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Deal with Disgruntled Church Members / Discouraged / Angry Church Members
How Deal with Disgruntled Church Members? The subject of disgruntled church members is not unique to any particular church or denomination. Conflict is a part of life, and one must expect dissatisfaction among church members as well, notwithstanding the congregation’s size, the leadership style pastors and other leaders employ, or even the different departments’ best efforts.
Some members may become disgruntled for substantial reasons and may have valid claims. Others become disgruntled for trivial or simple reasons like personality clashes, while others may even become disgruntled with the pastor or fellow members.
James 4:1-2 explores this general idea. It says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet, but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.”
This verse implies that fights and quarrels come from carnal desires and lustful passions, which is a direct result of the spiritual warfare between good and evil.
Therefore, it is essential that disagreements and sources of conflict within the church be addressed and not be allowed to disrupt the church’s work or distract from its mission.
Let’s review six effective ways to deal with disgruntled church members.
Pray for Them
One must first understand that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12 (KJV)
This means that the discord that is experienced is not just from the church member but stemming from the devil himself, and such a situation requires supernatural intervention. Pray for the member so that Jesus Christ, as the High Priest, will intervene and not only diffuse the situation but also soften the other members’ hearts toward this disgruntled member.
In reality, once a member appears to be a source of disagreement within the church, other members automatically take on a defensive mode for the church’s sake. It then becomes necessary to pray that such attitudes will be removed from the equation in a bid to deal with the unhappy member in a way that will prevent an escalation of the issue.
Praying for that member opens the way for God to act on behalf of his children. Praying suggests that the human will is being yielded to God’s will, with a desire for true reconciliation. James 5 (KJV) reminds us to, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
Faith-based prayer can accomplish many things. These include resolutions for a disgruntled member, so one must embrace prayer when dealing with such a member. Ephesians 6:18 (NIV) also says, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
God invites his people to pray all the time for everything and, more importantly, to pray for the Lord’s people, the members, disgruntled or otherwise. Give God the opportunity to intervene in the life of each member by seeking him in prayer.
Confront the Issue
While we may be tempted to ignore the issue or the member and hope that everything will go away, the Bible suggests otherwise. Matthew 18:15-17 (KJV) outlines the simple steps that one should take when dealing with a disgruntled member. “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established.”
The Bible recommends that one person approach the disgruntled member to discuss the reason for the disagreement and resolve the issue. The person who is contacting the member must have the correct, spirit-led motive as this will impact their approach.
Matthew 5:9 (KJV) says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” God is pleased with those members who seek to make peace and even grants them the privilege of being called his children. It is indeed a very prestigious position to be called children of the King. God’s commendation to peacemakers means that He is genuinely concerned about the attitudes of those approaching the disgruntled members and their motives.
If one person’s efforts to reach out to the disgruntled member are not successful, it is recommended that one or two other members join the bid to reclaim this unhappy member. Such amplified measures ensure that there are two or three witnesses and demonstrate a deliberate effort towards reconciliation. The support of additional persons also opens the way for multiple perspectives on the issue.
Listen to Them
Listening requires an open mind and no preconceived opinions and judgment but a real desire to understand the conflict’s cause. Indeed, the reason may be inconsequential or very significant, but this is not up for debate.
James has some advice for this method as he tells us: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:” James. 1:19 (KJV) This art of listening requires great humility and a mind that is in tune with God.
An old proverb says, “God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we will listen more and talk less.”
Allow the disgruntled member to complain and rant if necessary. Allow them to outline and explain what is bothering them. While one should seek clarification, where appropriate, the conversation’s primary goal is for the unhappy member to speak. The listener needs to pray the prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 3: 9 (KJV), “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?”
Solomon understood the gravity of his role to judge in his people’s conflicts and opted to tap into the power of God, that is still available today, rather than to depend on his feeble efforts.
Having established that conflicts result from the spiritual warfare raging around us, spiritual discernment is needed to deal with these disgruntled members. Through divine intervention, one will listen to what is said, and even what is not mentioned. Armed with a correct understanding of the conflicting issue, one can collaborate on practical solutions with the relevant persons.
Church Discipline Is
Resolve the Issue
After keenly listening to the grouses and understanding the actual issue and the surrounding factors that may have heightened the conflict, effective solutions are necessary. Engage the disgruntled member in the working out the solution, bearing in mind that the goal of this exercise is for full reconciliation. If the basis of the dispute or contention is faulty, the facts must be related calmly and clearly, without hostility and insinuations. In Proverbs 15:1 (KJV), we read, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”
It is not what is said that will have an impact, more so how it is said. Colossians 4:6 (KJV) reminds us, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”
The “how” of the speech proposing the solution cannot be overemphasized. The tone, pitch, volume, and body language can severely alter the meaning of the message that is being communicated. The aim of the discussion should be to preserve peace at all costs and not to kindle anger.
