Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Angry Christian and the Belligerent Salesperson

I yelled at a salesperson today.

People who call the church office don't have the benefit of seeing the "No Solicitors" sign on the door...some people who visit the church office apparently can't see it either.

Anyway, this guy really got on my nerves. Helpful hint for those of you who call pastors trying to sell them stuff: don't use the following lines...

"You know this is a good idea, right?"

"Well, you're the pastor. You're the final decision-maker. People look to you for that, don't they? I mean, if a team isn't doing well, one of the first people they get rid of is the coach."

"Here's what other pastors have done: they pay for the first few months out of their own pockets and then present the good results to their board so they can set aside some money. So shall I sign you up?"

"Well, you have the option of sitting around and thinking about it for a while and eventually deciding against it, but wouldn't you rather just start reaching people with it now?"

I repeatedly tried to tell him to send me information so that a group at the church entrusted with these types of tasks could consider it. His product actually addressed something that we're thinking of doing, but every time I tried to get him to do this, it was like he just hit Restart on his little sales pitch. He didn't want me to consult other people. He just wanted to make a sale.

So finally, I said, "Look, I appreciate your persistence and I'm sure what you're selling is excellent, but I still want to run this by other people. See, the way things are done here is that others are called according to their gifts and I trust them to make those decisions. I know that there's this mentality out there that I have the final say in everything, but I believe in the priesthood of all believers, the notion that it's not just about me but about all of us working together. This isn't about me being hired or fired or whatever, it's about all of us working together. So just send me your packet and we'll look it over."

That was the end of the conversation. 15 minutes of my life I'll never get back. I decided to take a walk down to the mailbox after this to cool down.

Now, the role of the pastor in the congregation isn't really the issue here for me. Sure, the mentality of Pastor as Boss is alive and well, but what I really want to talk about is anger.

I'm reading The Angry Christian by Andrew Lester at the moment, which is a fantastic pastoral theological look at the role of anger in the church.

Lester discusses the causes of anger within us, and makes the argument that anger is usually triggered because one perceives a threat. Anger is the response to that threat, to brace for a reaction. I think that "threat" is pretty broadly defined. It's not just a physical threat that he's talking about, but anything that we see as a threat to our values, lifestyle, emotions, and so on. So when one gets angry at another person weaving in and out of traffic on a busy highway, Lester writes, one may feel that one's safety is threatened, one's competitive streak may act up--a threat to one's sense of winning and losing. Of course, he'd say that not every threat is real or rational. Anger by definition isn't rational, anyway.

So how did I feel threatened in order to get angry at this salesperson? Well, he kept badgering me to try this product now and questioned my hesitation, so I felt that my ability to make a choice was threatened. He basically implied that not doing this would be a bad decision that may cost me my job, so my own values as a pastor felt threatened. And in general I felt disrespected, which as I learned in CPE is a huge deal for me.

Lester also talks about how anger can be a good thing when it is "in the service of love." In other words, the passionate kind of anger that motivates people to fight for a good cause or to pursue justice is a good kind of anger; it is anger of protection and service. Sometimes people call it righteous anger.

Anyway, was there anything about my anger that was in the service of love? I think so. I have a love and respect for other church members' abilities that I wanted to pass this decision on to them. That was really the main thing. I also defended an alternate form of church governance and pastoral theology that he wasn't familiar with, but I don't know how well that applies here.

So I was interested to see how this great book applied to this morning's events. This is what I came up with. I'll probably never hear from this guy again. As he kept reminding me, he's been doing this for 20 years, so somebody was able to get past his approach. Or was guilted in by it.