Being a pastor makes demands on your levels of irritability.
Before I go on, let me reassure you – this blog post is not autobiographical! You are not about to get an insight into my inbox!
- How do you respond when someone repeatedly refuses to accept your position of orthodoxy?
- How do you respond when you are repeatedly told what you should be doing on what of what you currently do?
- How do you respond when someone wilfully misunderstands an action?
- How do you respond when two people criticise you, and for opposite reasons?
- How do you respond when someone disagrees with your sermon, from a position of almost total ignorance?
- How do you respond when good people leave to go another (usually, larger) church where the teaching/music/programme/fellowship is just – better?
- How do you respond when your elders repeatedly block a critical ministry development?
- How do you respond when your attempts to close down an email conversation repeatedly fail?
If you just skimmed that list, try again – and try to remember that feeling when your blood pressure started rising.
Most of us know better than to respond in kind, or lash out, or bully, or ostracise. Most of us.
Most of us know better than to fly solo, and not tell any of our senior elders but to carry the burden alone. Most of us.
But even the best of us can get caught in a bitterness of spirit, whether to an individual, a group, a type or even a whole church.
Even the best of us can get caught in a bitterness of spirit, whether to an individual, a group, a type or even a whole church.
And even the best of us are tempted, just once, to go full on with the ‘Let me tell you exactly why you’re wrong, because I know more than you, have read more books than you, know my bible better than you, and you’re treating me like – an equal.’
Which discloses the unspoken question, ‘Where’s the respect I’m due?’
That’s a whale of an issue. Because clinging to respect, being driven by a need for it, was one of the characteristics of the Pharisees (Matt. 23:7)
Yes, Christian leaders are to be respected – but we are to be respectable. And you lose that when you lose your temper because of pride, self-righteousness, a feeling of being misunderstood – all the usual suspects.
And the fact that we live in a way that is respectable does not mean we will be respected. Ask Timothy. Ask Paul. Ask Jesus.
It’s no wonder that Paul reiterates to Timothy that he needs to display one of the fruit of the Spirit, in extraordinary measure. Paul had modelled it: You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance (2 Tim 2:10), and Timothy was going to have to grow into it, under the pressure of being a pastor: preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim 4:2).
So when you get that call or email, begin that conversation or – my favourite – the unexpected letter arrives, draw a deep breath. Remember that you are not expected to deal with this in your own strength, but in the Holy Spirit’s supernatural power. Pray, and tackle it again.
And yet again.
With great patience.