The angry pastor: trouble in the making

“Now, in the last days, difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self…boastful, arrogant, revilers…ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited…. Avoid such men as these.” (II Timothy 3:1-5)

Veteran Christian workers get this a lot. People tell you of a conversation they had with you years or even decades ago in which you either said the magic words that changed their lives or came out with something that infuriated them then and continues to bug them to this day.

You don’t remember any of it.

In yesterday’s cybermail, I had two such messages, one of each kind. One young minister was thanking me and the other was venting. Both conversations had occurred nearly 10 years ago.

The second letter told of the time the writer sat in my office, seeking guidance for entering the ministry. According to his note, I asked what kind of church position he was interested in.  And that’s what ticked him off.

“I was morally outraged by the question,” he said.

After all, he went on to point out, the issue was finding and doing God’s will, not what he was interested in.

He went on from there, updating me on his situation and asking for prayers, but my attention was riveted on those words: morally outraged. I’m unsure what that term means, to tell you the truth, particularly in this setting.  My dictionary defines “outrage” as a severe insult or affront. But, “morally outraged?”

I could not be more surprised by this than if my question had given him a sudden craving for chocolate ice cream.  One seems to have little to do with the other.

We never know what is going to tick someone off.

Unresolved anger is a scary thing. One never knows when it’s going to rear its ugly head, who it’s going to victimize, and what price the perpetrator may be forced to pay as a result of the damage he causes.

Any minister harboring unresolved anger in his heart is a ticking time bomb capable of doing a lot of damage to a great many people. What’s worse, it’s all done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The angry pastor will wreck his relationships with the other staff members, with the deacons, with anyone coming to him with a plea for help, and particularly with anyone bringing a criticism to him.

Earlier today, I asked a group of friends for their response to this question: “What does an angry pastor do?” The answers poured in and piled up in a hurry.

–Angry pastors take their aggression out on their staff.

–They drive people away from the church.

–Their preaching is harsh and graceless. They become “clubbers” from the pulpit, clobbering people with the Word.

–They become vindictive, unforgiving, interested in payback.

–The pulpit becomes a place to vent, to accuse, to belittle, to defend.

–He is harsh to his wife and stern and unloving to his family.

–He blames others for his failings.

–He beats the sheep instead of feeding them.

–He becomes bitter and sarcastic. “All sarcasm is rooted in anger.”

–He crushes the hearts and spirits of the congregation.

A good pastoral counselor can be such a person’s best friend.  We said a “good” one, please notice.  The last thing an angry minister needs is a passive non-directive counselor who will nod and repeat back his own statements. He must have someone who will look him in the eye, call a spade a spade, and hold him accountable for his misbehavior.

This kind of counseling can be painful, is usually costly, and can require numerous sessions over many months. Furthermore, it takes a severe toll on the counselor himself. An hour session with an angry person completely wipes out the counselor.

In many cases, the bitter minister will not be going for counseling, however. The problem as he sees it is everyone else, not him.  The world needs to change, not him. Woe to the poor soul who ventures to suggest he get counseling for his problem.

When a pastor (we’re talking about any minister) admits to his anger problem and seeks out a pastoral counselor, he has taken a major step in the right direction. But to say he’s “halfway there” would be simplistic. Not by a long shot.  He has a long road ahead, but the people who love him most and believe in him strongest will cheer him on and will be there to celebrate with him at the end.

At a gathering of pastors from across denominational lines, various ministers were sharing prayer concerns. An African-American woman said, “I am the pastor of Phillips Memorial United Methodist Church. We are in trouble. In recent days we have learned that our church is built over a toxic land fill. The poisons in the soil are endangering everyone. We are going to have to relocate our entire church. Please pray for us.”

Anger poisons congregations as surely as the worst toxins in the soil.

It’s bad enough when church members bring active, unresolved anger into the congregation. It’s worse when the carriers of such ill-will are leaders of the church. But when the mad men are the pastors and spiritual leaders of the church, the news is all bad.

From then on, it’s all downhill.

Yesterday, I had a phone call from a search committee chairman inquiring about a certain pastor.  Among the things I was able to tell him was this: In spite of a difficult pastorate where my friend now serves, he has retained his joy in the Lord and a healthy perspective on ministry. He is angry at no one, and loves them all.

That’s the kind of person I want as my pastor.

It’s the kind of pastor I want to be.


A friend suggests that Dr. Wayne Oates, longtime seminary professor in Louisville and widely acclaimed teacher of counselors, had something special to say on this subject in his book “Behind the Mask.” (I’ve just ordered a copy of that 1987 book.) The following are notes from my friend’s blog, which he attributes to Dr. Oates….

