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3 Blessings of the Complainer


A few years back I read a blog post by a famous megachurch pastor who wrote a post pontificating some brilliant insight he offered his staff. (Yes, I mean that sarcastically.)

It went something like this: “I told my staff that if they ever doubted, even for a minute, that they were supposed to be on staff at this church that they should tell me and we’d treat them right… I’d pay them a good severance… but they should leave immediately.

napoleon_on_his_chair_of_defeatIt was an overstatement. I got his point. The poker trend was hot in church circles, the “All In” thing was really popular as a sermon series, and I knew he was trying to make a point about being on mission for his local church. He wanted people who were “all in” and not looking at other jobs all the time. (A real problem in some churches.)

But I also have worked at churches where those unofficial little side comments by notable pastors were taken literally. And I knew that if no one asked the question, lots of people who look up to that big time megachurch pastor would do the same thing.

It’s a ridiculous idea if you think about it. Doubt isn’t a bad thing. In fact, doubting ones calling is often the only thing that can affirm your calling!

So, in a polite way, I left a comment on his blog post– something like this: “I’m assuming you mean that if a staff member tells you they are experiencing a little doubt that you give them some time or schedule a 1-1 to talk it over with them, right? I’m just curious because I think a lot of people will take you literally when you are just trying to make a broader point?

This unleashed the wrath of megachurch-pastor-staff.

Simply asking a question on a blog post was apparently out of bounds. I used my real name. I wasn’t inflaming anything. I wasn’t questioning his authority. Nothing. Just a question. A point of clarification.

His staff called my office. His staff tracked down my boss to try to get me in trouble. People at his church left dozens and dozens of comments attacking me, my character, calling me names. The megachurch pastor posted a wide variety of passive-aggressive comments about “bloggers who live in their mother’s basements.

When I reached out personally to seek some sort of resolution, even trying to ask for forgiveness since I’d somehow offended him, I was mocked.

It was absolutely insane! It wasn’t even really a full-blown complaint. All I did was ask a question.

If you think about it the question was helping the church so that this person wouldn’t be ascribed as the author of a horrible human resources policy.

I share that story not to draw attention to an immature moment but to point out that some people in leadership roles have been trained to distrust those who ask questions, push back, or otherwise create conversation. They are mocked as the scourge when, in fact, a little complaining is very good.

It’s hilariously terrifying.

So, all that is to set-up this thought for my friends who lead teams.

While it’s easy to dismiss people who ask questions. While you’ll find camaraderie with fellow leadership types and get guaranteed rolling of eyes. While it’s easy to label and dismiss people who complain… there are blessings in the complainer.

3 Blessings of the Complainer

  1. They are present. We live in a culture where it’s easier to just walk away, say nothing, and go do something else than it is to stick around and offer a complaint. A complaint is– on some level– a compliment. They didn’t need to say anything but they did. And that tells you they care.
  2. They are thinking. It amazes me how many people just shut their brains down. They just aren’t thinking critically about the stuff right in front of them. A complainer is involved in something not just physically, but mentally as well.
  3. They want something better. The complainer and the leader have one thing in common: The deep longing for improvement. When you shut down complainers and they leave you alone you are worse off for it.

People who complain dream loud enough to verbalize it.

5 Responses to 3 Blessings of the Complainer

  1. Roseanne Cheng December 30, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    It is shocking to me how we live in a society that simply cannot take criticism or confrontation in any form. I had a similar situation happen with a blogger, though on a much smaller scale. I actually really liked her blog for a long time, but when I questioned a post I felt was downright mean (and hypocritical), she and her “followers” unleashed the wrath. So disappointing and childish.

  2. archerwfisher December 30, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    I’m curious. I about six months ago I commented on one of your postings. It was an article about how men need to stop playing video games, start dating, etc.

    So since you’re praising complainers, allow me to reiterate my comment.

    Have you actually tried figuring out why my fellows in the 18-24 range hate church? Why many of us find it a better use of time to be playing COD: Ghosts instead of trying to date at church? (granted, dating elsewhere is plenty good use of time.)

    Or have you just pandered more to women, saying how “hey guys, women don’t want to support you so you can be a videogame champion, try getting a job.”

    I’ll give you a hint–women don’t have the solution to getting young men to go to church. At all.

    • adam mclane December 30, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

      Please don’t take offense. I typically don’t respond to comments on posts that are years and years old.

  3. youthleadergina (@youthleadergina) December 30, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

    Sounds too familiar. I once heard a mega church pastor say from the pulpit ” I don’t pay critics, when I can get criticism for free” (meaning staff are not allowed to be critics) creating a “yes sir” fear based work environment. An environment killing innovation, honest feedback and allowing unhealthy people in management to stay hidden for too long. No one (on staff) speaks up at this particular church. Ever. If you do speak up….prepare to be fired and perhaps shunned. Blacklisted. So dumb. Can we all just go and work for someone more healthy and fun like Bob Goff?

  4. archerwfisher December 31, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    Didn’t expect you to reply there, but I hope you’ve learned better. I’ve heard that same message preached a variety of places and times, from three years ago to three weeks ago. But people still don’t learn, despite when an idea accomplishes nothing.

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