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Leadership 101: How Does A Leader Deal With Grumbling Followers?

           Some days being a leader is just plain hard.    I was reminded of this a few days ago when I had to make a decision which would affect a diverse group of people.  After much prayer and discussion, I finally made the decision that I felt was God’s will and would be best for the most people.    There was a strong sense of peace about the final decision, so I began telling the people involved.  


            Unfortunately, one of the people under my leadership strongly disagreed with the decision.  At first, they were vague about their feelings; however, it didn’t take long for their “grumbling” to turn into a personal attack questioning not only my decision, but my motives, my willingness to obey God, and my heart for ministry.    Quite honestly, their words hurt pretty badly.  Thankfully, I had a friend and mentor who quickly reminded me that the words that stung so sharply weren’t true.   He reminded me of the lesson we talked about last month:  When it comes to leading people, you can expect that waves of emotion and popularity are par for the course.  


            Whether it’s a boost in popularity or a dramatic drop, a good leader is unaffected.   He just keeps following God and leading.  They don’t get offended that the people don’t like them anymore.   A godly leader accepts and understands that this is all a part of being a leader and they lead. 


            Honestly, this lesson is a lot easier to write about than it is to live.  Why even our good friend, Moses, struggled with feelings of anger, failure and frustration whenever the people were having one of their temper tantrums after they left Egypt.    Unfortunately for Moses, they had a lot of temper tantrums.     Like we said last month, within 40 days of being delivered from Egypt, they were already accusing Moses of conspiring to kill them by bringing them into the desert where there was no food. 


            “The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt.  In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’” (Exodus 16:1-3)


            Poor Moses!   He did not deserve this attack.   Still, deserve it or not, Moses was the leader and he had to deal with the people and their problems.  He had to lead.   Some of the things he did and didn’t do set a good example for how we as leaders should respond when we’re faced with grumbling, complaining, difficult people.


            1.  Moses did not panic. 


            One thing I’ve noticed while studying the life of Moses is that whenever the people come to him in an uproar panicking about something they needed or accusing him of poor leadership, he didn’t get caught up in a wave of panic.   Back up to Exodus 15:25 when the people were grumbling against Moses because they were thirsty, he didn't get caught up in the drama, or even kick into action trying to figure out how to solve their problem himself.   Instead, Moses turned to God, knowing that God was in control.  


            This is a good example for all leaders to follow when they are confronted by panicking, overly emotional people.   Don’t get caught up in the frenzy.   Don’t panic, get caught in the drama, react out of emotion, or even try to be the hero and solve every problem on your own.   Instead, keep your head and turn to God, knowing that He is in control of the situation and He’ll tell you what to do.


           2. Moses didn’t take the attack personally.


            Look at Exodus 16:6-8  “So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you will know that it was the Lord Who brought You out of Egypt,  and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because He has heard your grumbling against Him. Who are we that you should grumble against us?’


             Moses also said, ‘You will know that it was the Lord when He gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because He has heard your grumbling against Him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.’”


            You’ve got to love Moses!   Right off the bat, he puts things in perspective and says, “Listen, I’m not the One Who brought you out of Egypt---that was God.   You’re problem is with Him; not with me.   All this grumbling you’re doing---it’s against God, not me, because I’m not running this show, God is.”


            If you, as a leader, want to successfully stand against the attacks of an angry, grumbling person or crowd, you’re going to have to adopt Moses’ attitude and resist the urge to take the attack personally.   If you can honestly say that you are obediently following God with all of your heart and trying to lead God’s people in God’s direction, then their complaints about the events that are taking place on the journey are against God, not you.  


            Take for instance the story I told at the beginning of the article and our difficulty with our grumbling follower.   The truth was that I knew that I was following God when I made the decision with which the grumbler disagreed.    Even though all of the cruel words of attack being spoken were directed at me, in reality, the person expressing their opinion was really unhappy with the direction God was leading the group.    If you want to be a godly leader, you have to recognize when a person is attacking you and when a person is taking their frustration with God out on you.  You can’t let their words or their opinions pierce your mind, emotions or spirit.   As God said to Samuel in 1 Samuel 8:7, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their King.”


            You can’t take it personally---you have to realize that they are grumbling against God.


           3. You need to redirect the people to God. 


            Exodus 16:9-10 says, “Then Moses told Aaron, ‘Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for He has heard your grumbling.’’   While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.”


            Moses was the people’s leader, but he wasn’t their God.    Moses needed to get the people’s eyes off of him, and onto God.   


            As a leader, you need to do the same thing.   You can’t fall into the temptation of attempting to be the hero and meet every person’s every need.  You don’t want people to be dependent on you, you’re goal as a leader should be to redirect them to God and depend on Him.  


           4.  Like Moses, we need to present God’s plan to the people, and then allow them to choose whether or not they will obey Him. 


            This is a part of redirecting people in God’s direction.   Notice how Moses presented God’s plan to the people:   


            “The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’’ 


            That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor.  When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, 'What is it?' For they did not know what it was.


            Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.  This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’”  (Exodus 16:11-16)


            That was Moses’ job—to tell the people God’s plan.  The people’s choice was whether or not they would obey.   As always, there were some who obeyed and some who didn’t. 


            “The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little.  And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.


            Then Moses said to them, ‘No one is to keep any of it until morning.’


            However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.   So Moses was angry with them.”


            Here’s a leadership fact that you’re going to have to learn:  There will always be some people who want to obey God and others will always think they will know better.   It has nothing to do with your abilities as a leader, but rather the heart of the person being led.   The only thing that you can do in this situation is follow Moses’ example and let people suffer the consequences while teaching them how obedience would help them avoid those consequences.    Eventually, they’ll either catch on or continue suffering the consequences.   As leader, you’re job is to keep following God and keep trying to get the people to follow your lead and follow God as well. 


            You see, the sad thing about the story of Moses and the Israelites is that it doesn’t have a happy ending.   Instead, it has a “To Be Continued” sign hanging at the end of the chapter as the battle continues between God and the people with poor Moses caught in the middle.    As we move onward to chapter 17, we see the entire scenario play out again as, once again, the Israelites need water. 


            Possibly this leads us to the fifth leadership lesson that we can glean from Moses:   


No Matter How Obstinate or Prone to Grumbling the People Are, You Need to Continue:


Avoiding the temptation to get caught up in the drama,


Avoiding the tendency to take the attack personally and be hurt and offended


Continue Pointing the People Toward God


            Continue Leading Them in God’s Direction Leaving the Choice to Obey or Disobey Between Them and God.


            Basically, Point #5 is this:  No Matter How Difficult It Gets; a Godly Leader Keeps Leading the People toward God.   It’s what Moses did every time the Israelite people came at him grumbling and complaining, and it’s what each of us needs to do as God follower’s leading God’s people.


            I know it’s what I had to do a few days ago when I was struggling with my own grumbling, grumpy Gus.    Basically, I had to stand our ground and avoid the temptation to allow this person’s tantrum to sidetrack me from doing God’s will.   Then I had to avoid the temptation to take their attack personally and retaliate in an angry manner.   Finally, I had to redirect this person toward God’s plan and say, “Why don’t you go with the new plan that God is working out?”   Thankfully, God came through and within a few days He demonstrated that He had everything under control as all of the pieces fell into place according to His plan.   


            Once again, I was reminded of the important leadership lesson that God is in control and we are only following Him.  Knowing this truth deep in your spirit helps a good leader face an obstinate, complaining, difficult, grumbling person or crowd and continue leading them in the direction they need to go.   It may be a leader’s greatest challenge, but with God’s help, you can do it!


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