Community Killers Part Four: Complaining

Nothing can tear a group apart faster or more effectively than a spirit of complaining. For some reason, complaints seem to breed faster than rabbits. Once one person’s complaining goes unchecked, it won’t be long until others have joined in and eventually the entire group is sucked into a hopeless vortex of swirling complaints. Often these complaints have little to do with the group, but they have the potential to sideswipe and destroy a group meeting, or if left unchecked, an entire group.

Complaints may cover a variety of subjects. Group members might complain about their job, their day, their neighbor, their spouse, or even the church. The role of the leader is to deal with these complaints in a way which is formative for the person, instructive for the group, and glorifying to God.

Because a LIFEgroup should be a place where people share their struggles and receive support and prayer, it can sometimes be difficult to know when someone is sharing a difficulty or complaining. Here are some questions you can use to distinguish between the two:

  • Is this person seeking a solution, or just venting?
  • Is this the first time we’ve heard this, or is it a recurring theme?
  • Is this person willing to consider another viewpoint?
  • Does this person see themselves as powerless, or are they “working on” their situation?

These questions will often help you distinguish between healthy sharing and unhealthy complaining. Even though, they might not always provide a clear distinction, they will certainly get you going in the right direction.

Complaining usually needs to be dealt with in two steps. First, the group leader needs to appropriately address the complaining immediately during the group time. Secondly, if a person’s complaining becomes chronic and begins to threaten the health of the group; the group leader (or someone else) needs to address the heart attitude of the complainer in a one-on-one setting.

The following ideas can help you handle complaining when it happens during a group time:

1) Ask open-ended questions. Try to help the person see the situation from another perspective. Asking questions also allows the person to see that you are concerned about them and want to understand what they are thinking.

2) Rather than offer solutions or agree with the complaints, immediately take time to pray about the situation.

3) If the complaints are directed toward or about another person, pray for that person as well, and offer to be a catalyst for resolving the situation. Be clear that you will not listen to anymore complaints about the person until the complainer has honestly worked toward resolution (Matthew 18:15-20; Romans 14:1-8)

If a person’s complaining continues over time, it will eventually drain the group’s energy and health. Potentially, continued complaining will spread and infect others, leading to a culture of negativity which can be depressing for the whole group and is certainly not what the church should be. The role of the group leader is to address those whose complaining threatens the health of the group.

At this point, it would be helpful to go back and read some of the suggestions regarding how to deal with conflict. Here are some brief ideas for talking with someone about complaining:

  • Affirm your love for the person and tell them about the positive things they add to the group.
  • Explain to the person how you could imagine them using their gifts to make a greater contribution to the group.
  • Help the person understand that you are talking to them about a pattern of behavior, not just one incident. Repeat to them that you are bringing this to them because you want to help them grow, not because you want to attack them.
  • Give a few examples of how theirs (or others) complaining can be a negative influence on the group life.
  • Provide a specific solution. You DO NOT want them to drop out, or to “clam up”. Give a clear example of how they can still share their struggles without falling into a complaining spirit.
  • Ask them what you can do to assist them in this journey.
  • Pray together.