Seth Godin makes me think. He’s the brilliant marketer’s marketing guy, and today on his blog he posted an insightful bit about anger. Of course, he’s talking about it from the marketing perspective, angry customers aren’t going to go anywhere on the relationship curve while they are angry. He offers the following:
I have two suggestions for dealing with angry folks:
- Sometimes, you can just avoid them. You can choose not to work with angry people. Just move on. There are plenty of non-angry people out there.
- You can acknowledge the anger and understand that until you make the anger go away, all responses are going to be off the charts and completely useless to you. The opportunity in working with an angry person is that you can somehow turn that angry person into a non-angry one… and from there, move them up the curve to a relationship you both value. The mistake marketers make all the time is that we believe that moving the person up the curve is the next step. It’s not. No one moves while they’re angry.
In ministry-world I don’t see a lot of healthy use for suggestion #1, while there are certainly good business applications. Choosing not to deal with angry people does have to happen sometimes, but it isn’t the ideal in a ministry context. Rarely, and it should be rare, a relationship is broken when anger either doesn’t abate, the anger is wielded in ways that are sinful (dishonest, destructive), or the conflict can’t be resolved between the parties and/or the community. This is an undesirable end in ministry; it must be a carefully considered (according to Biblical principles) and prayed over situation because relationships are so valuable.
Suggestion #2 has the most application in ministry, I think. Acknowledging anger, listening to a person and allowing the emotional flood to subside to a place where resolution can happen is, I believe, a part of God’s design for emotions. Anger is a most-powerful emotion, and it earns special warning in scripture about how it is to be used,
22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold. 28He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Anger, rightly handled, certainly can make a point. It can be used to catalyze change. I see that demonstrated in Jesus’ own anger as he turned over the money-changers tables in the temple courts. He was angry the temple had become a place to cheat people, his point was clearly understood. That shows is that anger, in and of itself, is not a sin. In our human nature, susceptible to our own desires and priorities, we so easily fail to put our anger to constructive, positive use. In Christian community it is important to teach healthy, Godly ways to express the source of our anger, rather than force it to be relegated inward to leach out as gossip, bitterness and destruction. I see so many applications for this in ministry! Young people, marriages, leadership… who wouldn’t benefit from handling emotions, especially anger, in a more Godly way?!
Communities that are about transformation could take a huge leap by giving anger it’s proper place as a God-given emotion signaling hurt, injustice, oppression, teaching and supporting members of the Body of Christ in “putting off the old self” and express anger appropriately, and allowing anger to be a catalyst for communication, change, reconciliation by the ministry of forgiveness.