Walla Walla University church pastor's research highlights role of emotion in ministry

Pastor Alex Bryan's doctoral research emphasizes the value of right-brain thinking.

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Pastor Alex Bryan, who joined the Walla Walla University Seventh-day Adventist Church as senior pastor earlier this year, presented his recently completed doctoral research on Tuesday to a gathering of university staff and students.

The presentation, which was entitled "The Role of Human Emotion in Christian Discipleship," was part of the school's "Brown Bag" lunchtime lectures designed to give professors an opportunity to share their scholarship and answer questions from those in attendance.

Bryan, who studied at George Fox University in Newburg, Ore., shared his thesis, which explores the spiritual importance of the "right brain," the part of our brain more responsible for intuition, creativity and emotion. The left brain is commonly believed to be the originator of the more analytical, logical styles of thought. The right-brain concept, which Bryan explained, has often met resistance in Christian thinking.

"The left brain is viewed as the good stuff," he said. "And the emotions are viewed as the sinful, non-cognitive deal. Emotions are something to get rid of, they're viewed as bad and you just need to get back to the logical side."

Bryan chose to pursue a doctorate of ministry, which emphasizes making personal connections with congregation members, rather than a purely academic Ph.D. -- a choice which could be seen as the triumph of the right half of the brain over the left.

Bryan explained how important it is for Christians to understand the validity of a right-brained approach to spirituality and how unprepared many people are for religion based on emotions.

"God is an emotional being," he said. "We're not taught this and it's not how we see being a disciple of Jesus. We suffer from a lot of low emotional intelligence and we don't know how to get along with each other. We're afraid of building relationships with people who are different than us."

Bryan described the common left-brained approach to spirituality, which often emphasizes the importance of financial planning, welcoming converts, time management and lifestyle choices, as being important but not where the need for ministry lies.

"I have never in 20 years of ministry had a problem of any significance that had to do with the left brain," Bryan said. "But truckloads that had to do with the right brain."

Bryan's research has also had an impact on his role as a father, "My studies have caused me to be much more patient with my daughter," he said. "I think patience is one of the indicators. Jesus never seemed bent out of shape when someone did something wrong."

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