I don’t fancy myself any sort of great leader, but there are two things I have learned about leadership over the years, and they are intimately related.

Just about the worst thing a leader can nurture in his heart is self-pity. And just about the worst thing a leader can do in front of his people is murmur and complain.

I understand there is an appropriate place for lament. I know it is not always wise for leaders to quietly endure injustice. I’m not encouraging leaders to be stoic and indifferent to pain. What I am saying—and rather forcefully I hope—is that leaders must not be whiners.

If you are a leader, by definition you have followers. And if you have followers, then you often make decisions that impact other people. You sometimes get the last word. Your voice speaks louder and carries further than others. Yes, you have great responsibility, but you have unique opportunities too. That’s what it means to be a leader.

Sometimes I meet leaders who want all of the influence without any of the hassle. But that’s not how it works. The more people who report to you, the more people who can be upset with you. The more people who listen to your message, follow your tweets, and read your stuff, the more people who can fire shots at you. This is one of the irrefutable laws of leadership: the broader your influence flowing down, the more frequent the complaints can flow back up. Don’t be surprised by the fiery trials. Don’t be startled by opposition. Don’t let the ugliness of manipulation, the weakness of passive-aggressive behavior, and the cowardliness of retaliation took root in your soul.

Be vigilant against self-pity when it spots like gangrene in your heart. Do leaders deserve all the flack they get at times? Probably not. Do they deserve all the influence, opportunities, and privileges they’ve been given? Certainly not. Nothing good comes from feeling sorry for myself when people don’t like my ideas, or misjudge my motives, or forget all the good I’ve done in the past. Crying out to God is one thing. A very good thing too. But self-pity is not that. Self-pity is crying out in the echo chamber of my own little world. It’s issuing a lament just to take pleasure in hearing the lament over and over.

Leaders have feelings. Leaders get hurt. Leaders get discouraged. Sometimes leaders have to push back. But leaders should never whine and never feel sorry for themselves.

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38 thoughts on “No Whiners”

  1. Phil W says:

    Thanks. I need this admonition, but I’m not sure I will apply it properly. I believe I tend toward self-pity, fear of inadequacy, and other sins from the underside of pride. I’m not a leader, but I’d like to at least lead myself. And I know I can do this in Christ’s strength.

  2. Kevin, you know that the late, great Oswald Chambers once wrote (somewhere?) that he counted self-pity as the ‘most Satanic of sins’. *context of this quote long forgotten*

    I appreciate your words so much today. Blessings.

  3. Laurie says:

    I think there’s a passive aggressive and indirect type of whining that is extremely painful for congregations. It comes in the form of speaking out against an unnamed group of people who are either doing things wrong or aren’t working hard enough at the right things. These people are not loved enough to be approached directly about their sin. They’re gossiped about, and the gossip is frequently justified as a caring evaluation that shows concern for the wayward sheep. The Bible would call it grumbling. Even when this type of whining isn’t coming directly from pastors, if it’s being verbalized by staff, elders, other leaders, or anyone else in the church, and it’s heard but never corrected by the pastors, they are endorsing it. The disobedience of a flock or of individuals should be addressed and corrected if you love your sheep, but scripture teaches that such things are to be done directly … and with the irritating log removed from our own eye first.

  4. This is an important reminder. It’s also one reason I wrote guidelines for pastors who update or Tweet. In the seven don’ts, I included:

    * Fish for affirmations or support
    * Post ambiguous or manipulative statements
    * Vent toward Church matters or members
    * Become combative or defensive (take the bait and escalate)

    If interested in the others:
    http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/when-pastors-update-and-tweet/

  5. anaquaduck says:

    It’s probably a bit unfair on the kid in the image…It’s probably normal to whine but better still to take evasive action, hence like a bearing it falls to pieces as you point out.

    Lots of good things for me as a parent & husband to consider…but I can’t help thinking about Jeremiah the prophet. God does demonstrate patience & grace as we all learn His ways. Even when we fail He lifts us up & helps us to see things clearer.

    If we are going to put all our hope in leaders then disappointment will follow. Yet within the guidelines of Scripture they are for our good & a blessing from God as they walk in obedience & trust, one reason they come leaders in the first place.

