Can we please everyone? Understanding and dealing with complaints…

13 04 2010

You’ve heard it said, many times I’m sure, that you just can’t please everybody.  This statement is certainly true and I think especially relevant in the lives of those called to ministry.  Sometimes there are decisions we have to make that we know one group of people will be upset with.  Sometimes we wrestle over the right decision, diligently seeking the Lord’s direction, knowing that someone is going to be upset.

Sometimes, however, we do what we know God has called us to do, not even realizing there is potential for someone being offended, and then come to find out a person, or group of people gets upset about our actions.

I want to illustrate with a story from the Old Testament.

Judges 8:1  “Then the men of Ephraim said to [Gideon], “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely.”

Here’s the story: In chapters 6-7 God began to deal with Gideon in a mighty way, preparing him for the overthrow of the Midianites who had been oppressing the people of Israel.  In chapter 7 as we see Gideon preparing for battle, we see God preparing a work for His own glory.  God takes the army of Gideon from 32,000 men and reduces it to a mere 300.  Gideon is then reassured by God that the Midianites will be delivered into his hand and in the middle of the night the Israelites win a great battle without even a sword being drawn! (see Judges 7:19-23).

Gideon just completed a great act of God, and then when he meets the men of Ephraim he receives some “high fives” and “well dones”  right? Wrong! Instead of rejoicing in the great victory, the men of Ephraim complain! Instead of seeing the victory as God’s alone, the men of Ephraim suspect Gideon of going after the Midianites for his own glory.  This is after these same men of Ephraim had been invited by Gideon to chase down Oreb and Zeeb (two leaders of the Midianites).  The bible doesn’t say this, but I’m sure word of Gideon’s great victory with only 300 men had traveled around the countryside.  The men of Ephraim were simply jealous that they did not get to claim a hand in that victory.

The point is, sometimes, there’s just nothing we can do differently.  God is the one who told Gideon to reduce his forces.  What military commander in his right mind would reduce his own forces?  Many times in ministry God calls us to do things that might not make sense to us, or those who are close to us.  If we desire to be faithful to our call we must be faithful to be obedient to God’s will.

And the truth is people will be offended.  Sometimes it doesn’t matter what decision you make, you are setting yourself up for being attacked.  The thing we must remember in ministry is that our call is to obey God not man (cf. Acts 5:29)!

So what do we do?

It is vital to see Gideon’s response to the accusations made against him.

Judges 8:2-4

And he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger against him subsided when he said this.

Gideon responds in humility to these complaints and “their anger against him subsided.” Now, we live in a fallen world and it doesn’t mean that just because we respond in humility that others’ complaining will automatically subside…But, we must remember that just because someone complains against us, doesn’t mean we should respond in pride.  Gideon had defeated the Midianites with only 300 men but instead of gloating over that feat, he reminded the men of Ephraim how God had given them the princes of Midian- Oreb and Zeeb.

So here are two things to remember…

1. Humility- as we’ve discussed, it is so natural for us to respond in pride when someone accuses us.  Gideon knew he was in the right and that what he did was a God thing.  However, if he would have responded in pride he would have lost valuable support.  Christ is a perfect example of humility.  Remember this truth in your life and ministry.

2. Priorities- Gideon’s priority was God over men.  That must be our priority in all things. Christ must have preeminence (actually He does already in all things, we’ve just got to make sure He has the right place in our hearts).  Also, in our lives as church members and ministers we must remember the order of other priorities as well.

Think of it in this way:

1. God- we’ve discussed this. God is to be #1. Your relationship with Christ is more important than any other relationship you have. Remember Galatians 2:20!

2. Family- this may seem strange to some, but our families must our 2nd priority.  We are instructed by God to be faithful to our spouse’s needs (1 Cor. 7:3-5, Eph. 5:22-33) and to bring our children up in a godly manner (Deut. 6:5-7).  This doesn’t mean our family has to conflict with church, but it does mean that the needs of our family members must met. Sometimes you will have to choose between church members and family members.  Remember family must be the priority.  If you lose your family, you lose your ministry.

3. Church- the church and the needs of our church family must be a high priority in our lives when making decisions.  The church may seem low, but notice that I’m putting the church above everything else.  Only God and family hold a higher place.  That means you must remember Philippians 2:3-4!

Again, none of these priorities should be conflicting with the others on a regular basis.  Sometimes however, they will.  And when we make decisions that others are going to complain about we must know that we are being faithful to our call.  In other words, when we make decisions that confuse and restructure these priorities we are making the wrong decisions.  When we make the wrong decisions (and we will sometimes, we’re not perfect) it’s much harder to deal with the complaints (whether right or wrong).

So all this to say that people are going to complain. Don’t set out to please everybody because you can’t! What you do have control over is how you go about making decisions, and how you respond to complaints…

I would like to make a final note to all of us (me included) who tend to complain! Don’t do it! (Phil. 2:14-15).  There is a difference between complaining and standing for the truth.  Sometimes people are going to make decisions in the church and life that you do not agree with.  If it’s not unbiblical, at least give it a shot.  Look for the positive.  And of course if you do feel it’s unbiblical deal with it as Jesus instructs us in Matthew 18. Go directly to the source of the issue instead of complaining about it to others.

Hope this is helpful and encouraging…God bless!

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