Why Religious Leaders Need to Cultivate Self-Control and How to Do So


The Bible describes self-control as an invaluable trait. However, it isn’t something you’re born with. It is a skill that needs to be cultivated, especially in religious leaders. But what exactly is self-control? Why is self-control so important? And how can you cultivate it in yourself and in others?


What Is Self-Control?

The simplest definition is that self-control is the ability to control emotions, impulses and your behavior regardless of what you’re feeling. When you have self-control, you’re able to restrain your impulses and do what is right. This makes it easier to achieve long-term goals.


Why Do Religious Leaders Need to Cultivate Self-Control?

Religious leaders are supposed to set an example for the community. If you’re doing what feels good at the moment instead of what is good and morally right, you’re failing to be that example everyone else will follow. Another problem is that those who lack self-control tend to make poor choices that harm themselves and others. Pastors who make the emotional, impulsive choice when giving advice will fail their flock.

Leadership in the church should be able to handle a variety of situations and deal with a wide range of people, ideally without responding in anger, resorting to violence or turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms. This makes enhanced self-control a natural choice for your next self-improvement regimen. If you don’t become incredibly angry when confronted by an upset parishioner, you don’t need to learn anger management or check your impulse to drink afterward.

Then there’s the fact that religious leaders may drive away members if they lack self-control. If you’re prone to fits of anger or emotional outbursts, you’ll be seen as unstable. And that is seen as being unfit for leadership. Fail to cultivate self-control, and you may lose your position as a spiritual leader. Don’t worry that enhanced self-control will kill your creativity or ruin your ability to relate to others. In fact, researchers found that the same part of the brain responsible for self-control also controls empathy. When you lack self-control, you’re actually more self-centered. This means that improved self-control will make it easier to empathize with others and give them proper guidance. For example, when you are able to imagine a future version of yourself, it is easier to check your desire to eat an extra serving of dessert and thus stay on your diet. When you can imagine and invest emotionally in the better version of the person you want to help, you can withstand their emotional storm today while working with them toward that better future for themselves. When members of your flock sense that you truly want what is best for them, they’ll come to accept the advice or your correction though it may be unpleasant at the time. But how do you cultivate self-control in the first place?


How to Cultivate Self-Control

There are actually several ways you can cultivate self-control. The first is to be mindful. Be aware of what you’re thinking and feeling, but don’t necessarily give in to the emotional impulses.

What if your current thoughts and feelings are threatening to overwhelm you? Take time to pray or meditate. It gives you a chance to calm down and refocus your thoughts. Offering your concerns to God in prayer can relieve the emotional burden of it while reminding you of the right thing to do. By offering prayers of thanksgiving for the good things in life, it can put minor annoyances in frustration. Prayer and meditation when you’re tempted by a bad habit may be enough to check it. Or use meditation to find clarity and control as you focus on the things you can address, leaving the rest in God’s hands.

The second method of improving your level of self-control is to get enough sleep. The basis of this advice is that a lack of sleep is linked to an inability to control yourself. When you’re tired, exhaustion impairs one’s memory, judgment, and self-control as much as having had several servings of alcohol. The solution is to make sure you get enough sleep at night, rearranging your schedule as necessary.

Create rituals and routines to enhance your level of self-control. When you have rituals for eating, preparing for bed, or taking time for yourself, you have less opportunity for the temptation to arise. When you have a set routine for most of your day, you’re more likely to get enough sleep, exercise on a regular basis, and avoid the hectic chaos that leads us to grab the unhealthy snacks or take the easy way out. Simple rituals like prayer, meditation and meal times also create a sense of mindfulness and separation from the busyness of the world.


How to Teach Self-Control to Others

As a pastor, you’ll be asked by others who to attain the level of self-control you have. The simplest way to do this is to help them replace negative responses with positive ones. They can’t avoid the pain in the world, but they can learn to put it in context and rise above it. Discuss how frustrated impulses today lead them to the desired future they want, be it controlling their eating, their sexual desires or their spending. Talk to them about the right way to behave and why they want to behave in these ways. Encourage rewards as they achieve goals, such as an authorized splurge once they pay off a major debt.

Remember that consistency is key. Give people a short list of set rules to follow to stay out of trouble. (There’s a reason we have just 10 Commandments.) Encourage them to follow the guidelines set before them. No one is perfect, and they will make mistakes or act out at times. This is where forgiveness is essential. See mistakes as opportunities to learn instead of a reason to give up. Remind them that self-control like all self-improvement is a lifelong journey with a bright future at the end.



Self-control is necessary for anyone to meet their personal and professional goals. This is especially true for religious leaders since they are obligated to be the examples of how to live for their flock and asked to teach others how to live.

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