When I first contemplated entering the pastorate, I never realized that sometimes the church can be an ugly place. In fact, St. Augustine is reported as saying, “The church is a whore, but I must love her anyway because she is my mother.” The church can be filled with anger, gossip, and backbiting, which can chip away at the unity and peace of the church. I often encountered some of this ugliness as I would talk to various people in the church. People would complain about others and be critical for various reasons: that person “sings too loudly and out of tune,” “is rude and thoughtless,” “won’t fellowship with me,” “asks too many questions in Sunday School,” “is mentally not all there,” etc., etc. In the course of fielding complaints and comments, I very quickly decided that I would never speak ill of any of my children. What do I mean?
I find that most parents will not speak ill of their children with others. Yes, their children might have faults, and there might be legitimate complaints against them, but a parent won’t allow his child to be publicly embarrassed. A good parent will take up the complaint or issue in private. I adopted a similar policy towards my congregation. As I heard various complaints, I would listen carefully and then offer the person counsel. I might tell them that they were being too hard on someone, or that they shouldn’t gossip. But on other occasions I knew that someone was raising a legitimate complaint. The knee-jerk reaction might be to agree. Maybe you’ve noticed the problematic behavior yourself. On the other hand, maybe you’ve only heard one side of the story and you need to wait until you gather all of the evidence to render a verdict. The point is, resist the temptation to talk ill of someone else in the church, especially if they’re not present to defend themselves. Do your due diligence, gather your evidence, talk with a number of people and don’t rush off to judgment. Recall the counsel of Scripture: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov. 18:17).
When someone complains, you can offer the following response: “You’ve got a legitimate concern. Let me look into the matter and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.” Whatever you do, refrain from saying, “You’re right! So and so is a jerk and deserves a rebuke!” Regardless of who they are, everyone in the church deserves your love, protection, and fair handling of accusations. Don’t be quick to rush to judgment because you might make the situation worse because you entertain a false or erroneous perception of a situation.