Note: this is third in a series of posts I am doing specifically based around leadership issues. If you haven’t read Part 1 or 2, you have time to catch up :).
I am always reading a book. It’s been awhile since I have read a book that made me want to run around the room and tell everyone about it. In fact, I can’t remember the time I read a book and thought it was anything other than “meh.” Most of them I find all right and typically gain something from, but let’s keep in mind that my weekday job is in editing and publishing, so that means every book I read I find every mistake, every misplaced comma, every spelling error, every layout problem…and the fact that most books I read I don’t find that well-written, I think the content of the book doesn’t make up for the fact that the book isn’t properly done. Nonetheless, the book I am currently reading is The Bible in Christian North Africa: The Donatist World, by Maureen A. Tilley. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, it is a bit on the dry side, and it’s not about what I expected it to be about, at all. To summarize its contents, it is a discourse on the origins of the Donatist sect of Christianity and their antagonistic relationship with the state church, which was the Roman Catholic Church. The book discusses the way in which the Donatists carefully constructed their apologetics against Catholicism and the unique way in which they saw themselves in the Bible, as well as the way in which the Catholic leaders retorted and responded to their tightly held views.
Nine times out of ten, the Catholic retort to the Donatists was to distort and confound their beliefs, accusing them of things that history does not support them ever doing. The Donatists retorted by defending themselves to be the real church, identifying with persecuted figures in history and retorting even louder to make sure existing Donatists didn’t desire to leave the group.
Over all, the book itself is a long discourse of angry preachers. It carefully shows that rather than resolving to respect each other and learn from each other (because the truth is that the Biblical adherence the Donatists had was something the Catholics in that era could have deeply learned from), they were going to use their ministry forums to vent their anger and dislike for one another. The focus of their ministries was not evangelism, but proving other people wrong.
I wish I could say the “angry preacher” is a rare find, but I am noting more and more just how angry the majority of preachers are when they ascend to the pulpit. Rather than allowing the Spirit to move through a preacher’s words, there are way too many preachers who are using every single forum they have to talk about how angry they are. They are angry about politics, they are angry that people disagree with them, they are angry at Muslims, they are angry at non-Christians, they are angry at other Christians who disagree on matters of interpretation, they are angry at their spouses, they are angry at their children, they are angry…angry…angry. Whether they ascend to preach in a pulpit, or through the form of a blog, or a book, or a magazine article, or a Facebook post, or a tweet…or even ordinary conversation, they are angry, all the time, about anything and everything.
Don’t think it’s not showing. One of the biggest arguments I get about Christians from non-Christians is how angry Christian preachers and ministers seem. People know the difference from an excited yell in preaching and an angry one. I constantly hear complaints of people feeling like preachers are “in their faces,” hostile and angry, demanding something of the people who hear the message. The non-Christians I have heard from report grave confusion, because the demeanor of preachers doesn’t match up with the concept they preach (peace, joy, contentment, etc.). As much as “hard preaching” seems to be popular among Christians (it’s of none effect there, too, it just makes Christians feel better about the things they do that they shouldn’t be doing), angry, annoyed, in-your-face preaching is keeping non-believers (and discerning Christians) away from many churches.
Not long ago, I dealt with a preacher who was clearly “angry.” It appeared that everything made her angry. Every posting, every word, every thought dripped with venom and sarcasm. Everything was a personal attack on someone else. Not a single word took any accountability. I stepped back and said to myself, “How in the world is this person a leader?” All I could think about was an article I read years ago in Charisma Magazine that spoke on types of preachers to avoid. One of them was the angry woman, who always seems to be fighting something. It would appear I found her. I wonder who else found her and was trying to be a part of a ministry where nothing was ever going to be good enough, because everything was forever going to revolve around this leader’s anger.
I fully recognize ministers are human beings and that we have feelings about matters. I don’t believe anger is a sin in and of itself. Ephesians 4:26 says: “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” (KJV) In other words, we can be angry, but in our anger we should not sin, and we shouldn’t allow our anger to get the better of us. We should seek to work through our immediate feelings and come to solutions to circumstances rather than spending years and years angry and holding grudges over things. It may very well be understandable to be angry over things that happen in this world, but staying angry and constantly venting our anger is not a healthy, nor productive, way to be in ministry. On the contrary, just as the Scriptures confirm, we can be angry, but we need to have enough self-control and enough of the Spirit at work within us to come to a place of calm composure and the ability to be effective.
That is what we, as leaders, need to look at. Are our emotions, specifically anger, hurting our ability to be effective? Are they hurting our witness? Just like the Donatists and Catholics of old, too much of our ministry time is spent debating and arguing with other people, especially those who are believers. Too much of our ministries are based on anger: anger at the world, anger at politicians, anger at families, anger at spouses, anger at Christians, anger at non-Christians, anger at everybody. This is in complete contrast to 1 Timothy 2:8: “I want men to offer prayers everywhere. They should raise their hands in prayer after putting aside their anger and any quarrels they have with anyone.” (GW)
I don’t think we should take the happy-go-lucky approach that some preachers suggest, and simply ignore or bury our feelings. We have feelings for a reason, and while we do need to learn how to control them, we also have to learn how to utilize them for their purpose. Feelings, especially anger, alert us to circumstances that are less-than-stellar, need change, and need address. We shouldn’t think that positive thinking is going to erase our feelings, and we should never, ever tell people they shouldn’t have their feelings. At the same time, however, we also need to keep in mind that there will forever be things that make us angry and upset us, but we have to choose, especially as leaders, to just let some things go so we can lift up our hands in prayer and unite as a church. Feelings change. Things I was angry about years ago, I have long stopped being angry about. Some of them, I don’t even remember what I was mad about now, and I know that those of you who are reading this recognize the same thing in your own lives. That makes anger a mighty dangerous and inappropriate foundation to any ministry, because you have to keep replacing anger all the time to keep it going. It is much better to rely on the Spirit and be Spirit-led rather than permanently furious.
Ephesians 2:1-9 tells us: “You were once dead because of your failures and sins. You followed the ways of this present world and its spiritual ruler. This ruler continues to work in people who refuse to obey God. All of us once lived among these people, and followed the desires of our corrupt nature. We did what our corrupt desires and thoughts wanted us to do. So, because of our nature, we deserved God’s anger just like everyone else. But God is rich in mercy because of his great love for us. We were dead because of our failures, but he made us alive together with Christ. (It is God’s kindness that saved you.) God has brought us back to life together with Christ Jesus and has given us a position in heaven with him. He did this through Christ Jesus out of his generosity to us in order to show his extremely rich kindness in the world to come. God saved you through faith as an act of kindness. You had nothing to do with it. Being saved is a gift from God. It’s not the result of anything you’ve done, so no one can brag about it. God has made us what we are. He has created us in Christ Jesus to live lives filled with good works that he has prepared for us to do.” (GW) Let’s remember why we came to God in the first place. It wasn’t because He was angry and we felt His anger, but because He had mercy on us and expressed toward us a love that was unspeakable, life-changing and powerful. God’s anger didn’t change us, His love did.
That’s something for all of us to think about when it comes to the battle between anger and love.
(c) 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.