  6. Love it. Good word. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Melody says:

    Is that why leaders circle the wagons so much when one gets criticized? So that they won’t get discouraged and whiney? Do they rely on God enough when they have their peers to look out for them? I can’t think of any examples in the bible when that is done for anyone.

    I’m not speaking of any specific situation either so no one read into it. But it is a behavior I have seen over and over again.
    So is there an example of how this is a justifiable behavior in the scripture? I’ve not read the whole thing so I don’t know.

  8. It's just the beginning says:

    Good reminder for leaders..thanks.

    You said “And if you have followers, then you often make decisions that impact other people.” — the difficult decisions leaders make every day DO affect other people. Given that, how should leaders handle change over time?

    5 years ago / 10,15,20 years ago, you [really any leader] probably preached on topics differently. You had different convictions, beliefs, interpretations of Scripture, etc. How do leaders…how do churches/denominations change and evolve? And more importantly how do leaders handle the people they serve in those changes?

    How a pastor taught 15 years ago AFFECTED people that listened and followed their teaching. If today that same pastor believes and teaches differently, does the pastor owe the church members who have been there for 20+ years a clear explanation of how what was taught decades ago was wrong? Or maybe “wrong” is too strong a word .. maybe it’s just the proper sanctification of pastors over time.

    How should leaders/pastors handle changes in the content and principles of what they preach from year to year, decade to decade? (specifically focusing on what if anything they communicate about the changes to their church) Thanks.

  9. A Dittmeier says:

    Though I had to endure sex abuse at the hands of my then stepdad, a deacon and church bus driver, when I was young, I’m so thankful I didn’t have people claiming to represent the gospel of Jesus Christ there to cover it up and then whine about slander when I worked up the courage to tell.

  10. Ryan Barnhill says:

    To Steve Cornell:

    Aren’t you fishing for affirmation/compliments by directing people to your own blog???

    Not trying to judge motives….

  11. Chris N. says:

    Kevin,

    Thanks for the post brother – I have been blessed by your ministry over many years now – and am so thankful for your labors.

    Would you please consider writing more along these lines in the future – about pastoring, leading, dealing with a staff, dealing with discouragement, etc.

    This post has been more timely than you could imagine.

    Blessings.

  12. Nell says:

    A Dittmeier
    I will pray for you. Child sexual abuse leaves scars that last a lifetime. May the church do a better job of supporting victims.

  13. Billy Jack says:

    All of you TGC and T4G guys need to quit whining about your buddy C.J. getting picked on, you bunch of hypocrites

  14. Nick says:

    This is a good message that brings to mind this truth from the Word of God:

    Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required … (Luke 12:48)

  15. Todd Wilhelm says:

    “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”

    Isaiah 1:17

  16. Ryan Wilder says:

    Very encouraging to see someone else articulate what I’ve been hearing. Looking at being a leader in a church these last few years have really given me a new perspective on the ugly side of leadership.

    It would be interesting to interact with scripture on this point. Paul seems to list many of his trials and hardships in his letters but never for self pity, all glory to God.

  17. A. Amos Love says:

    Kevin

    Seems Jesus has a unique take on “Leaders” for His Body – “ONE”

    Haven’t you ever wondered why Jesus taught His Disciples NOT to be called “Leaders?”
    For you have “ONE” leader – the Christ. Mat 23:10 NASB – And NONE did… ;-)

    Mat 23:10-12 NASB – New American Standard Bible.
    Do NOT be called leaders; for “ONE” is your Leader, that is, Christ.
    But the greatest among you shall be your servant.
    Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled;
    and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

    The Message – Mat 23:10-12.
    And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them.
    There is only “ONE” Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
    **Do you want to stand out? – Then step down. – Be a servant.**
    If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you.
    But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.

    Jesus instructed **His disciples** NOT to be called **leaders** and NONE did.

    Rom 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,
    Php 1:1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ,
    Col 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ,
    Tit 1:1 Paul, a servant of God,
    Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God
    2Pe 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant

    If Jesus instructed **His Disciples** NOT to call themselves “Leaders?”
    And – Someone calls them self “Leader?”
    And – Allows others to call them “leader?”

    Are they one of “His Disciples?”

    Why isn’t what Jesus said important? ;-)

  18. Billy Jack,

    Thanks for aiding Kevin in making his point.

