By Josh King
Negativity is a habit.
A lot of people don’t realize they’re being rude or are tearing down the pastor, but they are. Dealing with these people is a constant struggle.
As pastors and preachers, we’d rather go toe to toe with a heretic than hear that a few of our own people are unhappy and complaining.
That’s often because we make an idol out of our worth and the perception of our work. The next time someone directs negativity your way, use these strategies to help you get through it.
1. Get some encouragement.
I’ve always had a few people I can be open with about the complaints I receive. Usually, I hear back something along the lines of, “That guy is always complaining about things; he’s done it for years.”
These responses are usually encouraging to me and help me keep a proper perspective. You don’t want to surround yourself with “yes-men,” but having a few people you can blow off steam with while knowing they’ll keep it in confidence is a good thing.
2. Confront it early, directly, and graciously.
It won’t take one month of pastoring before you hear the first complaint. My habit has been to go directly to the one complaining and tell them being negative and rude isn’t acceptable.
I tell them it hurts my feelings (imagine saying that out loud) and that I expect them to be encouraging. Recognize that people usually speak from ignorance or hurt. Those are two things I try to address in my confrontation.
It’s easier to kill the seed than it is to kill the weeds.
3. Outlast them.
The saying, “stick and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a lie. You and I know that. But on the other hand, words are only words.
You won’t die if someone says something mean about you or about what you did. So decide to outlast the negative.
If you let negative comments steal a part of your joy and strength, you’ll be the one who runs away. Don’t do that.
4. Use your platform to set the story.
When I hear complaining, I often use social media and my platform to frame the conversation in the correct way.
If people are complaining about a new initiative or a change we made, I’ll share why we made that change and why it’s exciting. I’ll also share stories about how the new change is yielding positive results.
If you’re a senior pastor or teaching pastor, you may be the only person in your church who gets to speak to the entire congregation at one time. Wise use of this privilege can go a long way in stopping negativity from spreading. At times, I’ll remind everyone that gossip and negativity have no place in the faith family.
5. Lead by example.
Don’t complain and gripe when things aren’t going your way. Instead, use your influence to build others up. Take all of the complaints and turn them into opportunities to champion ministry leaders and volunteers.
When it becomes the thing to lift others up, it’s what others will do. It will become the thing when the leader makes it the thing.
Sheep bite. People who are hurt tend to hurt others. People with divided loyalties divide others. You can’t avoid this; you can only prepare for it.
Your job is hard enough without having to endure friendly fire. But when the friendly fire does comes, defuse the situation by kindly going back and showing these people how to use their time and energy to make much of Jesus and to encourage the family of God.
Josh is pastor of Second Baptist Church in Conway, Arkansas, husband of Jacki, and father of three boys.