We knew people were going to love the upgrade to the worship auditorium. It was long overdue. Since we had moved into the space very little beautification had been done.
We, elders and staff, had created a plan to upgrade the space, make it look great, and keep the price down. We ordered the materials, scheduled the upgrades, and began the project. As the project was unfolding and the room was transforming, I noticed something happening. It was unimaginable.
Not everyone like the changes.
I know you are having a hard time believing that, but not everyone in the church was thrilled with the upgrades.
We started hearing little murmurs and critiques of the changes from people. Why did we choose this wood? Why did we need to do anything at all? Donʼt we need more kid space? Other similar remarks were made.
Iʼll be honest with you, we do not have a lot of complaints and griping at our church over decisions, so this challenged the elders and staff. We had to step back and learn some lessons from the experience.
Every leader and team will eventually receive critique or complaints over a decision. You are likely facing something now. My recent experience led me to some conclusions and that may be helpful next time you or your staff/elders experience grumbling and critique.
- Learn from the criticism. If you will truly listen to a criticism or complaint, you can find a way to get better from it. One of the things that I learned about our renovation project from the criticism we received, was not that people disliked it, but they didnʼt like being surprised. We didnʼt communicate well. People did not have a chance to understand the changes. Lesson learned. However, if you chalk all criticism up as “the chirping of a few trouble-makers,” you may miss some lessons that would help you improve your leadership.
- Remember not to be reactionary to every complaint. While you want to learn from criticism and complaints, you do not want to become reactionary. Leaders cannot lead by responding to every remark they receive. If you form the habit of reacting to every complaint in order to fix it, you will find yourself pandering to people and not leading. You will notice quickly that instead of complaints ceasing, they increase. Donʼt overreact. Leaders must be led by vision and conviction, not by who is complaining the loudest.
- Teach the congregation/individual how to properly address issues. One of the things receiving complaints allows for you to do is teach how Christians should address issues in a godly way. Unfortunately, in churches, we are not known for being great with conflict resolution. People often get hurt, upset, and offended by the attempts. We need to explain to people that if you do not agree with a decision or direction the leaders have established or chosen, this does not mean you gossip to your friend or small group. Issues should be taken through the proper channels. Leaders should be addressed directly about concerns or disputes, rather than complaining to those in our circle. A congregant may have a valid complaint but deal with it in an invalid way. We need to teach the biblical approach.
- Guard your heart from bitterness and resentment. This is the tough one. Often in leadership you take complaints and critique personal. This is because of the investment you are making into the decisions. You are working hard to think through what will be best for the church, then people tear it apart. It is hard not to take it personal. Remember Samuelʼs words, after Israel had asked for a king like other nations, and he rebuked them for such choices, telling them this was displeasing to the Lord, and then said, “As for me, I vow that I will not sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you. I will teach you the good and right way” (1 Sam. 12:23 HCSB). Samuel had every reason to be bitter and upset with Israel for such a foolish decision. He had every reason to walk away and leave them to themselves. But he remembered his calling. He remembered he was called to pray for them and teach them. As pastors, so are we, even when the people we are praying for and teaching are critiquing our decisions. We must develop thick skin and a soft heart, and never the opposite.
The next time you experience grumbling or complaints by the congregation, remember these four things, and stay the course.