Ministry can make you very angry. Perhaps more angry than any other profession. Maybe this is because of the strange and complex tangle of relationships associated with working at a church where, depending on your role, your boss may also be your spiritual guide, your professional mentor, and your father figure.
I had my own struggles with ministry resentment. When I was younger and working for my father at our home church, there were often seasons during which I experienced great disappointment. I was angry that I couldn’t get my own ministry areas to succeed the way I’d hoped; I was angry because our church, overall, didn’t feel the way I’d envisioned; I was angry because there were times I didn’t think other people cared.
But I’m not sure anyone else knew I was angry, or precisely how angry, or why.
Over the years I’ve heard countless stories of worship pastors embroiled in conflict with their senior pastors, of youth pastors lashing out at their lead pastors, of administrative staff resigning in fits of fury. In most of these stories, the lead pastor was caught totally off guard.
Having served as a lead pastor for more than a decade, I can attest to the strange quality of ministerial anger. I’ve had several staff members blow into my office, express massive resentments, and demand to know why I wasn’t more concerned about their issues. Often, I was ignorant not only of the issues but also of their commensurate anger.
I just didn’t know.
If you’re in ministry, you can probably relate to the frustrations I’m describing; but I want to take it a step further and offer some counsel on how to appropriately process anger so you can pause before you explode.
Because your pastor might not know you’re angry either.
So here’s my advice.
1. Before you decide to voice your anger, articulate what you’re feeling on paper. Write it down, rather than spew it out. This will help you evaluate the intensity of your grievances, carefully choosing your words and your tone. This will also allow you to let your thoughts mature, then you can prayerfully revisit what you’ve written to see if it needs to be tempered before it is submitted. If you do this, you will have greater clarity and a better chance of keeping your cool when you address the issue.
2. Find a safe place to process these issues outside of your local congregation. Few things can be more destructive to a church than a staff member complaining about their pastor. Parishioners love to get the inside scoop on what pastors “are really like”, and airing your one-sided work lamentations in a congregational context is a recipe for disaster. Not only because you might damage the reputation of your pastor, but more importantly because you’ve now revealed yourself to be a petty gossip and that’s a difficult label to remove. Even worse, if an elder or board member learns of your grief-sharing it will likely appear insubordinate and you may be fired. So, find someone else, from somewhere else, who will patiently listen and help you discern the best way forward. They may authenticate your grievances, but they may also pushback and caution you against a sour spirit.
3. My friend Terri McGarry, when we were discussing this issue as a staff, adds that we should expect less of our pastors. Pastors are not perfect, which we know, but we are nevertheless surprised by the specifics of their imperfections. Some pastors are exceptional leaders and motivators, but terrible listeners and counselors. Some pastors have remarkable public gifts but cannot manage their own calendar, closet, or dietary composition. But we often expect our pastors to be wholly holy, and are disproportionately betrayed when they display any semblance of humanity. You know, like anger.
4. Finally, resolve the issue. Whatever it is, you need to deal with it and move on. If the issue is persistent, then quit and find a new job. If the persistent issue reveals a sin that should disqualify someone from professional ministry, then prayerfully take it to the church authorities for investigation. But if, like the great majority of issues, it’s just a difference of opinion, strategy, or philosophy, then deal with it. The biblical word there is submission, which doesn’t mean obeying leadership when you agree but coming under the authority of the leadership when you don’t.
In the end, smaller issues will always become overwhelming if left unaddressed; but I’m a firm believer that God’s church is run by loving, competent idealists who want to do the right thing by God and by one another. So, next time you’re chafing, follow these simple steps and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how things turn out.