The Charisma Myth

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So let me bust a myth right now: you know those naturally attractive, compelling, warm, self-confident pastors who seem to simply charm everyone and were just born with ability to do that?

Well, they weren’t born with the ability to do that.

They learned it.

Probably from childhood.

Charisma, as I use the term, refers to a person’s presence, power and warmth. Extensive research has shown that it results from specific non-verbal behaviors. It can be learned and it matters.

I believe you can and should develop your personal charisma. It will help you in your ministry.  

Of course, I don’t know what “personal charisma” means to you. Some may immediately call to mind the New Testament spiritual gift sense of the word but that’s another topic.

Others may think of some kind of empty, self-serving charm or even a dark mind-control sort of power, like the hypnotic oratory of Adolph Hitler.

You may also think that no matter what I mean by “personal charisma”, it certainly has no legitimate concern to a Christian minister.

Allow me to differ from all those perspectives.

Jesus as a child grew “in favor with God and man”, according to Luke 2:52. For that matter, so did the Samuel – see 1 Samuel 2:26.

Your childhood development probably wasn’t perfect, as was Jesus’ childhood, but it may have been exceptional, as Samuel’s seems to have been. On the other hand, like most of us in this fallen state, you may still be working out some of the kinks in your personality.

Fact is, strong personal charisma improves people’s first impressions of you, makes you a more compelling speaker, eases the tasks of delivering bad news, sharing necessary criticisms, and making apologies when necessary. I could list a host of additional benefits.

Does it serves God’s purposes at all for any of us to come across as distant, impotent and cold? No, we represent Him best when we project His warmth and power.

So, I will wind down here with three easy tips that any of us can practice to improve our own personal charisma:

1. Eyes are the window of the soul and perhaps the single most key part of our non-verbal communication. Master the art of making good eye contact.

2. The handshake – a surprisingly common behavior across time and cultures – makes a huge difference in first impressions. Don’t be a dead fish or a knuckle-cruncher. Learn the firm, confident handshake!

3. Really listen. It simply cannot be repeated too often: people love listeners. So be that guy or gal who pays attention!

I realize that some people will take me to task for suggesting something “psychological” can be helpful in ministry; especially, those who think “charisma” simply means trying to make people like you.

Here’s what I think, though. In an ideal world, we all would naturally develop “charisma” throughout our childhoods. Children should all grow into naturally warm, caring, confident people. However, in our fallen world, we don’t. Yet God graciously allows us to grow and improve and is that not, in fact, a gift?

Want to learn more? I recommend the book The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism by Olivia Fox Cabane. It’s easy to read and offers practical suggestions.

Dr. Jeannie4 Comments