Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit


One of the most challenging dynamics in church leadership is dealing with complainers. There are some among us who have the “spiritual gift” of finding the wrong and letting you know about it. They don’t often have the solution; they just want to point out the undesirable. They deem it the leader’s responsibility to fix it. Every church has a select few who hold this mantle. The early church (in the book of Acts) was no exception.

(Acts 6:1 NIV) In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.

The Greek word for complained is goggysmos (just the pronunciation sounds negative). The word means,

to express one’s discontent — to complain, to grumble, complaint – Louw & Nida

The word does not express positive energy toward resolution; rather it simply gives voice to the problem. On the one hand, it is easy to dismiss such moaning. I have to admit that these individuals have little credibility in my mind; my motivation to address complaints is often modest. I would prefer they be willing to jump in with solutions. It is easy to point the finger and much harder to propose remedies. The Grecian Jews must have been like these less than gracious individuals. There was a problem; they chose to complain.

In Acts 6, the complaining led to a meeting. This is what often happens in churches. The leaders must have felt compelled to address the problem; so they met to discuss their options. Luke summarizes their discussion.

(Acts 6:2 NIV) It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.

Had the complainers suggested that the leaders wait on tables? Did they expect the leaders to solve the problem? We aren’t really sure, but the leaders were certain to prioritize the ministry of the word. They offer a solution which includes handing the responsibility to others.

(Acts 6:3–4 NIV) Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.

The leaders delegated the function to designated individuals who could appropriately carry out the needed ministry. Their attention was not consumed; they seem to quickly return to the primacy of prayer and teaching.

So how did early Christian leaders deal with complainers? They did not dismiss the concerns nonchalantly; they allocated attention to the situation. At the same time, they were not consumed with the issue; nor did they neglect more important ministries to soothe the grumbling. They relegated the ministry to suitable men. In turn, the church was strengthened. Every church leader dreams of the following reaction.

(Acts 6:5 NIV) This proposal pleased the whole group.

Perhaps more importantly,

(Acts 6:7 NIV) the word of God spread

In the end, the church was able to fulfill its mission. It was not paralyzed by naysayers. The concerns were considered, a solution was proposed and ministry was sustained. This may seem a fairy-tale ending for many churches. It seems that some complainers are rarely content; they will simply find the next problem. This may be the case in some settings. Leaders must properly discern when this is the case. They must be careful to not allow such pessimists to draw valuable energy. Yet, there may be times when concerns need to be addressed and careful solutions enacted. May God give us the grace, patience and discerning spirits to deal with complainers.