the shape of leadership

Kindness in an Angry World

Christ’s compassion is countercultural

Kristi Northup on November 19, 2021

Anger has gone mainstream. Like a boiling pot with a tight lid, the temperature of our culture has been rising. Things that festered for years below the surface have come into the plain light of day. It has impacted communication, relationships, and even church dynamics.

Christians are angry at pastors. Pastors are frustrated with church people. Workers are walking off the job. Everyone on every side is angry at politicians.

Although there are many factors contributing to the current mood, three issues stand out to me:

The first issue is social media. Social media provides space for all kinds of ideas — and all kinds of arguments. Anonymous vent sessions often turn into a roar of angry voices. And it’s not just politics people are angry about online. Even a small misunderstanding can turn into an inflammatory post pointed at a real person that gets hundreds of shares in an hour.

The second issue is fear. Much of the overflowing frustration stems from this extended time of uncertainty. The pandemic has produced overwhelming anxiety and fear, which is often expressed as anger.

The third issue is a lack of de-escalation. COVID-19 created a domino effect of vulnerabilities in every system and institution, which is only exacerbated when other crises pile on. The pressure keeps mounting as people respond to fear with self-preservation — a desire to protect their own at any cost.

We recently saw this in New Orleans after Hurricane Ida, when some people became violent as they waited hours to buy gasoline.

Choosing Kindness

Anger can be a powerful tool. In fact, pastors have long used angry inflections in the pulpit. There is a time and a place for righteous indignation. But in a culture that is awash in angry rhetoric, is it really the best approach at the moment?

I’m not saying people don’t have reasons for their anger and frustration. I’m only saying that it’s not that special anymore. It’s a mode of operation that millions of people have adopted.

Where do we go from here? As Christian leaders, how do we begin to turn the tide? In this moment filled with rage and uncertainty, I believe kindness provides a powerful antidote. Performing an act of kindness requires a person to set aside self-preservation and act out of a spirit of generosity.

Kindness is disarming for both the person giving and the person receiving. It can break the feedback loop of anger and help us remember that we need one another.

It’s impossible to be kind and angry at the same time.

Sadly, many today least expect kindness from Christians. That’s not always fair, of course. But some have personal experience with angry Christians and have come to the conclusion that we are a hateful bunch.

Like many pastors, I have had more anger directed at me over the past year than in my previous 20 years of ministry combined. The fatigue from it all was making me step back emotionally. I wanted to limit my interaction with people who saw the world differently than I did.

Then Hurricane Ida hit. The day of the storm, another pastor from our Assemblies of God Louisiana Network reached out to my husband, Wayne. He asked whether we would be interested in hosting Samaritan’s Purse. I was hesitant. The organization is not from our Fellowship, and there could potentially be some areas of disagreement. But we concluded that we needed all the help we could get and said it would be an honor to host the team members.

While I knew Samaritan’s Purse is a non-denominational relief organization, I expected a business-minded, no-nonsense, task-oriented crew. I hate to admit it, but I also expected them to be critical and judgmental. What I experienced was something disarmingly different.

The first time I went out with the crew members, I was caught off guard by their humble and kind demeanor toward homeowners. In the training the members did with the volunteers, they reminded them what might look like a pile of junk is actually a lifetime of memories. The Samaritan’s Purse representatives encouraged volunteers to stop and talk if homeowners or neighbors wanted to share.

Volunteers were reminded to prioritize praying with people and explaining how Jesus is with them in this difficult moment. The job would be completed in time, the crew said, but the people were the reason we were there.

To watch this outpouring of kindness over the past 10 weeks has been healing to my heart. I’ve realized that so much disagreement and angry rhetoric all around had left me defensive, guarded and exhausted.

But hundreds of kind-hearted Christians have given up vacation time to volunteer in our city and sleep on our church floor. They’re not interested in highly charged, divisive conversations. These believers just want to help people in crisis and show them Jesus in a real way.

People in our community have responded to this outpouring of kindness. Many have come to Christ and been responsive to follow-up. It’s been disarming and healing at a time when the natural instinct is survival at any cost.

This experience has shown me that Christian kindness still exists. It can be devoid of ulterior motives and accepting of all types of broken people. It’s not that hard, and yet it goes against the grain of everything in our culture.

It’s impossible to be kind and angry at the same time. It’s hard to cancel others while we serve them. Let’s lead the way in demonstrating kindness, because “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).

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