“Victims victimize others, who then send their own vengeance ricocheting through the larger human family ~ Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.
Back in May, Professor Dan Doriani of Covenant Theological Seminary wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition titled “Why Do Churches Wound Their Pastors?” As a local church pastor, the title caught my attention.
Not surprisingly, he notes that the most common way churches wound their pastors is through criticism and opposition. Still, Doriani doesn’t clearly answer the why question. He answers the how question—they criticize or oppose the pastor—but that doesn’t answer the why.
Admittedly, in attempting to answer this question, we are peering deeply into the human heart to see why people do what they do. The difficulty here is that we can’t see into a person’s heart. Nevertheless, we move forward humbly, seeking to answer the question as best we can.
As the title of this blog suggests, I’m writing on the broader issue of why we wound people in general, not just pastors. Thus, the points I make apply to all image-bearers.
Before you give your pastor (or anyone for that matter) criticism, be sure you pray first. Ask God to help you truly discern what your motives are. Do you genuinely love and respect the other person? Is your goal to build the other person up? If you’re bothered by something he or she has said don’t go to the other person until you’ve had time to calm down. Remember that an “outburst of anger” is identified as a work of the flesh in Scripture (Gal. 5:20) while kindness, gentleness, and self-control are in line with the fruit of the Spirit.
But still we have to ask: Why would a Christian ever intentionally wound another person?
Here are some random thoughts:
First, people (some more than others) struggle to manage their emotions. Author Daniel Goleman refers to this phenomenon as lacking emotional intelligence. Simply put, emotional intelligence refers to the ability to manage your emotions and to respond properly to the emotions of others. Furthermore, this involves the ability to understand your emotions. In my mind, lacking emotional intelligence is another way of talking about lacking self-awareness; or we might use Peter Scazzero’s term emotional health.
Scazzero, in his books Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and The Emotionally Healthy Church, argues that it is not possible for a person to be spiritually mature without being emotionally mature. I agree. Simply put, if you have a PhD is systematic theology yet behave like an emotional infant, then you’re not spiritually mature.
Second, people fail to exercise self-control. In a social media filled world this may sound crazy, but it’s true: we don’t have to articulate every thought that comes to mind. Instead, we pray, asking the Lord to guard our mouths (Ps. 39:1). A person with self-control displays wisdom. Prov. 11:12 says “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense,” and Prov. 14:17 reminds us that “A man of quick temper acts foolishly.” Who can forget Prov. 16:32? “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Remember that as a believer in Jesus Christ you have renounced self-lordship (Lk. 9:23). You are not your own (1 Cor. 6:19). You no longer worship your desires. You now welcome the mini-deaths that make up your daily reality.
Third, we haven’t had good role models. I’m not playing the victim card on this one, I promise. Rather, I’m saying that poor relational skills tend to run in families. Few people make it out of their families of origin as emotionally whole people. Most parents have not taught their children how to relate to others well. And here’s the thing, parents: This is more caught than taught. When your children see you throw an adult tantrum, they’re learning how to process their own emotions the same way. In my experience, those who haven’t learned how to process their emotions well tend to be passive-aggressive, giving others the silent treatment and angry looks, settling for a passive pleasantness, while fuming on the inside.
Fourth, we haven’t disciplined ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). People may say they don’t have to attend church to be a Christian, but all the strong, mature believers I know rarely miss church. Additionally, all the godly people I know read the Bible and pray regularly; they love and serve others, and show hospitality. In other words, they’ve disciplined themselves for the purpose of godliness, and this includes making community—life in the church—a priority. Again, Proverbs sheds light on this facet of our walk with God: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desires; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Prov. 18:1).
As I say on most of my blogs, this post isn’t meant to be comprehensive. These are some thoughts that came to mind and what I’ve seen in my life and ministry.