. How do my emotions enter into the discipleship process? How can I grow spiritually as I learn more about emotional concepts that might be present in other cultures but absent in my own?


1 Warner, Marcus and Jim Wilder. Rare Leadership in the Workplace: Four Uncommon Habits That Improve Focus, Engagement, and Productivity, (Northfield Publishing, 2021).

2 Warner, Marcus, and Jim Wilder. Rare Leadership : 4 Uncommon Habits for Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead, (Moody Publishers, 2016).

3 Simon P. Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership, The Undefended Leader Trilogy. 1 (Piquant, 2007).

4 Daniel Lieberman, Spellbound (Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 2022). 

5 Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature, Updated edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2017). 22. 

6 Becky Cassel Miller, “Emotions and Spiritual Formation,” interview by The Living Room Disciple, January 8, 2024, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7bGzc6OFNw

7 Warner, Marcus, and Jim Wilder. Rare Leadership : 4 Uncommon Habits for Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead, (Moody Publishers, 2016). 126. 


About the Author


Kim Sanford

13 responses to “EQ is RARE but growing”

  1. mm Pam Lau says:

    I will give the first part of this question a try:

    How do my emotions enter into the discipleship process? How can I grow spiritually as I learn more about emotional concepts that might be present in other cultures but absent in my own?

    I meet with a variety of spiritual leaders some for my own spiritual direction, some for mutual and others for their growth. When we are in prayer or in deep conversation the one habit I have learned and watched modeled to me is to express that emotion so the other person or the group can help birth what is happening. I find that when someone or myself attempts to manage the emotion too much, something important is lost. Emotionally healthy spirituality may be as simple as tearing up or a spontaneous laugh or weeping over someone’s loss. I have found as I’ve traveled that my tears cross cultural boundaries fairly easily. But that may not be what you are asking. Thanks for taking a new twist with your post.

  2. mm Tim Clark says:

    Kim, as a dyed-in-the-wool pentecostal, emotions are part of the package for me!!! 🙂

    I really enjoyed your post. And was thinking as I read it, “I have the opposite problem…I often have to dial back my emotions in leadership”.

    And the post also inspired another winding train of thought in me… as I’ve been wrestling with how to help instill RARE Leadership qualities in others, I realize this kind of leadership is much more caught than taught. I was mentored by type-A hard charging take no prisoners leaders, and while I don’t remember a single class in college that taught me that style, I’ve spent my whole life trying to extricate myself from that.

    Maybe in order to shape more RARE Leaders we simply have to commit to being those kind of leaders ourselves.

    Thanks for inspiring all those thoughts!

    • mm Kim Sanford says:

      Thanks for responding, Tim. Yes, as I wrote that bit I was thinking of you and a few others in the cohort who come from a pentecostal background. So different from the churches I grew up in and even where I currently serve, so I appreciate learning from you all!

      I really like your point about mentorship and EQ (for better and for worse, as you point out in your case). I think formal learning can be helpful, but in order to really change those deep-seated habits and emotional reactions we need to see it modeled. And practice, we need lots and lots of practice. It’s easy to say, with Warner and Wilder, stay relational even in your anger, but that’s a really difficult habit to build.

  3. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Kim,
    Nice post! Your question, “How am I allowing space for others, particularly others of different cultural background, to experience emotions differently. What questions could I ask to better understand their emotional experience?” Addressing emotions has been a piece of my NPO. Emotions aren’t vulnerably discussed very often in SE Asian cultures. Shame in the form of saving face can hinder the expression of true feelings. Yes, that is a generalization and many of my Asia friends willing acknowledge this to be true. So my answer in my context is to start slow, employ stories, and listen for the emotion. If I have developed relational safety I might name the emotion in the form of a question. That might sound like, “That was a challenging experience. How did you manage your fear?” Sitting back and listening even if they don’t name their feelings offers some release and processing. I observe a lot, empathize, and validate both experiences and emotions as much as possible. I can’t change the way a person expresses emotions, but I can note cultural norms and go with the flow.

  4. Travis Vaughn says:

    Kim, you asked, “Where have you seen examples of emotional unhealth in the church?” In my tribe, I’ve seen it take place among presbyters, whether that is in our national gathering or in our local presbytery-level stated meetings. Rather than someone “losing it,” I think more often it’s much more subtle, whether it is failure to “read the room” by the person at the mic, or an unwillingness to set aside one’s diatribe for the sake of others (even if one is so convinced that they are “right” and must be heard). I’ve also seen emotional unhealth show up like a slow-burning drama, inside a church and within a staff team. The kind of drama where staff and parishioners are afraid to say anything — like everyone is walking around on egg shells — for fear of the unknown.

