A number of years ago, I was visiting with a minister friend who was a pastor of a church in a tradition that was not my own. We had become friends through the years, and he decided to tell me “a true story of the pastorate.” All pastors have “true stories of the pastorate.” We just have to be careful how and who we share them with, which is clandestinely and is with other pastors mostly.
It seems that he had a man in his church who was extremely negative about just about everything to do with his church. After several years of this, the pastor asked the man to come to his office because he wanted to show him something. An appointment was set, and the man came to the church office to meet with the pastor.
The pastor said, “I have three sheets of paper that I want to show you.
The first page was laid down and the pastor said, “The is the amount of money we spent on paper towels last year.”
He laid down the second page, saying, “This is the amount we spent on toilet paper last year.”
Irritated, the man demanded, “Why in the world did you drag me down here to show me this stuff?”
The pastor laid down the third page and said, “This is the amount you gave to the church last year. I just wanted you to know that, with all the complaining you do, you didn’t even give enough money to the church to pay for the toilet paper.”
I said, “What did he do?”
Smiling he said, “He left the church and the number of complaints I hear has dropped by about 90%.”
I refer to habitual complainers as “that guy.” You know, the person who is always finding the negative in every situation. I welcome genuine complaints or suggestions because most people really do want to see things improve in any organization with which they are affiliated. Many of the improvements we have seen in how things work at the place I serve have been because good people have suggested a better way that something can be done.
For example, for twenty-three years, our church did not have on-line giving available. Then the pandemic hit and people, except for our Livestream team, were not able to give their checks to the church unless they dropped them off at the office or mailed them in. Several people suggested that we adopt on-line giving. So, we did. Now, most of our income is from congregation members who use on-line giving.
The pandemic saw the end of our light breakfast before church each Sunday. About a month ago, a young married couple suggested we start it back up and even offered to handle it. Great idea! Now whoever wants coffee, and a light breakfast, can find it in our fellowship hall at 9:15 each Sunday morning. In fact, nearly every ministry we have was suggested by someone who saw a need or a better way to do what we do.
But a suggester is different than a complainer. Generally, a complainer is negative and very often does not volunteer to be a change agent. That’s someone else’s job. They might be a complainer but not be a doer.
A few negative complaints from a person does not make him or her chronic complainers. But the person who can never see the positive and always focuses on the negative? That is “that guy.” “That guy” could also be a woman but that still makes them “that guy,” however politically incorrect that makes me.
Nearly every organization has them. In fact, nearly every gathering of people has them in the crowd.
I coached youth baseball for one season and youth football for two seasons. There were always parents, usually men, who complained throughout every single game about anything and everything.
“Why doesn’t my son carry the ball?”
“He’s a tackle.”
“Why is he playing tackle and not running back?”
“Because he’s big, a slow runner, and a pretty good blocker.”
And on it goes from “that guy.” Complaints about the referee, the penalty calls, and of course the coach. “That guy” is found wherever you look.
Once in a great while, I will encounter a potential “that guy.” They are in the seedling stage and haven’t fully blossomed into a Negative Nellie. If they begin to complain too much about anything and everything, at some point, it is likely that I will say, “Oh, please, don’t be ‘that guy.’”
“What do you mean ‘that guy?’”
As I explain it to them, their reaction will tell me if they’re going to take their toilet paper money and leave me behind or if they are going to reconsider how they deal with things. Most of the time, they are unaware of their level of griping and try to do better, which is a good thing.
As for myself, there are periods in my life when I have been “that guy.” I am ashamed of that now and realize that all I did was alienate people. Hopefully, I have people around me now who will tell me if I’m slipping back into that persona. I don’t want to be heading toward a group of people and overhear someone say, “Okay folks, get ready. Here comes ‘that guy’ again.”
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]