In Numbers 14 we see a sequence that sadly has been played out all too often among the people of God:

  1. Grumbling against leaders
  2. A longing for what was before (even if it was worse – better than this unknown territory with its new threats and dangers!)
  3. Doubting of God
  4. Plans for rebellion and a call for new leadership
  5. Some who remain and still believe
  6. God’s anger at those who doubt in the face of so much evidence of his presence with them

So, let’s look at this in a spirit of self-examination, and see what lurks beneath.

Grumbling against leaders. We’ve encountered this before in the book of Numbers when Aaron and Miriam oppose Moses, and Miriam is struck with leprosy until Moses prays to the Lord on her behalf. It is part of the package of leadership, that there will be those who grumble about your decisions. If you can’t handle that, better not be a leader. If you are causing no one to grumble, it may be that you are playing it too safe, in maintenance mode, and not pushing forward into the new territory God has for you and your people. The opposition that Christian leaders face is almost always from inside the church. It is not against outsiders. It’s civil war, and sometimes not so civil at that. Of those who leave ministry, most of them do so because of relational conflict with another staff member or a member of the congregation. How sad that we forget who the true enemy is, and cast one another in that role.

As a Christian leader myself, I realize that what I am about to share could be considered self-serving, but I think it’s worth saying anyway.

  1. Remember that your leader has been chosen (by God hopefully, and by a search committee) to lead the congregation. He has not been called to perfection or an error-free ministry. Let’s make sure that we do not set impossible standards before our leaders. They will, and do, make mistakes, step on toes, get things wrong, follow strategies that don’t work out, and upset people sometimes. Try and find a biblical leader who doesn’t make mistakes (other than Jesus, though he does pretty well at upsetting people). In fact, some of the leaders that are praised in the Bible, such as King David, made what would be career-ending mistakes in this modern era, yet God still used them and made a powerful impact through them.
  1. Remember that your leaders are human, and have emotions too. They are not leadership machines. Pastors can have their feelings hurt by other staff members and members of the congregation, and when that happens, they don’t always respond optimally. They are “works in progress” too.
  1. Acknowledge and respect their expertise. I find it to varying degrees amusing and sad that many people in congregations consider themselves experts on “how to do church.” While I acknowledge and respect the level of involvement and ownership that such opinions connote, let’s not forget that the minister has actually been trained in how to do this, and spends most of their waking hours thinking about it. You may not like the new order of service, but there are probably strategic and well-thought out reasons for the change.

By all means ask why, but do so with the same respect as you would ask your doctor why he is recommending a certain medicine for you, with an understanding that he may know more about this than you. I realize that this may sound arrogant, but often complaints in churches come when people see something of their “territory” being infringed upon, without realizing the larger strategic purposes and plans behind the changes. 

Believe it or not, we do (usually) think through the impact of potential changes, and where there may be a sense of loss, we have often calculated that it is worth it for a greater potential gain. Perhaps before grumbling, or complaining to others, give the pastor the benefit of the doubt, and think “What could be the positive reason why he is doing this? What is the potential gain he is going for?” In the end you will probably find that you agree with his goal, even if you are not quite on board with the method, and that will facilitate a better discussion than outright opposition or outrage.

  1. Pray for your leaders. Being a pastor is, in some ways, a strange job. In the morning you could be working through the budget on an Excel spreadsheet (technical, financial planning skills required), then following that, writing a devotion for staff meeting (spiritual discernment, listening to God “skill” required), planning the agenda for staff meeting (strategic, managerial skills required), speaking at a men’s lunch (public speaking skill) counseling a recently bereaved widow in the early afternoon (counseling, empathetic skill required)… and on and on. It’s a varied and sometimes bewildering set of gear changes that can be required even in one day. We need prayer. It’s as simple as that.

And I think a positive byproduct of praying is that the minister will sense that you are a fellow soldier in the battle with him, rather than an enemy or fifth columnist. I know from personal experience, that I receive critique or even criticism much better when I sense that the person is essentially FOR me and not AGAINST me, that they want the best for me, that they wish me to succeed. Against that backdrop, I am easily receptive to their comments.

Most ministers consider it an incredible privilege to be serving their congregations, and wouldn’t want to do anything else. Let’s honor them by reducing the grumbling and increasing the praying.

I don’t write this in response to any current criticism or critique I’ve received here. I am still enjoying my glorious honeymoon period at this new church 🙂  But I write hoping that when the honeymoon is over, the prayers will continue and that as brothers and sisters we will stand strong together against the true enemy.

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