Since you will be dumber for listening to them, doesn’t it make sense that interim pastors ought to silence the whiners and complainers in their client churches?

Negativity Trap

Letting them complain doesn’t solve anything.

  • Ignoring them may calm your nerves but everyone else is still left on edge
  • Letting them complain invites a culture of criticism to take deeper root
  • Tolerating those who spew negativity is contrary to scripture
  • You run the risk of lowering your IQ to room temperature

You read that right. Prolonged exposure to negative, complaining people will actually make you dumber. That’s according to an article Thom Rainer recently cited from Inc. Magazine.

New research in neuroscience demonstrates how negative and critical people affect us. She notes that “being exposed to too much complaining can actually make you dumb. Research shows that exposure to 30 minutes or more of negativity – including viewing such material on TV – actually peels away neurons in the brain’s hippocampus. That’s the part of your brain you need for problem solving.”

So what is the result of exposure to negative and critical people? “Basically it turns your brain to mush,” the article notes. It has the same effect even if you are passively listening to them.

That’s why I had to quit watching the nightly news and reading most newspapers. The constant stream of drivel from the left and the right was wearing me down, making me stupider. It got so bad that I actually considered running for political office.


Seriously, this poses a dilemma for interim pastors because we often confront negative or complaining people. It comes with the territory.

How do we deal with the Negative Neds and Nancys in a client congregation? How does an interim pastor model the proper way to deal with negativity and complaining?

  1. Ask if this is helpful criticism in negative garb. It stresses some folks to offer constructive criticism, so they keep it bottled up until it boils over, spilling out in a rush of negative words and ideas. Read the metacommunication with care and focus on the message, not the negativity.
  2. Discern whether loss or fear of loss of control is the heart of the issue. When a complainant petitions for greater control, tread carefully. If you don’t know how to respond in the moment, say so. “I’m not sure what to say, you’ve caught me off guard here. I won’t respond now but give me a couple of days to reflect and I promise I’ll get back to you.”
  3. Determine whether fear of loss in the face of change is the issue. If the complainant is lamenting the loss of something valuable it’s probably your fault. An important part of the interim pastor’s job is to use change management’s best practices. That includes showing them what they will gain to replace that which they fear losing.
  4. Keep your political views to yourself. Don’t discuss what you saw on CNN or Fox News. Don’t cite articles from Sojourners or Reason. Maybe its just me, but in virtually every church I’ve served I’ve rarely had time to address the political cause de jur; far more important things are on the Sunday morning table. Banish that kind of unproductive negativity from the congregational gatherings. When someone else brings politics and causes up before the congregation, shut it down because it detracts from the purpose of the transition and creates division within the congregation.
  5. Make complaints teachable moments. Early on in your ministry you are the one who gets to set the tone for the interim period. The first time a complainant comes to you, instruct them. “I’m having a hard time hearing what you’re trying to say through the negative vibe I’m picking up. I’d love to talk to you about this matter but I can’t help you unless you can frame it as constructive criticism that contributes to what I’m trying to accomplish for you. Think about that and let’s get together again when you’re ready.”

If you stifle the complainers and silence the negativity, you and the whole congregation will be smarter as a result!


What techniques have you found useful in dealing with complainers and negative people? Click here to leave your comments below.