It happens. Pastors get smacked around in church work, and they often bear the scars of anger and bitterness. My fear is that many pastors let that bitterness settle into their hearts, and they never really deal with it. Here are some markers that catch my attention:
- Quick temper. For some pastors, little things that should not create much negative response do, however – and others cannot figure out why their pastor is so easily stressed and short-fused.
- Personal isolation. The office (or someplace else) becomes a place of refuge, a place of escape from the very people the pastor is called to lead. It seems safest where people are not.
- Family stress. Bitter leaders usually take out their bitterness on somebody, and that somebody is often their family. Divorce is not that uncommon when relational bitterness grips a heart.
- General distrust. The pastor who’s been hurt in the past—especially the one who’s never fully moved beyond yesterday’s pain—usually struggles trusting any congregation. Instead, he constantly waits for the next problem to develop.
- Ministry “merry-go-round.” Bitter pastors often become “sojourners” who travel from church to church to church. Their method for dealing with issues = leaving for the next “greener grass” place—which is never greener when they carry bitterness with them.
- Weak prayer life. That’s because the prayers of unforgiving people don’t go very far (Mark 11:25-26). I don’t know many leaders who keep praying persistently when it seems no one is listening to their prayers in the first place.
- Poor health. This marker isn’t always apparent, but there’s often a connection between a pastor’s spiritual health and his physical health. Some bitter leaders get so consumed with their emotions that they don’t eat well or exercise enough.
- Forced justifications. At least for a while, even pastors defend themselves when confronted about their bitterness. They rationalize as well and as “spiritually” as anyone can.
- “Mean” preaching. The pastors may not recognize it, but their congregations know when they’re “taking out their anger” on the whole church. Having a microphone only makes their sin more obvious and loud.
- Fading joy. Not many people want to be around these pastors anymore. The congregation may not know all that’s happening, but they know their pastor doesn’t show the joy of Christ anymore.
Be honest—does any of these markers hit home for you? If you want to read more, here’s why bitterness will consume you if you allow it to do so. Let us know if we might pray for you.