Now that we’ve solved the problems with elders, we need to address murmuring by the congregation.
(Heb 13:17 ESV) 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
(Jam 5:9 ESV) Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
(1Th 5:12-13 ESV) 12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
It’s human nature to complain. In fact, it’s one of our favorite pasttimes. I think it’s one reason we so enjoy politics — politics is all about complaining. And when we join a church, we figure it’s our constitutional right to complain. And complain we do.
We complain about the elders, the preacher, ministers, the temperature in the auditorium, the song selection … We just enjoy complaining, even when we know it won’t make a difference. It’s how we are.
It’s also how the Israelites were in the desert.
(Psa 106:25-27 ESV) 25 They murmured in their tents, and did not obey the voice of the LORD. 26 Therefore he raised his hand and swore to them that he would make them fall in the wilderness, 27 and would make their offspring fall among the nations, scattering them among the lands.
God, however, doesn’t much care for murmuring. On the other hand, of course, there are legitimate complaints, and fair-minded elders and ministers should be willing to hear them.
I’ve heard all kinds of rules for how to tell the difference. Some say that no one can complain unless they’re willing to fix the problem. But that’s not always really fair, you know. I may well see that the roof is leaking but not be able to climb up there and fix it myself.
Others argue that the elders should never hear a complaint about a minister unless the complainer has spoken directly with the minister first. This is not, in my view, a correct interpretation of Matt 18:15-17. Indeed, the argument can used as a tool to keep very necessary information about a minister from the elders. On the other hand, there are many times when insisting that the parties speak directly is the best solution. It’s just not a God-given rule. It’s often the wise rule.
Rather, I think the key is whether the complaint is selfish or designed to serve God’s mission. If someone is unhappy about the song selection because they prefer older or newer music, that’s a selfish complaint. It’s murmuring. But if a member is concerned about how our song service is received by visitors or young members, then it’s a Kingdom concern.
If a member complains they haven’t heard a lesson that affirms their beliefs lately, that’s just selfish. If the members complain because they aren’t being exhorted to seek and save the lost, that’s a Kingdom complaint.
Now, I’m not going to try to create a logical grid for when someone must to complain to this person rather than that — other than to say that complaints should be directed to the lowest level in the church’s organizational structure possible. If you don’t like the adult Bible class material — because it’s not preparing you for God’s mission — complain first to whoever makes those choices, not the preacher or the elders (unless they are the ones making that choice). It’s not fair to ask an elder to communicate your complaints to the committee for you — and it’s a plainly political maneuver to go unnecessarily over someone’s head. It leads to miscommunications and resentment.
And in my experience, when someone is making a selfish complaint, they often ask for confidentiality — wanting to hide behind an elder — rather than stand up for their complaint themselves. But if someone is making a Kingdom complaint, they are usually very glad to have their name associated with the complaint. Therefore, it’s rare that I’m willing to respond to an anonymous complaint. They’re almost always the product of a selfish Christianity.
You see, elders tend to get caught up in church politics, trying to make people happy, rather than leading the church to pursue God’s kingdom with all its might. And one essential step in getting away from being a political church is to not allow people to manipulate you into catering to their selfish hearts.
No, you don’t have the right to hear the kind of music you like. Your rights were all hung on the cross. Rather, your task is to find the music that God wants — and I think God wants the music to be chosen with his redemptive mission in mind.