Therefore, every effort should be made to use kind and sincere language while provoking, insolent, and disrespectful spoken and body language should be avoided.
Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:3-4 (KJV), “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”
In other words, Paul is advising members to look out for each other and not to consider oneself better than or holy than another. Humility is essential as members join together to work on solutions since vanity and arrogance will only result in further strife.
We should view the disgruntled member as a candidate to be recovered for God’s kingdom, show great concern for their well-being and interests, and seek reconciliation and workable solutions.
It is necessary to focus on the issue and not give in to the temptation to judge the member, resulting in even more controversy. In exhorting the Israelites on the side of the Jordan River, Moses told them in Deuteronomy 1:17 (KJV), “Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s…“
This exhortation is still valid today. Objectivity and an unbiased approach are needed when seeking to resolve matters among the household of faith, be they great or small. Often, when dealing with such members, the preconceived opinion is that they are troublemakers, and the solution to their issue is that they should change their perspective and conform, for the unity of the church.
However, an unbiased approach allows for the possibility that the disgruntled member may have a valid basis for their dissatisfaction, so changes or improvements may be needed on the part of the church to be more in line with the member’s expectations. Such an admission takes great humility but can be wrought through the Holy Spirit’s help if this is sought.
Forgive Each Other
In cases where a member is disgruntled with another member, a third, objective person should be a part of the solution-oriented discussion. Hurts and ill-feelings may counter resolution efforts without objectivity. This intercessor will open the way for reconciliation and forgiveness between the two and will also be able to share an unbiased perspective.
Ephesians 4:31-32 (KJV) tells us, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” This is God’s calling to members who are displeased with each other.
They are called to be kind and forgive each other unconditionally. God forgives humanity even though they are undeserving, and He is asking that disgruntled members be treated in the same way. Together members should seek to put away the malice-keeping and the “throwing of hurtful words,” and instead by surrendering their hurts and disagreements to God, reach out and forgive each other in true reconciliation.
Colossians 3:13 (KJV) also supports this notion: “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man has a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” Forgiveness is for the benefit of all those who are hurting. Having experienced God’s mercy, members are called upon to exhibit this same merciful forgiveness, no matter how deep the hurt. In this way, disgruntled members, through forgiveness and acceptance, can be reconciled to the fold.
Part Ways with Them
When dealing with disgruntled members, what happens if none of the proposals above work? What happens if members pray for the disgruntled members, reach out to them and seek to listen to them and understand the root of their dissatisfaction, find relevant solutions and extend forgiveness, but to no avail?
In fact, this is very likely. One would hope that disgruntled members will eventually stop being disgruntled and be reconciled to the church, but with all human and heavenly efforts combine, there is no such guarantee.
Jesus made room for this possibility in His directive to the church on how to address the matter of disgruntled members. In Matthew 18: 15-16, after recommending that one person approaches this unhappy member, He suggests that if matters are not resolved, this person should take another one or two persons as witnesses in a bid to win back this disgruntled member.
The subsequent verse, in Mathew 18:17 (KJV), states, “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglects to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.” If individual members in their efforts to reach out and resolve this disgruntled member’s concerns are not successful, then the matter should be brought to the church membership as a whole.
This issue can be brought to a Board meeting or a Members meeting. As a united body, the church will be called upon to decide what to do about the disgruntled member, still humbly seeking a mutual settlement of the matter and reconciliation.
Unfortunately, if this final measure is unsuccessful, the church must be prepared to let this member go, treating them as a “publican or a heathen. If all reasonable efforts are made to resolve the matter, but with no success, then the disgruntled member may have to be asked to renounce his/her membership in the church. The truth is there may be members who are disgruntled about foundational doctrines of the church, which evidently cannot be adjusted to suit their whims and fancy.
Similarly, some may have personal vendettas that they refuse to release, so for the greater good of the church body, they may have to be seen as an unbeliever and, therefore, no longer a member of the body. Leaders who understand human nature and the power of the evil and negativity from this one disgruntled member to spread within the entire body of believers and shake the church’s very foundation must be prepared to take a stand.
They must make this difficult decision whenever necessary.
Remember, this decision should be taken after much prayer and fasting and should be executed in love and consideration for this soul. Importantly, this does not mean that such persons are lost forever. While the church will not tolerate such an attitude in the religious community, this person should still be treated as a human being.
There should be no malice towards this person from the household of faith. This disgruntled member should be made to understand that the church is still open to them, and upon their repentance, like the prodigal son, they will be welcomed home. However, the church cannot sanction or encourage a persistently non-reconciliatory stance.
God expects that every effort to reconcile disgruntled members to the fold will be made, despite the reason for their disgruntlement. He is ready to partner with human agents to bring about this, through the power of His Holy Spirit. As more and more members become disgruntled over time, the church must understand their role in seeking to reclaim these members and understand their limitations, according to God’s Word.