  19. Gary says:

    At the risk of it sounding stoic perhaps a couple of examples of what differentiates whining from true lament and simple human vulnerability would be helpful? Scripture has many examples of leadership struggles that could easily be categorized as “self pity”… let’s not romanticize spiritual leadership and coat it with an “Americanized Cowboys don’t cry” attitude. Please unpack your thoughts.

  20. robert says:

    I am sure this article is not meant this way, it was made quite clear in my Christian experience that the showing of grief, was whining. In my line of work I loose alot of people I work intimately with for years. Usually they died very long protracted horrid deaths and all the prayer medicine etc made no difference in the alleviation of the constant pain. Having lost several family members to awful diseases that show no mercy and no matter how much one prays, begs, there is not even a moment of relief. I know because of original sin we all have it coming, but that does not give one peace. I will admit I did weep a few times, but I have been able to show no grief what so ever over the last many deaths I have dealt with. They gutted me personally but I showed no outward emotion and bothered no one with my struggle.

    I will live the rest of my life that way as that is what it seems God wants.

  21. robert says:

    PS Honesty requires I have posted on a few other blogs, and this subject is ripping me apart, it is emotional, not rooted in any theology just messy humanism. I feel awful I could not help these people more, I lacked the economic resources in the case of my family, and I lacked the spiritual resources for other folks. I know I sound like a whiner, but I am very careful where I whine, actually in the real life I dont ever, and wont ever. I loath death, it has taken so many of the best and brightest and the ones I love. I would make a lousy deity I really would, but I would have found another way, I really would have. Pastor Deyoung my apologies for backing up my emotional dump truck on your virtual lawn. I tend to do that at times, and it is not right, not looking for a gotcha kind of post. It is just so painful to watch, the long hours in the hospital, the hopeful hits and the setbacks. It sucks the life out of others. Having been down this road over so many times.

    I cant stand much of what the TGC but it would be dishonest on my part to say I cant agree with many aspects of your preaching and writings even when they go against what I think. I must be willing to admit my thinking is wrong. It is easy to write all of you off as “fundamentalist” but I have been loved by “fundamentalist” so I cant write all of you off. So I read your blogs and scour the scriptures and read the books and still walk away with a blank stare. I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer never will be but I know it hurts, it hurts real bad for so many of us who reside in the dark corners terrified to surface and ask our questions. It is not your response I fear, it is my questions and skepticism will stumble another soul, that line I will not cross. So I hang out on the fringe.

  22. J. Mark Fox says:

    Great post, Kevin. One hedge against becoming a whiner as a pastor is to keep yourself surrounded by faithful elders who will hold you accountable. What a blessing is a plurality of elders!

  23. Melody says:

    Robert weeping and whining are two different things. Are you weeping for those who are in pain or are whining because you have to witness it? Kevin is talking about self-focus, sitting on a pitty pot. Jesus and Paul spoke of persecution in a matter of fact way and submitted for the glory of God. Kevin is talking about the leaders who don’t want to submit.

  24. JoeJoe says:

    Kevin,

    It is true that leaders should not be whiners or complainers, especially as they cannot please everybody. Not all complaints that come from the bottom up are worth getting all worked up over. Leaders should still be sensitive to the needs and feelings of their followers too, however, analyzing the complaints that come up. Is the leader getting multiple complaints of the same type? Also, how serious are the complaints? I would think that if you have multiple people complaining of not being protected from sexual abusers, for example, that the leader has some very serious introspecting to do. Is what they are doing really right? With serious allegations at that level and of that multitude, a leader should feel bad. At the very LEAST, they should realize that they are not protecting those that they are responsible for. That should make any leader think about the kind of job they are doing, and find a way to make it RIGHT, even if that means dealing with negative consequences for themselves, because that is the right, Christian thing to do.

  25. Robert says:

    Melody thank you for your kindness but we live in two different universes and I do not wish to offend so I will leave it at that. Have a very blessed day.

    Robert (which is my middle name for sake of honesty).

  26. Melody says:

    And yet you did. Perhaps part of the problem is that you think you are so different without knowing a single thing about the other person. Quit stereo-typing.

  27. Ben says:

    Totally agree on your two points: Self pity and murmuring. Complaining seems common place today. We are the richest people on earth. There is every reason to be positive.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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