–The angry pastor wants people to fear him. He is anti-social. Prides himself on his bluntness. Intimidation is his first tool of choice in relationships. He loves a good fight. His motto is “I don’t get angry; I get even.” He’s vindictive and people fear him, are afraid to confront him or cross him.

–Manipulation and coercion become his tools of conquest. Everything is about him.

–How to deal with him:

a) Tell him ‘no’ firmly and solidly.

b) Refuse to be frightened by him.

c) Use gentle humor with him. Gentleness is the believer’s great strength, a lesson this bully has never learned.

I’m grateful for these insights.

13 thoughts on “The angry pastor: trouble in the making

  1. I had such a pastor 3 years ago. He used the pulpit to bully the congregation to his point of view. Our family went from 220 to 35-40 before enough people said we want a vote. Now,the church is rebuilding and doing well with a new pastor. Old wounds heal slowly, but thank God, they do heal. I wish an angry pastor on no congregation!

  2. This is exactly what I needed to read! My heart is breaking over the current situation of my church. I am in the position of feeling called to reproof my “angry” pastor. My stomach is constantly in knots and am praying for God’s wisdom and words to really reach him and soften his heart.

  3. We have an angry Pastor who has openly acknowledged being angry but blames the congregation for not doing what he wants. He has surrounded himself with yes men – lame duck elders and does not love or is interested in people. I believe many are too sacred to leave and we can’t get rid of him. The church is stagnant in numbers because the area is growing. It is sad state of affairs

  4. I am in this situation now. It truly feels like our Pastor is a Bully with a Pulpit. He keeps hammering home how everyone in the congregation needs to repent. And gets angry if the alter isn’t full. He preaches to the present about the absent. His whole family walks around as if they hate the world. His son posts things on FB about how ADHD and Autism is s sham and an excuse for children’s bad behavior. He does this knowing that several children in our congregation have these diagnoses. Our Pastor has a drawer in his office where he keeps a file on FB post that he feels are inappropriate. He prints them off and files them. He shames our deacons and his staff by the way he talks to them and about them. He talks about things that people have told him in private counseling sessions in his sermons. These things are said to shame and belittle the one being counseled. I have held more than one of our young Church members as they have cried and begged me to help them understand. People are leaving faster than I have ever seen in a church that hasn’t split. I have prayed so much about this situation. My heart hurts so badly over it sometimes that I can’t breath. I got so sick thinking about going this morning that I stayed home. Just don’t know what else to do. I am a woman so confronting him isn’t going to happen. My husband, who the Pastor has called the unofficial Associate Pastor, has tried on numerous occasions to talk to him to no avail.

    • Lisa, a church gets the kind of pastor they want. If they don’t want this pastor–and it’s hard to imagine anyone would!–the leadership should stand up and deal with him. No pastor can withstand a unified effort by the leadership. That is the beginning and the end of this matter. — I am as sorry for you and the church as I can be. But the leadership should man up and deal with this ungodly tyrant.

  5. My husband and I are struggling in a church where the pastor is the only one in charge. The pastor says he has elders who hold him accountable, but we don’t know who they are.

    He wrongly assumes the worst motives when people offer to do something in the church, and uses the pulpit to make his own assessments. Those who offer to do something outside the few jobs he wants filled in the church are seen as puffed up and murmuring against him. He doesn’t hesitate to point out in his messages the various ways that he thinks people are in sin (without ever really getting to know people and learning about them individually.) Granted, he is an excellent expositor, but we are feeling embittered. Our sincere efforts to serve are met with being cut off and being told that if we really had a servant’s heart, we would serve in “these areas” where we are “needed the most.” We are not gifted in those areas and we are happy to serve if and only if we feel confident that the Lord wants us to.

    • If you are the only members of the church, you’re stuck. But if there are other leaders, talk to them. Surely you’re not alone in your concern.

  6. I am the wife of a pastor. Yesterday, he came home so angry at the members, deacons as well as God, but mostly he feels defeated and betrayed. He is angry with people who say they want something to happen in the church, he organizes an opportunity and then no one participates. This has been going on for 12 years all in different churches. He has never demonstrated his anger directly towards people, in fact despite his anger, he is intentionally quite and compassionate towards the members and desperately teaches the grace of God, desperately for them but also because he wants it for himself. We have only been with this church almost 2 yrs. Bought a house. Our son is in school. We do not live anywhere near family. He wants us to quit everything and move closer to family and just live. When is it the right time to leave the ministry? I am afraid if he continues on this path, he will loose what faith he has left or I will loose him.

    • You don’t need him to leave the ministry. You need for your husband to get a good counselor from somewhere–the denomination, some counseling center, some veteran pastor, someone!! A 12 year pattern indicates he is getting some things wrong and needs some good counsel. Please encourage him to do this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.