A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Ministering to the moaners

Constant Gardener Trowel

They never set out to be grumblers.

But 40 years into their Christian lives this couple were known in the church above all as people who were never satisfied. Everyone knew them as trouble. People endured their moans, but no one ever challenged them, including the church leaders – and including their pastor. How did they let this couple harm so many others for so long, and maybe themselves, worst of all? Why do people moan and complain? Here are some ideas:

Because they may be in pain. Moaners are hurting people. They may well be hurting about something in church life. Often, it’s a pain in another area of life which finds its angry expression sometimes in the trivial details of church. If, for example, you’re being badly treated at work, chances are you might be taking your stress out at church. Sounds familiar?

Because they probably do care. However badly expressed, moaners are often those who really do care about the church. Just because they don’t express themselves helpfully, it doesn’t mean that they don’t see what needs fixing. I always try to think of my moaners as ‘critical friends’, however unfriendly they might be! Moaners could well be the church’s greatest asset, if challenged on how they behave, and then given the opportunity to express themselves better.

Because it’s empowering. When you moan, you’ve suddenly got people’s attention. You’ve grown in importance in their eyes, as they listen to you. Or so you think. I recall hearing of a number of people who went to their pastor with deep concern about their church’s complainer. They’d rumbled her for what she was, an insecure person who needed the power of Christ to renew her heart.

Because sin wants to master us. Sin is destructive, to ourselves and to others. In our sin we can love to take down those we don’t like. Some desires to complain are just destructive, and nothing else. Complainers always need to be challenged, tenderly, respectfully and firmly.

Because the devil is real. He wants to devour souls, pastors and churches. He wants to replace our praise with bitterness and sniping. He wants to bring the chaos of disunity through gripes and moans. Complaining is one of the weapons he uses against the Lord of the church.

So, what should we do when we feel the force of complaining?

A word to pastors

Two things for you to think about. Firstly, search your heart when you hear about complaints, or receive them personally. Don’t explode, and don’t collapse. It’s a fool or a coward (or probably both) who refuses to listen to unpleasant things. Seek to learn, grow and change. Secondly, take moaning seriously. It’s a great blight amongst God’s people. You must go to its source as soon as you can. Don’t put it off and hope it’ll go away, because it won’t. Your job is to love your people enough to speak into their problems, especially into their complaining.

A word to church members

The fruit of the Spirit includes love, peace and self-control, even as we deal with disappointment, in the church of Christ just as elsewhere. Make your pastor’s job a joy and not a burden, not by keeping your problems to yourself, but by seeking to express them with the care which honours the Holy Spirit and enables his work. Aim only to say what is helpful, for building others up. And pray for the courage to respond in a God-honouring way to those who want to get you onside with their complaints. Refuse to complain, and resolve to bring your problems with leaders and members alike to those they concern.

Let’s return to the couple I started with. A godly man sat down with these two people, and showed them the sin which had gripped their hearts through all those years. They were shocked, not at his courage in speaking the truth in love, but in seeing who they had become. As the difficult truth was ministered, this couple caught the first glimpse of the pit they had fallen into. They are making a steady and wonderful recovery. So how are you ministering to the moaning?


Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK!

This article was first published in the February 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Why this new column?

credit: iStock

credit: iStock

I don’t think that many EN readers are avid consumers of the Guardian newspaper.

Still, you may have heard of ‘The Secret Footballer’ column in that paper. For the last few seasons an anonymous Premiership footballer has chronicled the ups and downs of the professional game. For us readers, it’s the inside story on a world we might think we know. But as we read it, we discover that we’ve only been guessing all the while.

What’s it like to be a pastor?
In my experience, committed Christians have little understanding of what their pastor does. Sure, pastors preach, lead meetings, visit the sick, chase down the evidently lukewarm, do ‘ministry stuff’; but beyond that it’s all a bit of a mystery. No one ever dreams of asking us just what it was we did last week. Have you ever asked your pastor how he spends his time, and what it’s like doing his job? I thought not.

That’s why I’m writing this column. I’m a UK pastor and I love the work of the ministry. I’m working in a mixed congregation of ordinary people. By ‘ordinary’ I suppose I mean those who are loveable, and those who are, to me at least, less loveable. We’re not a huge church, and we’re not a handful. We’re not failing too awfully, and we’re not having an earth-shattering impact on our area. Not yet, anyway.

Beyond that, I won’t tell you who I am. That’s because I want to use the column to write about my ministry. A ministry that’s earthed in the real lives of people, and that’s shaped by God’s grace in my own situation. If you know me or my church, then it’s hard for me to write. Because you don’t know me (and I’ll be careful to cover my tracks), I can write with greater freedom, and so I can get to the heart of some of the issues in church life and ministry.

More than anything, I want to show you what it’s like being a pastor. I’m not writing with axes to grind, moans to indulge, or agendas to promote. I’ll be writing this column about pastoral ministry for two reasons:

A joyful life
First, I want you to see that my life as a pastor is a really joyful one. Despite appearances, we pastors are largely a very grateful and glad breed of men. Oh I know, pastors can be miserable and pastoral ministry brings miseries and agonies. I’ve been there and I’m sure I’ll be there again. But the vast majority of pastors I know love their calling and those they serve. I want you to see why, for your encouragement. Ministry is the partnership of leaders and people. Who wants to be partnering with a professional misery? I want to show you where my joy is as a pastor.

A sacrificial life
Secondly, I want you to see that ministry is a deeply sacrificial work. If I’m doing it properly, my work is deeply costly to me. That’s true of almost any job of course, but ministry has particular demands. The man who stands up on Sunday may be ministering out of a heart filled with tears. You may be the cause of his tears. What does it mean to carry your cross as pastor? As we see the cost for our leaders, we can learn to support them.

Coming soon!
So, part diary, part musings, part confessional. I look forward to sharing some ministry inside out with you. Next month: church hand grenades and other terror tactics from the pews.

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK!

This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057