by Rev. Allen E. Schenk
Recently, two different pastors told me of events that hurt and angered them deeply. The one pastor was called a liar by one of his lay leaders. The other pastor’s wife was verbally attacked in public by a congregational leader who unjustly accused her of some wrongdoing. Both pastors were understandably upset by these actions.
When I asked them, “Did you get angry?” they said, “Yes.” When I asked if they showed their anger, both looked at me as if I had suddenly grown horns. Both said they had not.
Their reluctance to express their anger reveals a perception among Christians, and church workers especially, that it is somehow wrong to be angry. Anger is seen to be sinful, harmful, inherently bad. And while anger can surely be sinful and harmful, it is one of our God-given emotions, an emotion that can actually be used to serve others and our Lord.
Anger is a major theme in Scripture. In the Cruden’s Pocket Concordance alone, anger is referenced more than 80 times. We have the biblical accounts of Moses’ anger at Israel’s golden calf, the prophets’ anger at Israel’s idolatry, John the Baptist’s anger at the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, and, of course, Jesus’ anger at the money-changers whose corrupt business dealings made God’s temple a place for thieves.
Perhaps the best advice Scripture gives us concerning our anger is Paul’s words in Eph. 4:26: “Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” The second half of that sentence tells us to be quick about expressing our anger and resolving our differences with our neighbor.
Confront your accuser in a manner worthy of one of God’s people. Don’t hold a grudge. Settle your disagreements.
The first half of Paul’s sentence is equally important. It tells us to do two things: Be angry, and in our anger, do not sin. The wording implies being angry and sinning can be exclusive of each other. We Christians often forget that and withhold our anger when expressing it would be healthier for us and for others.
For example, displaying our anger can help us set more helpful personal boundaries. I am much more likely to avoid certain words and actions if I know they will make you angry at me. Second, showing anger in a way that addresses the issue without attacking the other person allows others to see us as fully human, just as they are.
We church workers in particular hide our humanity behind our professional masks. Being angry can let others peek behind those masks and see our person-hood more clearly. And, by being angry, we can model to others how to fight. As Christians, we do have certain rules. Studies show that how we fight is just as important as what we fight about.
My advice to the two pastors mentioned earlier was to practice letting their anger show. While conflict, disagreements and arguments are always a part of congregational life—and some things you just have to live with—we do not have to endure unjust personal attacks, especially not those that cast aspersion on our ministries.
Also, keep Paul’s words in focus: “Be angry, but do not sin.” Pray that, as in other highly emotional situations, God would give you the words and actions you need to express your anger clearly and appropriately.
Next, find ways to let those you are angry with know that, despite your present differences, you are still their pastor, friend or neighbor. Tell them you want your relationship to continue.
Finally, forgive. That is always the goal of all Christian conflict. For despite His anger at our sinfulness, that is what God, through Jesus Christ, always does for us!
About the Author: Rev. Allen E. Schenk is pastor of Ebenezer Lutheran Church, St. Louis, Mo.