Recently, I heard a Christian commentator describing how
exaggeration—especially of the negative—spreads. For example, “Everyone hates this,” might be the opening salvo to a pastor or leader.
“Of course, both the pastor and the speaker know,” the commentator said, “that ‘everyone’ isn’t literally ‘every-one.” Still, the case is presented as if there was a consensus about the failure of a ministry or the general distaste for it. This probably isn't true.
Still, I’ve seen and felt this approach used for years. The problem with it is that it's a form of bullying. It's muscle via exaggeration for the purpose of proving a point or getting one's way. Good shepherds or leaders know better than to overact to this tactic by jumping on this kind of suggestion right away.
There's a danger here. If a leader simply ignores the statement, the leaven (see Matt. 16:6) will likely spread. And, it's not just the negativity about that specific problem or issue--it's a negative spirit that can kill the church and it's effectiveness. If the leader's not careful, "everyone" will eventually encompass every single one. Churches have fallen apart and even disbanded because of this.
Sadly, negativity is contagious. It's like the sinful leaven Jesus spoke of. So, while a leader shouldn't assume the worst when something is brought to him, he should do a few things immediately:
1. Affirm the speaker and promise to give his/her complaint attention. Sometimes people just want to be heard. The solution may or may not be critical to them. Ignoring it or them is dangerous, even if we know we can't or should do what they are requesting. Thus, reflectively listening and letting them know they've been heard is the key.
2. Make sure the speaker understands the gravity of divisiveness. Once we've made sure the speaker knows his/her complaint has been heard and that he/she is valued, it's important to remind them that complaining to others is not acceptable. Once the leader knows, it's in his court and further grumbling will only cause others to become upset. God has stern words for those guilty of this infraction (see Titus 3:1-2, 10-11).
3. Do your homework. First find out if there's validity to the complaint. Is it REALLY a problem. It might be good to formally or informally survey to find out how truly widespread the complaint is. Look for solutions. Is there a change that can/should be made?
4. Take any needed action--always looking to God first to be sure His direction/command is heeded regardless of public/majority opinion. As the Apostles affirmed, we ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
5. Even if the decision is NOT to act on the original complaint, get back to the person who brought it so they know they weren't ignored. If no action is taken, let them know why.
So, while we shouldn't be bullied by the "everyone hates this" complaints, we also need to be careful not to let the negative spirit spread. Taking the steps above can help prevent this from happening.
To that end,