Shepherding without Venting

By: William D. Shiell

As a young pastor, I confided in a few people in my church that knew how I really felt. I had been trained in seminary not to bring everything home or to vent my frustrations to my wife. But I did have a few friends and a couple of staff members I could talk to. Occasionally they would ask me how things are going, and I made a common mistake. I told them exactly how I was feeling. Sometimes, it was my assistant, others a friend or two. Not many people. Just a small group. I assumed that I was “just getting things off my chest.” But as I found out later, I was actually harming the congregation I was sent to shepherd.

Venting can seem like an innocent remark to share the burdens of life with another person. Especially when we are the victim of a minor offense, we can easily make the problem worse in our speech and attitudes. Venting has become the way we unleash our fears and worries privately and publicly. We spread our thoughts from the foyer at church to Facebook, on the phone, assuming what’s wrong with us should be someone else’s concern. The result, however, damages our witness and ironically poisoning our own lives.

When writing to the Philippians, Paul assumed that suffering and setbacks were actually part of the normal realities of followers of the way. In the face of injustice, Paul challenged us to do everything without grumbling and arguing. That means our speech about our daily worries needs a filter.

In their most recent edition, Harvard Business Review cites a study of two professions prone to be victims of injustice—London bus drivers and undergraduate college students. They studied how they responded when the bus supervisors and professors mistreated their workers and students. After 90 days, they tracked to see if they were more forgiving toward the offending party and less angry. You can probably guess the results. Those who vented their frustrations to coworkers were found to be less tolerant and unforgiving of others three months later. Drivers and students, however, who took time to reframe the situation, reflect on their circumstances, and learn from others’ mistakes were found to be more forgiving and in a better frame of mind.

When we’re victims of injustice, the best place to put our frustrations is into prayer, journaling, and reframing the circumstances. Look for the goodness that is coming out of the badness, and seek reconciliation in broken relationships. If the incident is criminal in nature, call the police. Otherwise, we’re just adding to the problem and only poisoning ourselves. When you need to “get something off your chest,” try serving the person who wronged you. They might just become a more mature member of the flock.

August 12, 2019

William D. Shiell

President, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Preaching

ABOUT William

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