Four years ago, I preached through Acts at my church and came to Acts 6:1-7. In verse 1, we read that, in the midst of the blossoming of the church, “a complaint arose from the Hellenists” that the congregation was ignoring them in the distribution. Complaints will arise in any church setting, so this should never surprise us. Yet, there are three ways to deal with a complaint! To be clear, I don’t have any particular episode in mind, just some general reflections from 23 years of ministry.
Ignore it. Just don’t address it at all. Say to yourself that any complainer must be carnal and move on to those who don’t complain because non-complainers are Spirit-filled and love Jesus. That’s not only bad leadership, that just plain silly. (Of course, one has to take into consideration if this is coming from a Son-of-Diotrephes effect, of which Joe McKeever deals with beautifully.) Every complaint has some kernel of something constructive in it. To dismiss this simply because ‘you’re the leader and they need to get on board’ is arrogant and narcissistic.
Internalize it. Here is the polar opposite of ignoring it. Take every complaint to heart, because regardless of what happens at a church or any business, if you’re the leader, it’s always a reflection on you and therefore your fault. Another way to internalize it is personally: every complaint you hear is equally valid. One complaint about a program or a direction in the church grinds everything to a halt. This is especially true if the aim of the church is to make everyone happy, forgetting that the aim of the church is to glorify God and produce Christ-like, Spirit-filled disciples.
Investigate it. Yes! This one! No blanket categorizing need apply here! See the nature of the complaint—it may teach you something! I shudder at times when I have not listened to a complaint when I should have! Sort through the complaint and see if it’s just a personal preference or if it’s a significant issue that could effect the spiritual direction of the body of Christ. This is what the apostles did—and what we as leaders must do!
Ultimately, we serve Jesus Christ! And the role of a God-called leader in the church is to meet folks where they are and take them where Christ is, and there are may ways this can be (see Jude 21-24). If complaints arise because some expect leaders to serve their personal preferences, then one can go from serving Jesus to serving people very quickly. Pray for God-called leaders to serve Jesus first, having in mind the things of God rather than the things of men (Matthew 16:20-28).
What think ye?