Average parishioners would be disappointed, even scandalized, to discover that their spiritual leader could ever experience rage. For many, even raising the issue of pastor’s rage seems puzzling or inappropriate. Pastors aren’t supposed to feel such things. Sometimes even they are likely to reinterpret the emotion just because it’s unacceptable in their own eyes. Usually, they are reluctant to admit that they do experience rage. Besides, any admission of such feelings runs the risk of them being sent off to the local psychiatrist for evaluation or anger management!
Yet leaders and their spouses, even their children, often walk through their days in quiet rage due to the things that happen to them in the church. Ex-pastors who are currently working in other career areas still experience it because they lost their churches and ministries over slander, abuse, or some other wrong against them. They continue to feel the ongoing rage of injustice, lies, unjust legal maneuvering on the part of higher denominational authorities, and a long list of other deeply personal hurts and offenses.
The rage is there, despite the sentiments from well-meaning folk who assure them that “God had a purpose in it and will bring about his vindications at the proper time.” Even though this sentiment isn’t doubted, it still doesn’t necessarily have any immediate positive impact upon the presence of deep anger or reduce the level of it. It’s the rage of injustice left unaddressed, the absolute absence of remorse on the part of the guilty, betrayal of those thought to be close friends, defamation smoothed over or denied entirely by other Christians, and abuse ignored or reinterpreted away.
Abused leaders tend either to implode or explode.
Some who aren’t sure how to defend themselves and respond, implode and develop destructive behavior patterns toward themselves and their families. Others, determined to get justice and fight back, often are destructive both to their congregations and their ministries. Rage doesn’t just sit quietly and do nothing. It eventually goes somewhere and produces other emotions and behavior that can and do destroy. As a result of how they were treated, the abused can become the abusers.
Denominational officials often make things worse by sending the pastor off to the psychiatrist or career guidance counselor. They think it will satisfy both the pastor’s antagonists as well as his supporters. But if the pastor goes along with this quick-fix plan, he easily becomes damaged goods. If he doesn’t cooperate, he is labeled a “problem pastor.” This serves only to intensify the problem. Now, not only has he been abused, but also his reputation and sense of self-worth are further destroyed. The pastor may ask the obvious question, “If I’m the victim, then why was I, rather than the guilty offender, sent off for counseling?”
Many remedies are now being proposed to deal with rage in pastors, but few indicate any need for justice, the absence of which is very often the primary source of the distress. It’s amazing in conversation with many pastors how the words “You’ve been treated unjustly and have a right to be angry” go a long way in starting them on the road to healing. Some just need to hear that they should be righteously angry and aren’t misguided in their thinking or feelings. Sometimes this simple truth enables them to pick up and carry on the work that they’ve been called to do.
Believe it or not, it actually helps to write down all the reasons for your rage, exactly how you feel, and things you would like to say or see changed. This is for your eyes only. Psychologists refer to it as Writing Therapy, and much of the time it really works.
When people feel victimized and believe that no justice has been done to balance the moral debt, rage may naturally result. “Feel good” philosophies, mediation, counseling, arbitration, negotiation, conflict resolution, and all the rest may have some impact upon the complexities of the overall situation, but when all is said and done, they may leave the pastor feeling further victimized and manipulated by the “easy peace makers” around him.
There are some cases of conflict where nothing—absolutely nothing—will do to fix them except for the truth to be told and justice to be done. It’s true that long-term spiritual disciplines (“therapies”) can help to diminish its fury, but the quickest and most direct route out of rage is justice.
Unless some strong and clear element of justice is present in our range of approaches to pastoral rage, no serious resolutions to disorder within the church are possible. Unless slander is confronted and corrected, malevolence is dealt with, lies and liars are exposed, and injustice is addressed, there will be no fair and lasting—no genuinely Christian—solutions to pastors’ rage.
Happily for the leader who has experienced rage and for whom no proper justice is likely to be meted out in this life, there remains shelter and healing in the various ministries of the Holy Spirit. In ways we don’t understand or can’t even predict, the Spirit can move into a situation of deep emotional injury and mysteriously bring not only a remedy and rehabilitation, but add a measure of joy as well. Without such refuge for the embattled disciple, leader or not, the church would never have survived its long history.
If you have an experience to share, or would like to talk to someone, please feel free to contact me.
An Excerpt from These Sheep Bite: A Fearless Guide to Church Leadership
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