Legitimate complaints, if handled properly with fairness and tact, are a vital part of church unity and growth. Honestly, I do not like the word ‘complaint’ because it conjures up a whole truck load of bad feelings. I would rather use the term ‘righteous accusation’, but even the word ‘accusation’ brings up a whole truck load of bad feelings. So for ease of this article I will stick with ‘complaint’.
I learned a lot from the following account in the Book of Acts, when the Early Church was in its infant stages of growth:
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:1-7 ESV)
Notice these eight vital points in the above account:
1. There was a ‘legitimate complaint’, or in better words, a ‘righteous accusation’, because neglect was involved.
2. It was brought out in the open, not in whispers or gossip.
3. Leadership did not try to squash it and label those who had the complaint ‘divisive’.
4. It was handled quickly and properly before it had time to fester.
5. It was conducted in fairness.
6. There was oneness and unity in their decision.
7. Individuals who were full of the Holy Spirit were appointed, through laying on of hands, to carry out the duties of resolving the complaint. This set a precedent that all positions are vital in the church, even ones that seem menial, like waiting on tables.
8. Because it was handled correctly, the Early Church continued to grow at a phenomenal rate.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, John the Apostle gives us an example of how evil accusations were trying to undermine the church:
I wrote to the church about this, but Diotrephes, who loves to be the leader, refuses to have anything to do with us. When I come, I will report some of the things he is doing and the evil accusations he is making against us. Not only does he refuse to welcome the traveling teachers, he also tells others not to help them. And when they do help, he puts them out of the church. (3 John 1:9-10 NLT)
I was in a church for a while that would not deal with complaints, no matter how legitimate they were. You were stifled and labeled ‘divisive’. The problems were left to fester. They tried to portray a perfect church to the world, while deep down underneath they were engaged in illegal activities. They didn’t fool the FBI, though. It took years, but in the end the whole thing came crashing down. The senior pastor was stripped of his credentials by the denomination. Those under him were found guilty and convicted in Federal Court of crimes. God will not be mocked. If judgment doesn’t come in this world, it will in the next!
Please keep in mind that what is pointed out in this article, does not give us a license to complain. Even with legitimate complaints, we must be careful to seek Holy Spirit discernment. God may have another avenue to resolve the situation or the timing may not be right. Remember that love is patient.
We are never to step over the line that goes between legitimate complaint and bad tempered grumbling:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. (Philippians 2:14-15 ESV)
One thing that makes me very sad is when Christians do not take their positions or duties at church seriously. It is heartbreaking to hear, “Well I am not being paid, so what difference does it matter.”
“Oh Lord, help us to remember, who we are really working for!”