In yesterday’s post, I expressed the frustration felt by many preachers/pastors as well as other ministry leaders about the way some church members complain. You can read that post here. Any ways, I thought it might be helpful to address how to deal with such complainers.
To begin with, let me say that much of how we deal with complaining Christians involves wisdom learned most often through experience. When I first began in ministry I wanted to address every complaint I heard. Further more, I took every complaint at face value. Since then I have learned that some complaints are actually only symptoms of a bigger and deeper issue that itself must be surfaced and dealt with. I have also learned to ignore complaints levied through a third party. If a person has a complaint for which they think I am responsible for but cannot address me then it is not a big enough concern for me to address.
But about the complaints we do receive. How should we respond?
In some cases, some complaints are simply the frivolous wines of immaturity and are not worth responding to. So at first, it should be recognized that we need to exercise some discernment in knowing when and when not to respond as well as how to respond. When we do/must respond, here are a few suggestions I believe will greatly help both in the short and long term.
Take a breather. Be patient and don’t be reactive. Give yourself some time to listen and reflect on the complaint. I usually wait a day or so before I respond so that I have had time to think and pray about what I want to say. This helps me eliminate the chances of saying something I will regret five minutes later. Plus, this helps me to be reasonably certain about my response; that my response will be on point and addressed in an appropriate Christian matter. Also, by waiting a day or so, I might also discover that the complaint has some merit…in which case, my response will certainly be different.
Be constructive. As I said earlier, sometimes the complaint is not the real issue. Sometimes the real issue is a bigger and deeper problem that has nothing to do with you. In such cases it usually will take some intentional dialogue from both parties to surface the real issue and pastorally address it. I find the best way to pursue this is a face to face conversation, perhaps over coffee or tea. So if I receive the initial complaint by email or in some other manner and I perceived the problem is bigger that what it being said, then I will do my best to arrange a time when I can talk with that person.
Courageously confront. There are some complaints that are just inappropriate either in their nature or the way they are made. When a person attempts to manipulate others in order to have their complaint addressed, it needs to be confronted. When a person routinely disparages others, that needs to be confronted. Hypocrisy needs to be confronted as well. The only biblical model for confronting is found in Matthew 18:15-20. That model, which sadly is too often neglected by Christians, has in mind a face to face conversation that begins only with you and the other person That means the confrontation does not involve your spouse, not your church friends, or other church leaders (preacher, elders, etc…). For some people, this is hard to do because they seem naturally inclined to avoid conflict but that is no excuse for short-cutting what the Bible says. And we might even try to rationalize why it would be better to triangle a third-party but if we do so, we are likely only to exasperate the problem rather than solve it.