    I loved your question which read, “How am I allowing space for others, particularly others of different cultural background, to experience emotions differently. What questions could I ask to better understand their emotional experience?” That is a GREAT two-part question. I think I would want to ask about the history of emotion(s) expressed in another’s cultural background, both in the past and in the present (asking, what have they noticed changing and why). I think even in my own “culture” or tradition, much is changing around emotional expressions, some for the right reasons and some for the purpose of not getting canceled.

  5. Esther Edwards says:

    Such great questions!
    I will also delve into your questions about culture. This is something that is a normal occurrence in our church since we have a variety of cultures. People express emotions differently and in church, it is shown in how they worship. As the leader, I believe it is important to model acceptance and wonder of the vast varieties of emotional expressions. I am German so we are much more reserved when it comes to showing emotion. Personally, I hardly ever cry. It’s not that I don’t want to, but I just often don’t. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel deeply. So someone may see me as cold, but I may see them as overdramatic. Through the years, I have learned to judge less and appreciate the differences more.
    On another note, I’m curious, that as you work with moms, how would you encourage them to be true to their emotions and yet bring calm solidity to tense family situations?

    • mm Kim Sanford says:

      You’re asking a key question that has driven my NPO work from the beginning. But I think you’re phrasing it in a way that sets up an either/or while I see it as a both/and. Just last week I was working with a couple of moms on a key principle: All feelings are acceptable; it’s actions we have to put limits on. When these moms spoke about it in French they used a wonderful verb “to welcome.” So we started talking about welcoming both our children’s difficult emotions as well as our own. Back to your point, welcoming my own anger doesn’t mean letting it rule me. I still have to control my actions and my responses. It’s actually not that different from this week’s RARE model – remain relationally connected (to our children) even in emotionally-charged situations. And come back to joy, always.

  6. Jennifer Vernam says:

    What a great post, as is demonstrated by the really interesting thread of comments it has inspired. Like everyone else has mentioned, your questions have brought up many points of interest that I will be thinking on. Right now, I will focus on two:

    “How am I allowing space for others, particularly others of different cultural background, to experience emotions differently. What questions could I ask to better understand their emotional experience?“ In my NPO, I am beginning to discover that different people respond differently to areas of dispute. Some want to jump right in and hash it out, while others want nothing to do with such discussions, and asking them to do so, makes them deeply uncomfortable. I don’t have an answer of how to fix that, but I am noticing that I need to make a path for people who don’t want to talk about disagreements.

    Also, you ask where I have seen examples of emotional unhealth in the church. Just yesterday, I was teaching a class in another seminary, and as I was talking about resistance, it hit me: Church leaders who are challenged to meet the changing needs of their society are going to wrestle with adopting the behaviors they personally need to change in order to make the needed adjustments in ministry. The old behaviors that made them successful in the past may very well be the ones they need to discard to be successful in the future. This presents an emotional landmine as they discard old habits to pick up new ones. That is tough work!

  7. Cathy Glei says:

    Thank you for sharing your reflections about EQ. It is growing and I am grateful for each “member of the body” (represented in our cohort) for their work in helping the Body (worldwide) develop their EQ. How have you seen the EQ of those you serve growing (any neighbors join your discovery Bible study; new leaders emerging)?

    • mm Kim Sanford says:

      Your question challenged me, especially because my gut-reaction was to say, “I don’t really see EQ growing in those I serve, either within the church or not-yet-believers.” But then I thought about it a little more and realized that in the context of the ministry to parents, I am starting to see growth. On the church-planting side of the ministry I could be more intentional in talking about EQ and weaving it into the activities and teachings that I lead. You may have thought you were asking a fairly straight-forward question, but you’ve really challenged me! Thanks!

      • Cathy Glei says:

        Starting to see growth in your ministry to parents. . . what an answer to prayer. Keeping you, your family and the mission God has called you to in my prayers. Thank you for sharing your Sanford Updates!!!

  8. mm Russell Chun says:

    Thanks Kim for your thoughts on emotional IQ.

    I feel a bit out of touch with EQ. My leadership style exists on the other side of the spectrum. Usually we have one emotion in the U.S. Army. ANGER.

    It can serve as the fuel for a lot of forward momentum on a superficial level. But there is also a cost.

    REAL and RARE leaders make the history books. RARE Army leaders have men and women who will follow them into battle. There is a bond of trust that will survive the fog and friction of war.

    Thanks for a peek into a different “emotional world.”


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