Published on Fuller Seminary’s Burner Blog for Pastors and Leaders.
Read the Article here
by Marcus J. Carlson
Feedback is yet another one of those things I have a love-hate relationship with. Over the past 15 years in ministry, I have found that feedback, along with conflict and failure has been my greatest teacher. So often, feedback has helped give me a new perspective, show me something I had missed, created a great understanding of my context or been a launch pad for vision. I have always sought to be teachable and to be open to feedback. There is certainly an important balance as there is certainly such a thing as too much feedback and too little feedback. Feedback can of course be positive, negative or neutral. There is no question that every ounce of feedback from the deep to the ridiculous has at least a kernel of truth in it. Our job as leaders is to pray and discern where the truth lies and decide what to do with it and then discard the rest. This is one of the greatest challenges of leadership in my own experience. God certainly speaks to each of us through one another; that is one of the greatest purposes and gifts of Christian community, but that does not make it easy.
Feedback, even when it is ridiculous, can be painful. I still remember the time when I got one of those Christian compliments, the ones with the giant ‘but’ in the middle of the sentence: “You sure are a good preacher, but you look like the devil.” Feedback can also be encouraging, even if it is challenging. I will never forget when a colleague challenged me to consider how much power I was giving a particular supervisor in my own life. It stung, but it was immensely encouraging and helpful. Christians certainly do not lack in opinions, especially in the church, so there is always plenty of feedback. It is not easy to find a consistent and healthy balance in ministry leadership when it comes to feedback, both in how much feedback is offered and how we handle it.
I have worked in settings where there was far too little feedback. There were plenty of opinions, but sharing feedback was strongly discouraged and when it was shared, it was often met with resistance and in the case of staff, threats. There was no unity or support within the organization because no one could share safely. I have also been in a setting where there was far too much feedback and any negative feedback was taken as gospel due to a fear of conflict at the top of the organization. One sign of unhealth in this case was that in the introduction to the organization on the website, the leader asked for feedback in their introduction to the ministry. That was also tiring because it created greater conflict and fear and caused the organization to lack a clear direction.
I think it is natural for any leader to overestimate their approach to feedback. I know that this is the case for me. While I try to hear all feedback, I have a tendency at times to be reactive or come across as defensive and other times I take feedback far too seriously that should be given very little weight. I think all leaders should take time at least once a year to reflect on and evaluate their own approach to feedback and carefully consider what kind of organizational culture created in their church, ministry or organization when it comes to feedback. It is not only an issue of teachability but also an issue of accountability and health. It may not be easy, but we do not want to miss out on something the Holy Spirit has for us in the midst of the sea of feedback we face.