When pastors get angry, things can get complicated. On the one hand, we know that anger is not always an indication of sin. After all, we say to ourselves, Jesus got angry. Paul also counseled the Ephesians on anger, saying, “In your anger do not sin” (Eph. 4:26): implying that anger is inevitable in human relationships, and that there is a way to be angry and not sin. James further cautions his readers to be “slow to become angry,” encouraging a slow emotional response, but not forbidding one outright (James 1:19).
All of this seems to suggest that it’s okay to be angry sometimes. What I have found in my own life, however, is that my attempts to justify anger—to point to Jesus whipping folks in the temple as a precedent for outbursts of righteous indignation—are typically ill-motivated, and they usually just end in me being an unbearable jerk.
So how can pastors tell the difference between legitimate anger and a bad temper? Good question. Perhaps this guide will help you. Here are seven times when your anger is probably not the same as Jesus’ in the temple:
1) When the “special music” performed before your sermon is neither “special” nor, technically speaking, “music.” It’s frustrating to try and preach the Word of God when the kindly but not-exactly-talented soloist has just cranked out a not-so-holy version of “On Holy Ground.” God may hear our singing and music as a sweet and beautiful offering—but sometimes our cochlear nerves don’t extend that same grace. However, rolling our eyes and offering a passive-aggressive “Miss Betty blesses us with her unique voice” is not exactly evidence of righteous anger. (Plus, your spouse probably puts up with your too-loud car karaoke all the time as it is.)
2) When the prayer requests at your prayer meeting offer too much personal medical information. Pastors should be good listeners. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to listen to the excruciating details of a congregant’s intestinal problems and keep a straight and somber face. It’s even harder to pray for one person’s diarrhea and another’s constipation. Rather than react in silent frustration, though, you might offer a prayer of thanks to the Lord for your calling—after all, at least you’re not a gastroenterologist.
3) When that perfect video clip that was going to be the key to your sermon short-circuits. Sometimes the devil is just in the system. I don’t care if your audiovisual setup was designed by Apple or if your equipment costs more than the International Space Station: there will be weeks when every screen, button, and wire seems to be on the fritz. That pivotal point, delivered with crisp and compelling accuracy, will fall flat as you wait for YouTube to buffer because your small church’s Wi-Fi is terminally sluggish. You may be tempted, in that moment, to glare menacingly at your sound guy, causing the whole congregation to turn its collective, hydra-like head and contemplate fetching their pitchforks . . . But I’m afraid your anger would be misplaced. A cleansed temple trumps your sermon stumbling on a Sunday.
4) When your four-year old daughter has a nuclear meltdown in the hallway right before service. This didn’t happen to me when I was preaching a series on parenting, thankfully—but it did happen, and more than once. Nothing makes you angrier than when your kids illustrate the doctrine of total depravity by gnashing and thrashing all over the carpet of the church lobby. The odds are, though, that your anger is probably not at the death-dealing curse of original sin, but at your kid for making you look like a real parent in front of your elders. Besides, would it really have been so terrible to let your child have just one more gummy bear?
5) That disgruntled Monday morning email asking if you could “just talk” later this week. This is the pastor’s least favorite kind of communication, ensuring your day off is ruined as you prepare to send “What even is this?” texts to your closest confidants all week. Sure, it’s not cool that your people have your every piece of contact info on speed dial. But let’s be honest: you probably shouldn’t have checked your email on your day off anyways. It could be this perpetually sullen member really does just want to have coffee and chat about the hypostatic union or the latest developments in atonement theory. But while you might be tempted to let your worrying turn to what you think is righteous rage, just remember: the all-caps, san serif response has never been proven to resolve a disagreement, anyway.
6) When the guest preacher ends his sermon with Carman’s “We Need God in America Again.” Okay, this is pretty bad. I mean, what is he thinking: resurrecting a decades-old, cringe-inducing patriotic power ballad that sends millennial members bolting for the exits? But even though flag-waving CCM may very well be the greatest abomination unto the Lord since the Thief in the Night series, it’s still probably not worthy of “Jesus in the temple” levels of anger.
7) When the usher serving communion is rocking spandex bike shorts and flip flops. Actually . . . you can take this one. Rage away. For all we know, those money-changers were probably wearing yoga pants, anyway.
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