One Sentence that Pastors and Church Staff Hate to Hear:
The following is an insightful article by Tom Rainer that speaks to one of the most challenging elements of maintaining unity in the church today, regarding those who “don’t play nice,” and are unwilling to seek reconciliation and unity as the Word of God teaches. (http://thomrainer.com/2014/12/17/one-sentence-pastors-church-staff-hate-hear/)
One Sentence That Pastors and Church Staff Hate to Hear The moment they hear it, they feel the “cringe factor” throughout their body. Even as the first few words are spoken, the recipient feels his or her emotions plummeting. It is the one sentence that is uniformly dreaded by pastors and church staff. It typically begins with these words: “People are saying that . . . “ The full sentence could say; “People are saying that you don’t visit enough.” Another example is: “People are saying that our student ministry is not doing well.” Or one more example is: “People are saying that you don’t have good office hours.” The sentence might specify a group while maintaining anonymity for the individuals: “Some elders are not happy with you” or “A lot of the staff are unhappy.” You get the point. It could be phrased a number of ways, but the meaning is still similar. “People” is never defined. The true complainer is never identified.
It is one of the most frustrating and demoralizing sentences pastors and staff will hear. Here are some reasons for the frustration: The complainer lacks the courage to speak for himself or herself. So he or she hides behind the deceitful veil of “people are saying.” Leaders in churches know that when complainers lack courage to speak for themselves, or when they have to hide behind anonymous complainers, they are trouble in the making. The leader has no recourse or action to take. These complainers never identify the source or sources. So the pastor or staff person cannot follow up and speak directly to the dissidents. He or she is left with a complaint that cannot be resolved due to anonymity. The leader immediately questions the motive of the complainer.
The moment the ministry leader hears those words, “People are saying . . . “, he or she doubts the credibility and the heart of the complainer. The approach is cowardly; it thus is always seen through the lens of doubt and frustration
This approach is a double frustration for the ministry leader. First, he or she has heard yet another criticism. Most ministry leaders have to deal with criticisms too often. Second, the ambiguity of the complaint and the source of the complaint can leave a leader wondering if the problem is really bigger than reality. He or she can waste a lot of emotional energy on something that really may not be such a big deal. Indirect criticisms can be the most painful criticisms. Most ministry leaders deal better with someone who is direct and precise in his or her concerns. But indirect criticisms such as “People are saying . . . “ or “I love you pastor, but . . . “ hurt more because cowardly actions and duplicitous behavior are added to the criticism itself.
As a leader in a local church and in other places, I got to the point where I did not entertain such veiled criticisms. I tried to be polite and say, “I am sorry, but I cannot listen to you further because you will not give me the specific sources of the concerns. If you are willing to name those people specifically or, even better, get them to speak to me directly, I will be happy to hear the concerns.”
Has my approached worked? Frankly, I don’t recall any of these critics being happy with my response. But I have had to learn that there are certain people in churches and other organizations who have the spiritual gift of complaining. And they will exercise that gift frequently and with vigor. I have to move on to those who have positive and encouraging solutions. Life is too short to deal with cowardly complainers.
Thank you Tom Rainer for such clear insights to what goes on behind the scenes of ministry. Conflict is a reality on this planet. Conflict is going to happen in our marriages, in our churches and in our business relationships. The real issue for Christ followers, is “how we handle conflict when it arises.” There are some personalities that “do not play nice,” whether it is in a marriage, a church or in the workplace. As Christ followers, we don’t want to be those people who “don’t play nice.” Paul exhorts us in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Is it always possible to live peaceably with people? No. However, we have a responsibility to do our part to bring reconciliation, no matter what the other person does, or has done. We pursue reconciliation by moving toward the problem, as this is the ministry that God wants us to embrace, the “ministry of reconciliation.” This takes great maturity and it is not easy, and it honors God. In abusive relationships, it might not be possible to move toward the problem, because it is not safe. Seek counsel before re-engaging someone who has a history of abuse.
2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
So when there is conflict, what are the steps that we can take to bring about reconcilation?
Matthew 18:15 tells us to go to the person one on one. If the person responds, it is a win.
Galatians 6:1 tells us the attitude we should have when we confront… “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” I remind myself of these two verses by using the phrase, “Matthew 18 in the spirit of Galatians 6:1.”
If you haven’t seen the video clip of Mandisa’s confrontation of Simon Cowell on American Idol, you can watch it here…
Mandisa is an example of one who has the right attitude, speaks the truth in love and is quick to forgive because Jesus has forgiven her. I want to be more like Mandisa! Notice that she doesn’t let Simon off the hook by downplaying how much he hurt her. The hurt was real and she verbalizes it, but she doesn’t stop there. She forgives!
Unity is a fragile thing in the church, and it is so important as a witness and testimony to the world. If the world sees that the church can’t get along, then there is little credibility in preaching the gospel message. The messenger gets in the way of the message. This means that, like Mandisa, we need to be willing to move toward the problem, confront the issues and restore relationships with God’s unconditional love, a love that is not resentful, literally, “keeping no record of wrongs suffered.” A bitter root always springs up and defiles many (Hebrews 12:15)!
This is why Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, something we all must keep in mind, that unity comes from God and we must be eager to maintain that unity that God initiates. It takes work to maintain what God has given to us.
Ephesians 4:1-3 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
What do you think?