When I was thirteen or fourteen, I entered the workforce as the world’s worst paperboy – honestly, I was better at the video game. After that I pumped gas, made fries at Burger King, unloaded and loaded trucks for a commercial dairy distributor, and for a couple of years drove a limousine (which is not as cool as it sounds. I mostly drove station wagons to and from Newark Airport). Sometime during the dairy or limousine years, I began to notice a pattern of negativity.
At each job I worked, the employees thought we knew how to do the bosses job. We, the mostly high school aged employees of the King, talked on breaks about all the things the managers did “wrong.” We dock-workers, moving milk around the dairy, convinced one another over lunch we knew how to run the business more smoothly. We chauffeurs would sometimes bump into each other at the airport waiting for a flight, where the conversation would quickly turn toward ways we could improve the company. Those not running the organization seemed convinced we knew better, and were eager to share. Like a black hole drawing everything into itself, the negativity claimed the majority of the workforce at each of those jobs.
I wish I could say this doesn’t happen in the church, but it does. We believe our lead pastor or supervisor should give our ministry area more attention. We are frustrated by the finance committee limiting our budget, the staff supervisory committee evaluating us without really knowing all we do, or another staff member we feel is “dropping the ball.”
What I noticed in those early jobs was the complaining affected morale. When you convince one another the leaders do not know what they are doing, it is hard to get excited about your role in the organization – which for us today is the church. Our efforts feel futile, and our energy for our ministry quickly wanes. As a staff member, and often a leader among the staff, it is important that we work to consciously break the cycle of negativity to keep this from happening.
Let me be clear: you do not break the cycle by ignoring bad leadership or bottling up your frustration. If you are struggling with a coworker, lead pastor, or committee, those issues need to be addressed, but they need to be addressed appropriately. Complaining to coworkers is not appropriate; bringing your concerns to the leader is. Letting off steam with a congregant is inappropriate; venting to a colleague or friend unconnected to your congregation is.
As a church staff member, I hope you have a network of friends and/or colleagues who are not part of the congregation you serve, in whom you can confide. If not, I urge you to build those friendships with others who will understand what you sometimes go through. If you are feeling alone, I invite you to vent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to listen and eager to help where I can.