It’s the truth. Over the length of your worship ministry tenure, your church family may not remember a thing you said or a song you sang, but they will remember you being with them during high emotional impact moments: weddings, anniversary celebrations, birth of a child, hospitalizations, and times of grief or loss. There’s one additional thing they will remember, forever, I might add: your anger fits.
The year was 1983. The church I was serving was located in midtown Memphis, a mostly older congregation whose leadership had pledged to try to evangelize the changing and often dangerous neighborhoods in that part of the city.
As the new music pastor, I was resolutely focused on bringing renewal to their worship ministries. With high idealism, I was determined to build a youth choir ministry. By God’s grace and with much work, we soon had about 25 students attending each week. Most of these were “street” kids, wise to the ways of the world and essentially suspicious of all adult leadership. There were some tough dudes and dudettes in this choir, and they tested me… life had been hard for them, and the group dynamic reflected this.
Being blessed with an extremely long fuse, I managed to maintain control of myself through some very difficult rehearsals. I leaned hard on the “passive” side of my “aggressive” and never raised my voice at those students. But one day, I lost it!
I did not scream or yell, didn’t throw a music stand, or break a chair (I have friends who have done all of the aforementioned things!). Completely frustrated, and without any warning, I simply slammed my right hand on the top of the studio rehearsal piano next to me. I have large hands. It sounded like a bomb went off! Time stopped, and the air went out of the room. Trust me, complete silence was a new concept for this group! They were in shock, and so was their director.
The students had never seen me act like that. I knew I had done wrong; the Holy Spirit karate kicked me in the gut, and I stood before them guilty! I regained my composure and asked for their forgiveness. I did not want them to “check me off” as just another ill-tempered adult. I pledged to them that I would never do that again. I meant what I said, but I knew I would have to prove my word.
Many years later, I was invited back to this church for their 100th anniversary celebration. A lot of those students, by that point with teenagers of their own, were able to attend. As we joyfully shared and reminisced, I was amused and surprised that each one of them wanted to talk about and relive the hand-slamming moment! It still was very fresh on their minds, in colorful detail.
It is ironic that a display of wrathful anger can make you feel momentarily powerful, but will weaken you overall. Three of Jesus’ beatitudes, from Matthew 5, teach leaders under duress where to find their “happy place”:
“Blessed are the meek (power under control), for they will inherit the earth.” (v.5)
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (v.7)
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (v.9)
There are many reasons you shouldn’t be quick to anger. Here are 5 ministry-related ones:
1. “Losing it” discredits the work of the Holy Spirit and mars the image of Christ. Like it or not, we are the hands, feet, voice, and face of Jesus before our people. It is vital that we take regular inventory of our countenance. Do they see the joy of the Lord in us? All the time, or just 50% of the time? Inconsistencies in how we behave ourselves as leaders can hijack the ministry momentum of our church.
“Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret—it only causes harm.” (Psalm 37:8)
2. “Losing it” deceives you into thinking you have gained power or control. That’s why it’s called “losing it.” It’s gone, and if you do this a lot, it’s like trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
“Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools.” (Eccl. 7:9)
3. “Losing it” derails your ministry objectives and vision. The people of God desperately want to follow leaders who possess these fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22). One or two of these cannot be cherry picked to self-authenticate being Spirit-led. To have all nine, you must be grafted to the Vine! The greatest challenge for the man or woman of God is to be unified: the same person, in the home, at church, on the ball field, during choir rehearsal…..
“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4:31-32)
4. “Losing it” decimates your influence. Your people will silently fear you and avoid you. Vented anger essentially translates into a form of verbal/emotional abuse. I’ll never forget how one of my youth choir directors one day walked out on a choir rehearsal, and how that made me feel (real bad, and I was not the cause of his angst). That happened 45 years ago, and it’s still fresh. Conversely, the emotion of righteous anger cannot be denied and is vital to life; the potential for this has been placed in us by God’s design. There’s a huge difference between the two.
“Be angry, and yet do not sin…do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:26-27)
5. “Losing it” dismantles your ministry. People will stop participating in your music ministry groups. Eventually, you will be forced to find other employment. Unfortunately, your need for the Spirit fruit of “self-control” will follow you into your next job.
“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Prov. 16:32)
To be fair, you may say: “But Jesus cleansed the temple, turned over the tables of the moneychangers, and pronounced some dreadful “woes” upon the Scribes and Pharisees, even calling them snakes!!” Yes He did, but He did it righteously, without sin. I would encourage you to “have at it” when you find moneychangers in the temple!
Do you have a short fuse? Ask God to first remove it completely, for it represents in you a self-imposed boundary. Then ask Him to replace it with His Spirit-empowered, limitless patience. He will do it! Our God is able! As He often does, He may require from you a step of faith. Once taken, you will see the power come from on high!
Slater Murphy has been the Director, Church Music, of the Mississippi Baptist Convention since August, 2011. In addition, he continues his love of leading worship by being the conductor of the women of the Mississippi Baptist Singing Churchwomen and the accompanist for the men of the Mississippi Singing Churchmen, conducting the Mississippi Baptist All-State Youth Choir & Orchestra, and currently serving as the Interim Worship Leader at North Oxford Baptist Church. Slater and his wife, Marsha, live in Jackson, MS. Slater can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.