Lunch was great. But you know what’s next. And it’s not the bill.
“Pastor, I’d like to talk to you about something …”
From there you hear yet another complaint about the church—what you’re not doing, what you could be doing, who’s being neglected, who feels rejected. On and on it goes.
Instead of listening, you start nodding—not in agreement with him, but affirming your intuition that he’s a grumbler, ungrateful, uncommitted, and that he has the worst of all spiritual conditions: an agenda.
The temptation is to ignore complaints, but when you do, you might miss an opportunity to help hurting people. The fact is, many people are complaining because they’re hurting. For some reason they feel rejected, overlooked, or abandoned.
Acts 6 gives us a great model for responding to complaints that can be a repeatable strategy for addressing underlying hurts in your congregation.
They complained in the early church too
Dateline Jerusalem—The early days of the church. You know the story. A group of Greek widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. As Luke writes, “The Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews” (Acts 6:1).
A few verses later we have, some say, the commissioning of the first deacons in the history of the church. That’s often the primary takeaway of the text. But this is one case where familiarity with the passage may cause us to glance over a key detail. So what are we missing?
We already have a ministry for that
Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that Acts 6 tells us there was already a ministry in place to distribute food to those in need? It was a fine system. Many were helped by it. A lot of people loved it, and—it was broken. The Greek widows were not being helped by this impressive system.
The same thing happens in our churches. We have ministries in place—deacons’ ministries, small-group ministries, children’s ministries—and they’re designed to address needs that arise. But just like in Jerusalem, there are still people in our churches and communities who are being neglected, and they have valid complaints. That’s why you desperately need an Acts 6 ministry mind-set.
What is an Acts 6 ministry mind-set?
If you have an Acts 6 ministry mind-set, you’ll see the complaints of hurting people as opportunities—opportunities to enhance or create systems to care for hurting people and potentially expand the influence of the church. Based on Acts 6:1–7, here are six principles that pastors with an Acts 6 mind-set embrace:
1. Some complaints are opportunities in disguise:
Throughout the book of Acts, Luke records what the church does and then shows the effects of those actions. The events of Acts 6:1–7 are one example of these cause-and-effect relationships. As verse 7 reads, after the disciples addressed the needs of the Greek widows, “the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
Addressing the needs of the Greek widows caused the church to grow. Even if one person comes to you with a complaint, he likely represents hundreds or even thousands of people in your community who have the same problem. What system could you put in place to help them?
2. Good leaders change their approach to help hurting people:
The apostles didn’t respond to the widows saying, “We’ve got a system for that—just get in line on time.” Instead, they took the complaint seriously and put a system in place to deal with the concern. They were open to new approaches to ministry. Are you?
3. I can help a lot of people without neglecting my responsibilities as a pastor:
Sometimes we cringe at the idea of putting new programs in place, because the work involved can distract us from prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). However, the apostles came up with a system that enabled the church to care for the widows and enabled them to maintain their focus. You can, too. You just have to come up with (or find) the right system. CareLeader.org can help you with that.
4. Good systems require good people:
How hard can it be to pass out food? Obviously, someone wasn’t getting the job done. The disciples had to bring in men full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. Bottom line, don’t recruit just anyone into the ministry of caring for hurting people. Set high standards for your volunteers.
5. Sometimes people are best served by those they identify with:
Some Bible scholars believe that the men the apostles chose to help the Greek widows were also Greek. Makes sense. These men would certainly be great advocates for these women, and they’d understand them better than most of the Hebrews would. The takeaway? When you’re trying to decide whom to enlist to help hurting people, look for others who’ve been through a similar journey or deeply understand the plight of those they care for.
6. I have to prepare my people to serve:
The apostles were able to put men in place to help the widows because they had men who were prepared/qualified to serve. Whom are you training to respond to the next complaint that arises in your church? CareLeader.org can help keep you abreast of trends that will affect your community. We’ll also regularly share training tips with you so that you can prepare your leaders to be ready to respond to future complaints.
The next time you hear those familiar complaints, consider the ministry opportunity before you. Think about the many other people in your church and community who share the same hurts and will benefit from your church’s care.
By developing this mind-set, you can position your church to respond well and possibly grow as you help increasing numbers of people. So the next time lunch turns into a lamentation, listen to the complaint with an Acts 6 mind-set.