In light of yesterday’s post regarding my “Happy Folder,” it seems appropriate to hit on a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I have seen and received both positive and negative feedback during my time in ministry. But I also had a lot of experience through my dad, a pastor, even before I became a pastor myself. Growing up in the home of a pastor, I was exposed to a lot of the stuff that happens behind the scenes within the church. You might say that the curtain was rolled back. I heard the phone calls, I saw the long hours, and I sensed the emotional and physical drain on both of my parents as my father cared for and shepherded the congregation.
I was too young when my dad experienced some of his earlier difficulties in ministry, but towards the end of his time in ministry, he experienced some more difficulties which I was privy to and which I was able to see in all of their ugliness.
Difficulties within the church are nothing new. Not sure if there is documentation of the earliest ones, but it probably didn’t take long after the Day of Pentecost for people to start bickering and arguing about how to do things. Acts 15 gives us the account of a disagreement that took place between Paul and Barnabas, two friends and partners in ministry. Disagreements can have a way of setting close friends against one another.
Not that the church is different from other organizations and institutions, but the fact that we are called to live by a higher standard. So, it’s always a little disappointing when you discover that some of the things that you thought would not take place within the church exist.
If you hang around within the church for any length of time, no matter what church it is, you will eventually begin to hear people grumbling or complaining. Part of who we are as human beings lies in our selfishness. We want what we want, when we want it, and are unwilling to wait or compromise. But how do we deal with this within the church. We might say that it’s a problem that all churches face, but if we look to Scripture to inform our worldview and actions, we will quickly find that it’s not a behavior that is becoming of those who call themselves followers of Christ.
In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul writes these words, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[c] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”
When it comes to the idea of grumbling or complaining, I think that there are many within the church who might simply say that they are “voicing their concerns” and that the two are synonymous with one another, but a further study of the Greek word that Paul uses for grumbling, we see a difference between the two.
Paul uses the word γογγύζω (gonguzo), which translates to “grumbling or murmuring” but also can have a deeper meaning of “speaking secretly or whispering.” Therein lies the difference between grumbling and voicing concerns. When you grumble, you speak in secret, you don’t necessarily let the people who you are frustrated with know that you are frustrated with them. You whisper about the things that are frustrating you rather than bringing them to the person with whom you have the gripe. Grumbling involves speaking to people who are not directly involved with the problem or the solution. If we aren’t careful, regardless of our intent, when we grumble we may come across as not even desiring to see a resolution to the issues at hand. As long as we “vent” we feel better even though we get no closer to resolution.
On the other hand, voicing concerns means that we are actually seeking out the people with whom we have issues. We follow the Scripture of Matthew 18 which tells us to go directly to the people who we have an issue with rather than going around them. When we triangulate and involve others that cannot help us to solve the issue, we go against Jesus’ command in Matthew 18. Grumbling is about voicing our concerns to all of the wrong people and will eventually just lead to gossip and even slander.
It’s not particularly difficult to go to the people with whom we have our issues, it just seems a little easier not to go to them. Churches are full of people who struggle through this, wouldn’t it be great if they started to become full of people who follow the Scriptural mandate more often than not? Wouldn’t it be great if grumbling and complaining were the exception?
Next time you find yourself in a situation where you don’t agree or something bothers you, regardless of whether it’s in a church, a company, a club, or whatever, ask yourself who you have your beef with. Ask who is the person to whom I need to go to bring resolution. If we fail to ask, we’ll just keeping coming up with the same answer and we’ll fail to change things. But if we ask ourselves the questions, we will hopefully find ourselves following the mandate in Matthew 18 and we will probably find our conflicts being resolved in a much healthier manner than had we gone around triangulating to everyone other than the ones involved.
Try it out, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t work out better. Might be harder, might be uncomfortable, but in the end, it will be worth it.