Chronic Complainers, Part 2 – When Win-Win is a No-Go

How to Deal with a Chronic Complainer

In a strong, healthy Small Church, chronic complainers can cause a lot of stress on the pastor and other leaders. If the Small Church is weak and/or unhealthy, complainers can kill a pastor’s and church’s spirit, sometimes without intending to.

In Part 1 of this series, we saw some things we can do to move a situation with a chronic complainer from win-lose to win-win.

Now, in Part 2, we’ll acknowledge the harsh reality that not every situation with a chronic complainer may end well, no matter how prayerfully, wisely and positively we respond.

So, after we’ve done all there is to DO, are there certain things a pastor should definitely NOT DO? The following ideas start with easier situations and move to more severe ones.


1. Don’t Hide Anything

People in a Small Church want to know more about the church’s everyday business than people in big churches do. It may be one of the reasons they come to a Small Church. If they think vital information is being withheld, they get suspicious. And suspicious people become complainers.

You know the old saying that something is on a “need to know” basis? Today, we should assume that everyone needs to know everything – especially in a Small Church.

Overshare. It’s better that people know too much than not enough.

A transparent leader is a trusted leader. And a trusted leader hears fewer complaints.


2. Don’t Put Them In Charge Just to Shut Them Up

Having complaints – even valid ones – neither qualifies or disqualifies someone from leadership. Complainers deserve to be assessed for leadership positions in the same way should be assessing everyone else. By their gifting and training.

It’s dangerous, unwise and unbiblical to get to such a point of frustration with a chronic complainer that we tell them “OK, fine! If you think you can do it better, give it a shot! You’re in charge now!”

Unfortunately, I’ve seen that happen too many times. But it never works. The ministry suffers, the stress increases, they don’t stop complaining and, once they’re in that new position, it’s virtually impossible to get them out of it.

“Just give them what they want!” never works. It may seem like the easy way out. But it’s never easier in the long run.


3. Don’t Magnify Their Importance

I’ve heard comedians talk about how hard it is to do their act when there’s one person in the audience who isn’t laughing. They can have an entire audience in stitches, but their focus is on that one guy crossing his arms, with an “I dare you to make me laugh” look on his face.

If they concentrate on that one grump, one of two things will happen. 1. They work so hard to satisfy one unhappy person, that their performance suffers, bringing everyone else down, or 2. the comic does well, has a great night, but walks off stage depressed because they couldn’t win that one person over.

Hey, Small Church pastors, does that sound familiar?

We’ve all done it. And we all need to stop doing it. Let’s stop giving the chronic complainer more power than they have.

When a chronic complainer tells you “everyone says” this or that is a problem, ask for “everyone’s” names. Nine out of ten times, they won’t name anyone. They’ll tell you it’s because the others are “scared to talk to you” or they “don’t want to make a fuss”, but here’s the truth. “Everyone” who has a problem is standing right in front of you at that moment.

Treat them with respect. But don’t buy into their exaggerated sense of self-importance.


4. Don’t Believe What They Say About You More Than What God Says About You

No further explanation needed.


5. Don’t Change Your Mind On a Correct Decision

I talked to a pastor a few years ago who was having a horrible time with chronic complainers. As he walked me through the history of the church, there were a number of factors that led to this dysfunctional situation. (It’s always more than one thing)

Then he told me something that changed everything. The main perpetrator of the issues he’d been dealing with was a staff member. The outright rebellion had become so bad, the pastor had fired the staff member. Then the outcry from the termination became so strong… he hired the staff member back again!

I didn’t know what to say to him except this – resign. You have no authority, moral or otherwise any more. And you never will.

I wish I could have told him then what I’ll tell you now. (The only reason I didn’t say this to him is because it was too late. The damage was already done.)

Before you let anyone go from any position in a church be sure – be as sure as you can be – that the decision is right. Then make the decision and stick with it.


6. Don’t Talk About Them Behind Their Back

It’s called gossip, and it’s a bigger sin than being a complainer. Especially from a person in a position of authority. If the person you’re talking to isn’t in a position to do anything about the situation, it’s gossip. Unless you’re talking to a counselor or mentor who keeps confidences.

But as bad as it is to talk about them behind their back, there’s something else that’s even worse…


7. Don’t Use the Pulpit As a Weapon

It is a horrifying abuse of our calling, our position, our congregation and the gospel to use the Sunday morning microphone to get back at chronic complainers – even if we wrap the message in proof-texts and don’t refer to the complainer by name.

Always resist that temptation. Once you give in, you will have lost more – far more – than whatever battle you and the chronic complainer were in.

Jesus warned us of the danger of gaining the whole world, but losing our soul. How much worse is it to lose our pastoral soul, and gain nothing more than an empty victory over a chronic complainer.


So what do you think? Do you have any ideas for dealing with chronic complainers that have worked for you?

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(Smile photo by Alan Cleaver • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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