Ben Franklin made an astute observation about governments that do not give opportunity for differing views: “I am at a loss to know how peace and union is to be maintained or restored between the different parts of the empire. Grievances cannot be redressed unless they are known; and they cannot be known but through complaints and petitions. If these are deemed affronts, and the messengers punished as offenders, who will henceforth send petitions? And who will deliver them? It has been thought a dangerous thing in any State to stop up the vent of griefs. Wise governments have therefore generally received petitions with some indulgence even when but slightly founded. Those who think themselves injured by their rulers are sometimes, by a mild and prudent answer, convinced of their error. But where complaining is a crime, hope becomes despair.” Shortly following this statement, the American Colonies revolted against King George III of England. The same can be found to be true in church life.
Involving as many people as possible in the ministry of the church and giving them opportunity to voice their thoughts and give input to the direction of the church means people have a vested interest in the life of the church. Those opinions that are dissimilar from leadership’s can be what keeps ministry from becoming stale and arid. Ministry within the fellowship is necessary to maintain a healthy body of believers, just as an individual needs to take care of him-/herself for coping with the stressors and requirements of everyday living. Some aspects of involving the membership that will avert discontent:
- Be inclusive of age and gender – While the more mature members are usually seated on committees and in positions of leadership, the senior most and the adolescent/young adult are frequently dismissed as out of touch or too inexperienced to be of importance. Hearing their thoughts can give fresh perspective to old, outdated processes.
- Involvement in the planning processes – Differing views are not the same as uncooperative attitudes. Involving those of differing perspectives can result in the participants bonding as they hammer out a course of action that is mutually acceptable.
- Brainstorming to update on-going ministries or to generate new ministry opportunities to stay contemporary – Regular evaluation and brainstorming that invites anyone and everyone in the church to contribute keeps differing opinions from festering and becoming oppositional.
- Encourage an atmosphere of freedom in expressing differing views – Hearing what each person has to contribute and showing respect to the person allows each person to feel valued. For some people, finding a place where they feel they are respected and make a contribution connects them to that group in ways that do not need to be minimized.
Dr Kenneth Newberger has presented some valuable questions for church leaders to consider about avoiding problems regarding the verbalization of complaints within the church: “If complaints are a given, what are you doing to address them? What process is in place? Now here is the really tough question: If you have done nothing, and through time, dissatisfaction grows into full-blown conflict, who is ultimately responsible for the loss of cooperative relationships that make ministry possible?”
Consider giving the church opportunities for expressing concerns, complaints and disappointments as well as encouraging appreciation and affirmation:
- A means for verbalizing needs and opinions on a regular basis – A monthly, quarterly, semi-annual or annual forum with the pastor and/or church staff, for the entire church body, and smaller groups by age or interest.
- An on-going method for individuals to express concerns for themselves and others – Electronic communication (e.g., e-mail and texting),
- Staff promoting an open door policy that will allow each member to have the feeling of being acknowledged as important – ministerial staff having regular hours specifically designated to be available for visits/phone calls by church members.
Generating opportunities for ministry that is balanced and gives members a chance to be heard as equals is as important as mission projects and ministry to the needy. After all, we’re all needy, which is the reason Jesus instituted the church. Avoiding problems can be the best way to keep conflicts that are divisive from rearing their heads to become destructive.