Tuesday, December 05, 2006

An Observation about Complainers

A pastor friend talked with me today about a situation in his church. There is a group who love to complain and grumble. The most recent occasion was a youth-led music number that was a bit too loud for their tastes, and they let him know, and know and know. So I asked him a couple of questions about this group: how many of them are involved in a small group Bible Study? How many are involved in the serving mission of the church? The answer was: NONE.
I raised those questions because I was invited to a small group fellowship gathering last Sunday night at a member's home. They were celebrating the upcoming marriage of one of their members and were toasting him (and her). In the process of the toasting, they began to reflect about what they have gone through as a group; the death of one member's spouse, deaths of parents, illnesses, job changes. This is a group whose members are spread out in service in the community. They laugh, cry and pray together. During the evening, one member turned to me and said; "How great is this? Look at all this love!" And as she talked I realized that there was not a chronic complainer in the crowd. They were way too active in the suffering, intercessory ministry of the church to worry about the volume of one song!
And I would have asked one more question, that I know would be un-answerable; how many of the complainers are tithers or sacrificial givers? I'd bet the answer would be again...none. It seems that when I live to serve and care for others, my preferences, tastes and styles are secondary. In one church I know of, the complainers are not the old members, but the younger ones, always wanting more of their preferences their styles.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book "Life Together" tells his readers, that we are not given the church (as pastors and leaders) to complain about it, but to love it. It takes work and effort to love those complainers and lead them into ministry beyond their needs.


At 8:32 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, complainers are often spectators throwing things from the sidelines. But I've also seen the complainers be actively involved, regular tithers, and leaders of home groups. Sometimes those complainers can also be backbiters, gossips, manipulators, liars, and blackmailers who use their financial influence to muzzle the expression of the worship team. Sometimes complainers write the regional leaders for months, threatening to withhold their very generous tithe until the pastor is pressured to resign because he is not enough of a "real" pastor for them. Sometimes a pastor's resignation is accepted, and on that very day, a complaining, influential family celebrates their "victory" by giving the church a gift of $10,000. And sometimes the regional leaders are tacitly complicit in the complainers' methods by instructing everyone involved in the church leadership to keep the real power-struggle quiet and out of the congregational eye. So sometimes it's good when complainers are merely a nuisance.

At 9:24 PM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Anonymous; again you took this to another level of both pain and power. You have obviously seen and witnessed something I have not. thanks for sharing

At 5:26 AM , Anonymous kent said...

anonymous - what you describe is evil. That is the word I intend for the type of behavior that twists and demeans the church as you have depicted. That is not complaining, that is not grousing, that is evil. And you are right that the regional leaders of often complicit because they are concerned with dollars and not the people involved. Another part is also complicit and that is the leadership of the church for allowing this to continue. If they have accepted the "victory gift", they have taken the 30 pieces of silver. This person would not have gained so much influence if they did not give their permission - either explicity or in silence. If this person got away with once, he or she will do it again. This is not complaining, this is evil.

At 7:16 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am always challenged by your posts. You make me think. I appreciate your creativity, your compassion, and your wisdom. I was very hesitant to post from my story, but I really have nowhere to tell it. I cannot share it openly within my denomination because the current president was the regional leader where these things happened. They happened after he advanced, but he has his own history of deceit and political manipulation, which I experienced when I dealt with him directly. But this tale is the legacy of his methods and his values. It all saddens me very deeply because God has so used clearly used our denomination in the past, and continues to do so today. The Peter Principle obviously also applies to pastors who rise in the political structure of the church. But then again, the Church is comprised of redeemed sinners living in a fallen world. *sigh*

I am very glad that you have not experienced anything like that. May it never be so.

I am glad to hear you name it so. That was my impression, but it hurts to believe that. Those who perpetrated this scheme did have a point -- the pastor did need to change certain things in his approach to being a pastor, but they never gave him a chance. His style was too foreign to their more traditional, conservative heritage.

Sadly, I can only vent like this. It feels cowardly and ineffective, but there are careers/ministries at stake here. And this in a denomination that prides itself on being nondogmatic and grace-oriented.

All that being said, I do fervently believe that God can redeem all of this. Though many people have been deeply wounded by this, I believe that many have also been driven to a deeper sense of dependence on Him, recognizing that the human element is consistently weak and fallible. That has been so in my life, and I have also seen it in the lives of others. Still, I confess that I find it difficult to simply forgive and move on. Every week I see and experience the aftermath of that clandestine expulsion, and it's been about a year now. But I really don't believe this is what God wants me to focus on. Life is not fair. Sometimes injustice prevails even in the church. Life goes on. God is still good and trustworthy, even if that is often not true of people.

At 8:39 AM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Dear Anonymous; Thanks again fro clarifying your evident pain safely. My hope and prayer is that those in power will read and be convicted. All bills come due.

At 6:59 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your consistently gracious response to my comments.

The times I've written on your blog reminds me of something Keith Miller once said. Essentially it was: "Be very careful about when and where you choose to spill your guts. The circumstances have to be just right because it's kind of like vomiting all over the other person. When you're done, you may feel a whole lot better, but it really doesn't do much for the other person."

Pardon the graphic metaphor and the previous posts which prompted it. But thanks again for the grace with which you received my comments.

At 2:45 PM , Blogger SSABCMcCord said...

I think that complaining and criticism are often given bad images. I love to hear complaining and criticism because it gives me a chance to see if there is a bigger issue than what I am aware of or correct a small problem before it becomes a big one or lastly to make something positive that was once negative before it is too late.

Yes there are complainers whom will never be apart of the solution, they are like weeds they seem to show up all the time; but, it is amazing how lightly we pass off complaints because we have rose colored glasses on. It also amazes me that we miss the opportunity to do a little PR work and see if the complainer is a "weed" or truly has as issue and wants to be a part of the solution.

I think we don't like complaints because we are afraid there may be a real problem out there that we have to fix. I wish my Mother had been willing to complain a little maybe she would still be here with us, but as it turned out she never complained about the pain in her chest until it was to much to bear then we went to the doctor only to find out it was too far gone. That is the real issue catching it before it is too late. Without a complaint it usually is too far gone before you can fix it.


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