Sample Non-Personal Complaints Process
All churches and particularly their pastoral leaders have an agenda of growth and transformation in people’s lives. While this is positive and healthy, it often means change and challenge for church members. There are times when church members have a concern that they would like to raise with church leadership which is not primarily personal but about a sermon, a change, an incident which occurred or a question of leadership or ministry practice. It is inappropriate in a large church to expect the Minister to deal personally with each of these matters. The following process is meant to assist church members with an appropriate way to raise and get a response to issues of concern.
1. Concerns, complaints and questions about ministry, change, incidents and direction are normal and are welcome to be raised in a responsible manner in this church.
2. Please consider carefully whether your concern or complaint has substance. In other words, is it important and true? It should not be based on hearsay, assumption or someone else’s perception or comments. If after prayerful consideration you chose to raise the matter, do so in a godly way. If you choose to overlook it, decide to let the matter drop and commit to not discussing it with others.
3. Commit to dealing with your concern personally. If someone raises a concern with you, ascertain immediately whether they have dealt with it personally before coming to you. If they have not, direct them to this policy or to the interpersonal grievance procedure. Do not be party to gossip, malicious talk or speaking ill of others. The only exception to this is if someone, in good faith, is asking your advice on the best way to deal with their concern.
4. Be prepared to put your concern in writing in a clear, objective and non-inflammatory explanation of what the issue is for you. Be prepared to be responsible for your words and the style of your communication.
5. Submit your concern to the person or group appointed by the leadership of the church to receive and respond to complaints. (This will not normally be the senior pastor).
6. This person or group is authorised to respond to concerns wherever possible and to judge which concerns should be passed on to the minister and how this should happen.
7. Accept the outcome. If you are the only person with this concern or the group collectively believes the concern to be unwarranted, please accept the wisdom and discernment of the group. If your concern has also been raised by others or forms part of a wider pattern, the group will raise this on your behalf with the minister for response and let you know.
8. Appeal. If you are unable to accept the outcome from the process, you may, following the end of this process, write a formal letter to the governing council of the church. It will be raised at an appropriate leadership meeting and responded to at that level. Be prepared to be held to account for your action in doing so.
Please Note: This process is for complaints about the pastor’s ministry, teaching or leadership in the church. It is not primarily for dealing with issues of interpersonal offence that may occur between the pastor and another specific individual. These should be dealt with according to the Matt 18 based Interpersonal Grievance Process.
Guidelines for the Pastoral Complaints Process Person or Group
Being the pastor of a local church congregation is one of the most challenging of all leadership positions. It is different in many respects to other forms of leadership which operate in contemporary corporate and organisational environments. In these, there are clear lines of authority, accountability for employees’ behaviour, and wages paid for services rendered.
The church is very different from other collectives of people. It is filled with a wide diversity of volunteers who gather together around deeply held beliefs and values. The church meets important spiritual, social and personal needs through providing members with a place to belong, significant roles and meaningful relationships of support. Because churches are a refuge for many, from the rapidly changing and sometimes confronting culture of the world, they are often subject to traditionalism and can be resistant to change. Congregations are consequently more prone to conflict than other comparative groups.
Churches, and particularly their pastors, have an agenda of change, growth and transformation in people’s lives and in the locality the church serves. For these reasons, pastors will often have to respond to a wide range of criticisms and complaints around their ministries, around changes they propose, around their competency and their personal styles of leadership and communication. As a church grows these can take up an inordinate amount of time and energy. Out of this reality some churches have appointed a Pastor – Congregation Relations Person / Group to deal with communication, conflict and change issues which will always come up within pastoral leadership.
1. The person / group is the first port-of-call for people who have a concern about the pastor. This may be about change, sermons, non-personal issues to do with the pastor’s ministry, performance and leadership. This is to protect the pastor from dealing with all the normal issues of concern and conflict which can distract a leader from moving forward in a constructive way.
2. Ideally this is a group made up of 3-5 members who are jointly appointed by the church eldership board and the pastor. Group members need to have the confidence of both church leadership and the pastor. Appointment should be for a term of three years. Composition is often made up of an elder, a pastoral care team member and another wise and skilled church member. It is wise to have both male and female on this group.
3. The group should be trained and supported in discernment, conflict resolution, communication and change management skills.
4. The church is clearly informed of the existence and purpose of the group, of how to raise a concern, make a constructive criticism or complaint and what will happen as it is reflected upon.
5. The group is formally authorised and empowered to respond to concerns themselves where-ever possible and to judge which concerns should be directed on to the pastor and how this should happen.
6. The group may not need to meet often but should at least meet 2-3 times per year. More meetings may be required if there is a higher level of anxiety over changes in the church.
7. The group needs to monitor its own relationship with the pastor and to meet regularly with the pastor, not to go over all the issues but for both to share in the processes of leadership, vision, change and communication. The meetings with the pastor should be proactive rather than reactive. Not all concerns are passed on the pastor. If issues are trivial, one-off issues, mis-communication or assumptions, the group should deal with these quickly and simply.
8. If the group begins to pick up serious issues, higher level conflict, division in the church and large numbers of people who are dissatisfied over similar issues, this information needs to be appropriately communicated as soon as possible to the pastor, to the eldership board and pastoral review group.
9. In times of ongoing high level conflict and especially if trust has eroded this group may need to be disbanded or placed in recess and a consultancy team or denominational facilitator called in to avoid triangulation. In times of high level conflict, the group should not meet without the pastor.
10. This group is there to process complaints about the pastor’s ministry, teaching or leadership in the church. It is not primarily for dealing with issues of interpersonal offence that may occur between the pastor and another specific individual. These should be dealt with according to the Matt 18 based interpersonal grievance process.
An effective Pastor – Congregation Relations Group can save a lot of stress for a pastor and also provide a valuable service to the church as it represents a clear pathway for concerns to be expressed. The very existence of the group and the process by which to contact the group often acts as a factor to lower conflict and anxiety.