Admission: I have a tendency to complain about things. It’s not that I’m a super negative person, it’s that I always see opportunities for things to be better than they are. I think about what things aren’t more than I celebrate what they are.
We live in a hyper-critical culture and for whatever reason, churches are often open air space where complaints fly freely. While the complaints vary in nature and severity, there is no church free from complaints. What makes a complaint a legitimate complaint? How do you separate the ones that need to be addressed from the ones that don’t? And if you’re prone to complaining (like I sometimes am), how do you determine when to let your complaint be known and when to keep it to yourself?
Reading the book of Acts, you see that it didn’t take too long for the first major complaint to arise. In Acts 6, we read that some of the disciples felt that the Greek speaking widows weren’t getting their fair share when it came to the daily food service. (It seems like they were taking this whole “take care of each other” thing pretty seriously.)
Here are a couple things I find interesting about this story in relationship to complaining.
1) When there is complaining, The Twelve remind the community of their priorities as leaders. Verse 2 says, The Twelve called a meeting of all the disciples and said, “It isn’t right for us to set aside proclamation of God’s word in order to serve tables. Verse 4 says, “As for us, we will devote ourselves to prayer and the service of proclaiming the word.” The priority for The Twelve is to proclaim God’s word, not to serve tables. To be honest, when I first read this I thought it was a little harsh. “What do you mean you’re not willing to serve tables? Are you above that?” were my initial thoughts. But as I thought about it, it seems like there’s a lot of wisdom there. They understood that if they lost sight of the word of God, the rest of their life and ministry together would become unravelled. The source of their work together as a community, which included serving food to poor widows, was the word of God. The less connected to that source, the less able the community would be to continue their work.
When our tendency is to complain, we might be better served to spend time in prayer and searching scripture for some perspective on what it is we’re complaining about.
2) In this case, The Twelve turn the complaint back to the community for a solution. Verse 3 says, “Brothers and sisters, carefully choose seven well-respected men from among you. They must be well-respected and endowed by the Spirit with exceptional wisdom. We will put them in charge of this concern.” (Acts 6:3 CEB) Don’t complain about something unless you’re willing to be part of the solution to the problem. Too often I complain hoping that somebody else is going to solve the problem for me. But if I’m not willing to help be a solution, I probably don’t need to complain.
There are issues that need to be raised in churches, there are complaints that need to be made, there’s no doubt about that. However, just because a negative thought comes to mind doesn’t always mean it needs to be spoken. How often do I speak my negativity before I’ve thought about it? How often do I want someone else to do something with my complaint?
God, may I have your perspective on what truly matters. And may I work to build your kingdom and not simply my own.