Church planters, as I have observed and personally experienced, live in a constant state of being either angry, depressed or they are delusional. You might say, “I am neither angry or depressed.” Delusional: “An idiosyncratic belief or impression that is not in accordance with a generally accepted reality” (Wordreference.com).
Church planting is hard. Working with people is hard. Dealing with your own emotions is hard. A passionate, emotional pastor who is planting a church with opinionated people is bound to encounter a conflict or two…per hour. The conflicts are not the problem. The responses usually are. Harsh words in the midst of conflict are like weeds in an untended garden. They crop up everywhere until they finally take over and choke out any fruitful conversation.
I received an ugly text from someone recently. It seems like a strange way to use text messaging. It was from someone who had committed a horrible sin against his family and his church. I was helping the church to deal with the mess he made. He didn’t like my advice to them so his iPhone attacked my iPhone with viral words. That is my explanation since I cannot fathom a friend speaking to me in this way. My emotions rose and I was angry at his impudence, arrogance and ignorance. My response? I texted, “I love you, Dave.”
I wish I could tell you that my response to attacks in the past has always been with this kind of graciousness. I also wish I could tell you that Dave repented and confessed the sinful attack of me with his carelessly keyboarding thumbs. Instead, Dave continued to defend his actions by text message and said pagans treated him better than I did. Suddenly, he implied that his righteousness was deserved and I was worse than a pagan! I am glad that I didn’t react. I called him…on the phone. I know that isn’t the hip and cool thing to do these days. But pastoring by private tweets, while economical, is completely ineffective.
Five Tips to Handling Angry People
“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20, ESV).
- Be Slow to Speak. Make a decision not to react without thinking. People make foolish comments all of the time. A friend confronted me about something I did and my response was that I had no idea why I did that. I did not have malice or intent but it was completely contrary to my value system. I asked forgiveness and he extended it immediately.
- Filter your emotions of anger through the Gospel. When I am angry, I visualize God responding to my ongoing sins and transgressions and idols. I often wonder why He puts up with me. I am convinced that He loves me more than I love myself and that He is full of grace, mercy and forgiveness. I do sinful things and God forgives me and this ministry of reconciliation is exercised. I am reconciled and am called to be a reconciler (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Rom. 5:10-11). Nothing sets the Gospel aside quicker than loss of control in anger.
- Be Quick to Hear. Deal with the conflict quickly. It is awkward to address it later and it seems Satan puts a wedge deeper between friends with every passing hour a conflict is left to simmer. Letting the sun go down on our anger gives the devil an opportunity to gain an advantageous position in our relationships that creates bitterness (Eph. 4:26-27).
- Avoid Texts and E-Mail Responses. The offended or offending party needs to hear the tone of your voice. I responded to Dave by saying that I had forgiven him and that comments taken out of context and without the associated compassion and my personal grief for the outcome of the offense are not understood rightly in digital format.
- Acknowledge Your Role in the Conflict. One person can stir up trouble in a family, a church or a relationship but they often drudge up ancillary actions and words to cast blame on others. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the snake. Sinful people blame shift. Be quick to acknowledge your sin even though it rarely justifies their sinful actions. It never benefits to hide our weaknesses and our indifference toward others.
I find Paul’s admonition in Col. 3:12-14 to be counterintuitive when dealing with angry people. I have to exercise faith in the Gospel and not in my anger to “produce the righteousness of God.”
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (ESV).