If you’ve been a pastor for any length of time, you’ve dealt with complaints, criticisms, and challenges. You’ve experienced church problems. I’d like to share with you a paradigm we operate on at Mud Creek (my current church) to determine when we face a church problem that must be addressed.
Paul illustrates the church as a body in both Ephesians 4:11-14 and Colossians 2:18. The church is the body of Christ and Jesus is the head of the body.
For illustration sake, we’ll identify other parts of the church body. The neck would be the pastor (elder or elders) who serve as the under-shepherd(s) to Jesus. It is the pastor’s responsibility to discern the vision for the local church. Jesus communicated the church’s mission (Matthew 28:18-20 making disciples by evangelizing, baptizing, and teaching). Pastoral vision is the specific application for a local congregation to accomplish its divine mission.
In our illustration, the right arm represents the deacons. The left arm represents the staff. The right leg would be Sunday School or small group teachers/leaders. The left leg would be other church leadership.
We understand that complaints, criticisms, and problems arise from people within the congregation However, we don’t have significant conflict unless that problem, complaint, or issue attaches itself to church leadership.
For example, someone in one of our congregations may complain that we are “three” churches because we have three services. Not that we take this complaint lightly, but we made the move to multiple services a long time ago and could not practically go back to one service. That complaint isn’t really a problem. But let’s say the complainer gets the ear of a Sunday School teacher, and the class takes class time to voice similar complaints during their Sunday School hour. Now, that scenario would be a church problem requiring attention.
In handling some of these complaints that might become problems, we’ve tried to develop a church culture where problems can be addressed with clarity and consistency.
- Create a culture of openness and honesty. Attempting to sweep concerns under the rug simply creates frustration. We believe an open and honest church culture feeds good ideas and trusting relationships.
- Create a culture where leadership has access to pastoral leadership. While we don’t have church-wide business meetings for any member to publicly share a grievance, we do create opportunities for church leadership to communicate concerns and complaints to staff so they can be addressed.
- Create a culture where anonymity in complaint is not heard. We just don’t listen to the complaints that start “someone said.” If names aren’t used, then we don’t—and can’t—address the concern.
- Create a culture where criticism and complaint is addressed head on. When a criticism or complaint is brought to our attention, we try not to waste time dealing with it. We have found it best to meet it head on and move forward.
- Create a culture of leadership loyalty. We want environments where staff, deacons, pastors, and other church leaders can tackle difficult subjects, have honest conversations, share validated opinions, and where differences of opinion (even significant) are tolerated. However, when the direction has been decided, we move forward as a team. Loyalty is being willing to support the vision even if you don’t agree entirely. In a loyal environment there is no place for inciting division or discord.
The paradigm of the church body illustration above helps us discern when a complaint reaches the status of a church problem. Complaints may not always be addressed, but problems should be.