By Jay Sanders
There’s a part of pastoral ministry that isn’t often spoken about in seminary classes. Pastors don’t usually mention it when they meet up at conventions or for coffee once a week. But that doesn’t make it any less real.
If you care about yourself, your family, and the others you lead, you’re going to have to address an important reality:
Anger will play a significant role in your ministry.
More specifically, the way you choose to deal with the people and situations that make you mad will have a tremendous impact on you and others.
Your control over difficult circumstances is limited. Your control over how you respond to difficult circumstances is not.
Pastoral ministry can be incredibly rewarding. It gives you the unique opportunity to be with a variety of people in both their happiest and most devastating moments.
You can see lives changed in such a way that no one other than Jesus can get credit for the transformation. You’ll baptize kids and, a decade or so later, perform their weddings. You’ll be strengthened by some of the most encouraging and uplifting people on the planet.
But that’s not all there is to ministry:
There’ll be things that make you angry.
You’ll make decisions that won’t be supported. Some of the people you baptized will turn around to say mean things about you.
There’ll be rumors about you that have no basis in reality. Some of your dearest friends might even help to spread them. And there’ll be people who, regardless of how nice or faithful you are, just don’t like you.
My intention isn’t to be negative but rather to be real. Any person who attempts to guide people in a meaningful way for a significant length of time is going to have to deal with difficult people and situations that might make them angry.
Pastors are no exception. But pastors must be exceptional in their response.
If our anger toward the person who’s hurt us goes unchecked, it’ll define our ministry. And a ministry defined by anger can’t simultaneously be defined by the holiness of God.
One has to give. But how? How can we keep heartache, backstabs, gossip, and unmet expectations from derailing us?
1. We must be quick to forgive.
Forgiveness is the heart of the gospel we proclaim as Christians (Matthew 18:21-35). To preach this foundational doctrine and yet not live it is peak hypocrisy.
Conversely, the gospel shines brightest when those who proclaim it live it as well. Forgiving those who’ve wronged you is a great way to underscore the forgiveness about which you preach.
2. We must move toward the conflict.
Don’t misread that. I didn’t say we must look for the conflict, create the conflict, and destroy the source of the conflict.
But when we know where the problem is, we must move toward it in love for reconciliation. If we’ve contributed to the problem in any way, we must repent.
If not, we must not make defending ourselves the primary objective. Love, forgiveness, peace, and the glory of God make for better targets.
3. We must be honest about our anger.
Being honest about our sinful anger means we don’t deny its existence in our hearts. It also means we’re aware of the damage it can do if we allow it to linger unaddressed. We must live in a state of continual, hopeful self-examination (Colossians 3:1-10).
In one of the most stunning accounts in the Bible, demons ask Jesus to let them stay in the country of the Gerasenes, just before He casts them out of a man (Mark 5:10).
The implication is that the demons felt somewhat welcomed there. We must be careful the same can’t be said of bitterness in our heart.
If we don’t proactively seek to address our anger and forgive those at the center of it, we roll out the welcome mat at our heart’s door where bitterness is sure to accept the invitation, put his dirty shoes on the couch, and eat up all of the food in the refrigerator.
So, if you’d like for your preaching to become more bullyish, your joy to become less obvious, and the Spirit to become less evident, do nothing about your anger.
Let it simmer.
Hold a grudge.
Convince yourself it’ll work itself out.
And before long, unresolved anger will bleed into other areas of your life and ministry where it’ll work as a fertilizer for other sins.
However, if you choose to crucify your sinful anger, thus taking away an opportunity from the devil (Ephesians 4:26-27), growth will come.
Those who don’t like you might not ever end up being your best friends. They may even grow entrenched in their opposition to you. And there will likely be new difficult people and situations that require even more of God’s grace.
But because you’re addressing your anger with a humble, prayerful, and repentant spirit, you’ll be able to say along with Joseph who was all too familiar with difficult people, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
Jay is the senior pastor of Towaliga Baptist Church in Jackson, Ga.