“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” –Theodore Roosevelt

Every now and then, I get the question “what does a facilitator do?” when folks wonder about my role at The Dwelling Place. Ideally, my job is to take people’s visions, things they’d like to see done or do themselves and put them into action. Practically speaking, however, I end up listening to complaints. From all sides. Members, pastors, visitors, everyone has a “suggestion” (read: complaint) about something.

Complaints are like nails on chalkboard to me. I don’t deal with them well. At my day job, my boss asked me not to answer the phones because “customer service isn’t my strong suit”. (I’m working on it.) Have you heard the axiom of the 80/20 rule? That 20% of people do 80% of work? I’m working on one called the 99/1 rule: that 1% of the people do 99% of the complaining.

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.” Psalm 1:1

At some point in our culture or in our mentality, church became about being about “me.” We go to church with a consumer mentality: we seek out churches based on who has the best show, where you don’t have to do anything and, heaven forfend, you don’t have to reveal anything. You can just sit and be “fed.” Coming with the attitude of “serve me” leads to a spirit of complaining. I can go anywhere and find something wrong and we all know “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” How sad is that? The complainers get the attention because we want to shut them up. The reality is that people are often rewarded for their grumbling: someone pays attention to them. Most times.

Most folks don’t complain to me because I’m known to have a low tolerance for it. To be honest, I tend to tune complaining out; it just becomes this pleasant haze of white noise and I get this faraway, dreamy look on my face (since I have no poker face) that says “I’m no longer paying attention. I’m in my happy place.” Usually this translates into them going to the head pastor and complaining about me.

But there’s a reason I tend to quit listening to most complainers. The complaints typically come from the least involved or those who attend the least regularly. How much has complaining ever helped anything? When folks come to me with their “suggestions” the implication is that I (or the “staff”) am to fix the problem. Again, this isn’t entirely their fault. A consequence of the mega-church Sunday production is that a “few” put on the worship. The “up front” people do things. When folks are paid the thinking becomes “they earn their check by handling this”.

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Psalm 1:2

Let’s see if there is another way we can all come at this. Participation is your voice. Not everyone gets automatically ignored by me. The fact of the matter is that I do listen to the concerns of our members. In fact, I want to hear from our members. I want to know their concerns, I want to know how best to see their vision of what church should be about put into action. I want to help them to do it. Those members are present, doing something, already a part of things.

There’s also a big difference between complaining and constructive criticism. Again, this boils down to doing something. When folks come to me with their complaint or suggestion, they get the following question from me: what have you done to improve the situation? This usually separates the wheat from the chaff: complainers notoriously point out other people’s failings/where others fell short, that’s easy. Coming up with a solution, now that’s a bit more difficult.

(A part of my theory is that complainers complain because they weren’t consulted before hand. There might be some merit to consulting those most likely to complain during the design of a program since they are less likely to complain if they have ownership in it). If folks have thought of a way to address a problem, then the solution is already in front of us. You have the passion, maybe you should lead.

I suppose you could look at it as a chicken and egg sort of scenario: we’ve earned the right to speak into your life once you think you’ve earned the right to complain about things; but most folks only complain if they feel some sense of belonging (or prospective belonging).

“He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Psalm 1:3

*sigh*

And then for those who aspire to leadership, realize that the more “power” you have, the more you are called to serve. The more you have to be mature. The more you have to hear the complaints. Being missional is what you are every day, a church can’t do that for you. We are to try to be reconcilers wherever we go. Helping Christians. Helping non-Christians. Helping those within our church body. Helping those outside the church body. Discovering how to do that. Facilitating the process of learning within a community. Together.

*I might have to begin all blogs with what I call the Brian Keene disclaimer: “The following people should not read this entry … People who often read themselves into the things I say, even when I wasn’t talking about them. Seriously, if you are the type that says, “Oh, I wonder if he means me?’ then stop reading now … Indeed, the people I’m talking about probably won’t even realize that I’m talking about them. So don’t start inserting your name.” Then again, if you see yourself in this, do something about it.

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