A Healthy Discontentment

making_a_complaintDiscontentment can sometimes be very healthy for the church. Pastors, of course, know all too well that the members of a church can be discontent. We hear about it from that sweet old lady after service. We hear about it from the youth leader on Sunday night. We even get e-mails about it from that family that recently left the church. Discontentment comes often in a congregation, and of course no pastor likes its sound. But before you delete that e-mail, brush off that complaint, or sigh in frustration let me propose that discontentment may be healthy for your congregation. There are several ways in which discontentment can help your church grow and flourish.

Discontentment can point to a real need for change. It’s important for those in leadership positions to listen carefully to discontentment in those they serve. You are not so aware that you see everything perfectly, friends. You need the input of the people in your congregation to make sure that your ministries, programs, and teaching are healthy. It’s easy for us to see what we want to see and to overlook weaknesses. Discontentment in the church can provide us with a chance to examine our ministry, to learn from others, and to see the life of our congregation through different eyes. This is healthy for us. It allows us to never grow stale, overly-comfortable, or disconnected from the needs and concerns those we serve.

Discontentment also provides our members with a chance to grow. When the people I serve express discontentment over the life of our church it offers me a chance to help them see what’s going on in their own hearts. Sometimes legitimate change does need to happen in our church, but other times God wants individuals to change. Discontentment may reveal an idol in their heart. Discontentment may be a result of their selfishness or impatience. They may be upset simply because they are not getting their way, or because their preferences aren’t being honored. In such a case discontentment in the members of our churches gives them a chance to grow. In such moments we can help them to see that their desires are not the most important, that the church is healthiest when we consider the interests of others above our own (Philippians 2:3-4). Discontentment provides us as pastors a chance to help people do some self-confrontation; in that regard it may yet be healthy for the church.

Discontentment, of course, can be sin. Sometimes our discontentment is simply rooted in a longing for things to be the way that God designed them to be. As long as I am discontent I am not at home in this world, and that’s a good thing. But many times my discontentment is a sign of sin and selfishness in my heart. As such, discontentment can be very unhealthy for the church. It can cause people to breed division, to create problems for the church, and to confuse what’s Biblically necessary with what’s simply personally preferable. The Bible calls us to challenge such attitudes. Sometimes that means helping people to find another church. Where people are unwilling to change, unwilling to surrender their desires, and insistent on creating problems in the church they need to go. Church discipline is a means of helping the church grow – not a particularly fun means, but a means none the less. We ought, of course to use it carefully and sparingly. Trigger happy disciplinarians cause even more serious problems for the church. But discontentment, left alone, can create real damage to the church in the long-run. Some people simply need to be let out the back door as the church keeps moving forward.

No pastor likes a discontent church member. I’ve gotten the Monday morning e-mail with lists of complaints and all too quickly hit the delete button. I need to slow down and consider the opportunities for growth that those complaints offer. I can think of two particular occasions where critiques offered by church members served our church well.

The first provided me an opportunity to help someone else grow in their understanding of how God relates to us. My first church out of seminary was a very traditional setting. It should be noted that I am not a very “traditional” kind of person. So I wasn’t surprised when a sweet older lady in the congregation expressed concern over the fact that I was not wearing a tie on Sunday mornings. As I talked with her about this concern I tried to show her how her preferences while respectable, were not necessarily prescribed by the Scriptures. We discussed the differences between the principles of Scripture and our applications of those principles. I attempted to help her see how confusing those too could do harm to the church. She didn’t change her mind on the subject, but she appreciated the discussion and didn’t raise the issue again. I respected her more after that discussion and even began to wear a tie…sometimes.

The second example helped me see some areas where our church needed immediate attention. As the pastor of discipleship at a recovery-culture church the nursery and children’s program wasn’t a top priority. We had focused a lot of energy into discipling young leaders, and counseling men and women coming out of recovery. This meant that our children’s program, by unintentional default, had become nothing more than babysitting. Then one of our college students came to me and expressed serious concern over our neglect of this ministry. My impulse was to be defensive, but the more I reflected on her critiques and our situation the more I agreed. Because of that conversation we started to make drastic changes. We began to train leaders, develop curriculum, and even give oversight to this ministry. After all, that’s precisely what it was. Her discontentment, when I listened carefully to it, meant that our church had a chance to grow healthier.

Criticisms will come from within your congregation, leaders. You can guarantee that. Don’t be afraid of those voices. Don’t get angry. Listen. Prayerfully consider what is being said and evaluate what is going on. Discontentment can always provide you and your church with an opportunity to grow. Seize discontentment and use it for good.

Dave Dunham is associate pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, MI. He is a graduate of Ohio University (BA) and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv).

One Response to “A Healthy Discontentment”
  1. Mark says:

    Thanks Dave for this reminder that our “church” is not just about how I feel it should run, but about the church as a whole, where every member has value and importance. Sometimes we feel, because of our positions, our congregations just need to do as we say (pride), when in reality, God is probably using them to point out sin in our life. “Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers.” Prov. 24:6

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