How to Tame Resentment at Church

Resentment-frustrationI recall a time as a pastor when my emotional skin got so thin that I took offense at just about anything anyone said. I knew it was not good, but it was like I could not stop myself.

I liken that period to having “emotional rug burn.” Rug burn is a painful condition where friction of some sort has rubbed your skin so thin that it becomes highly sensitive to heat or touch. You can get rug burn innocently enough, like when roughhousing with your children on the floor. But when one has rug burn, the hypersensitivity it creates makes things that normally would pass unnoticed become a painful focus of our attention.

Resentment creates the equivalent of emotional rug burn. Resentment is an emotional response we feel toward some sort of perceived wound or slight when we do not feel we have a way of righting the wrong. Resentments are common in submission-authority relationships, with bosses or supervisors (or boards) who may operate with insensitivity or callousness to our situation.

We feel we cannot respond lest we lose our jobs, so we put the wrong in an “inner warehouse” and start to store any more we receive in the same place. As we mount up more and more resentment, we are hypersensitive to any hint of criticism, any show of favoritism or word of praise toward someone else. At its worst, when our inner warehouse gets full, even civil conversation with those who have wounded us becomes difficult.

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One can sense how damaging this can be when it takes place in a local church, where love is to be the rule of the day. I took a church recently through the Healing the Heart of Your Church process, and harboring resentment was the attitude that, early on when they were a church plant, evidenced itself as a problem. It had started with a pastor who felt that the mother church—which had planted them, supported them and still supervised them—had been heavy-handed with him over some issue. He came home and told a group of his leaders, and they all took up the offense and resented the mother church. This was their “hinge moment,” the point when difficulties began in their church.

From that small seed of corporate bitterness grew a sizable fruit-bearing plant that ultimately affected everyone in the congregation. As they told their story, resentment played a part in almost every major decision they made because someone didn’t feel they were listened to or appreciated for their part or understood or cared for.

You don’t hear too many sermons on resentment, and you won’t find it on most lists of “deadly sins,” yet it was probably this along with pride that caused Satan’s fall. Because it is subtle and poses as “just wanting justice or fairness,” it often catches us unaware.

But it is not a healthy attitude. And what I learned from this church’s story is how it definitely grows when God’s people do not recognize it and deal with it. They are now preparing to take responsibility for resentment as a part of their “Solemn Assembly,” a special service of corporate repentance and healing.

If you are holding or harboring resentment toward any of God’s people or the spiritual leaders whom Christ may have appointed or called to your church, clean out this “old leaven” that makes up what Paul calls the “mere man” part of us. We who have Christ in us are to be so much more than mere men. Do a Spirit-led check of your inner life and see if you have any spiritual rug burn, and monitor your church for this insidious sin.

How would you describe resentment’s effect on your church or Christian life?

Ken Quick is the pastor at Fusion Fellowship Church in Ellicott, Md.

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