Many years ago I heard someone say that the primary cause of burnout for men between 25 and 35 was bitterness.

My early mentor Warren Myers within days after first meeting him asked me to pray that he wouldn’t die a bitter old man. Strange request I thought at the time, but later in life I totally understood his request. I have met my share of bitter older men. By His grace I don’t want to be one of them. Chuck Lawless shares the price tag of harboring bitterness for Christian leaders and pastors.

Guest Post by Chuck Lawless

It happens. Pastors and Christian leaders  get smacked around, and they often bear the scars of anger and bitterness. My fear is that many leaders let that bitterness settle into their hearts, and they never really deal with it. Here are some markers that catch my attention:

  1. Quick temper. For some leaders, little things that should not create much negative response do, however – and others cannot figure out why their leader is so easily stressed and short-fused.
  2. Personal isolation. The office (or someplace else) becomes a place of refuge, a place of escape from the very people the leader is called to lead. It seems safest where people are not.
  3. Family stress. Bitter leaders usually take out their bitterness on somebody, and that somebody is often their family. Divorce is not that uncommon when relational bitterness grips a heart.
  4. General distrust. The leader  who’s been hurt in the past—especially the one who’s never fully moved beyond yesterday’s pain—usually struggles trusting people. Instead, he constantly waits for the next problem to develop.
  5. Ministry “merry-go-round.” Bitter leaders  often become “sojourners” who travel from job to job. Their method for dealing with issues = leaving for the next “greener grass” place—which is never greener when they carry bitterness with them.
  6. Weak prayer life. That’s because the prayers of unforgiving people don’t go very far (Mark 11:25-26). I don’t know many leaders who keep praying persistently when it seems no one is listening to their prayers in the first place.
  7. Poor health. This marker isn’t always apparent, but there’s often a connection between a leader’s  spiritual health and his physical health. Some bitter leaders get so consumed with their emotions that they don’t eat well or exercise enough.
  8. Forced justifications. At least for a while, even high-level leaders defend themselves when confronted about their bitterness. They rationalize as well and as “spiritually” as anyone can.
  9. “Mean” preaching. Some pastors may not recognize it, but their church families  know when they’re “taking out their anger” on the whole church. Having a microphone only makes their sin more obvious and loud.
  10. Fading joy. Not many people want to be around these leaders anymore. The people being led may not know all that’s happening, but they know their leader doesn’t show the joy of Christ anymore.

Be honest—does any of these markers hit home for you? If you want to read more, here’s why bitterness will consume you if you allow it to do so.