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If it wasn’t for congregational feedback, we might not possess one of the most valuable books in the entire Bible.

When he wrote 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul was responding to a series of questions posed by the church in Corinth about issues such as marriage and divorce, whether singles should marry, food sacrificed to idols, whether preachers should be paid, freedom in Christ, spiritual gifts, and resurrection.

Their feedback to Paul resulted in long, extended answers to questions that encompass the second half of the book.

Congregational feedback can be valuable … as long as it doesn’t become adversarial.

I’ve already saluted a structured, anonymous survey and emailing the pastor as viable feedback options in my last blog.

Let me mention four more.

First, I believe a pastor should stand before a congregation and answer questions at least annually, if not more often.

When a church calls a new pastor, they often have a question and answer session with him.  These times are valuable because they indicate how a pastor relates to the entire congregation … how well he can think on his feet … what kind of vision and ideas he has for a prospective church … and the current mindset of churchgoers.

Why do pastoral candidates go through that kind of a process … and then never stand before the church again?

Some might say, “Such meetings can become divisive.”  And I agree – they can be.

But isn’t it better for a pastor to call such a meeting proactively with the congregation than to have some in the congregation call a meeting about him later on?

Political candidates stand before crowds hundreds of times when they’re running for office.  Once in office, we rightly criticize them if they duck press conferences and town hall meetings.

The feedback generated during such meetings can enlighten and encourage everyone involved.

I realize some pastors aren’t skilled at such meetings … and some members aren’t skilled at speaking in front of groups.

In that case, why not ask churchgoers to write out their questions in advance and then have the pastor answer them the following Sunday?  (Giving him a week to think about his answers.)

However it’s done, I believe this kind of give-and-take needs to be done more often.

By the way, I loved these kinds of meetings, even on those rare occasions when the questioner became angry.  Some big-name pastors hold them on a regular basis.  I’m even aware of a megachurch where a world-renowned pastor holds these meetings periodically.  Keeps leadership accountable.

Second, I believe a pastor can visit various groups in the church for question and answer sessions.

In my second pastorate, I neglected the seniors in the church for a while, and they rebelled, with many of them leaving the church en masse.

Since that painful episode, I have learned that a pastor must touch every major group in a church throughout the year: the kids, the youth, the singles, small groups, seniors … you name it.

This isn’t hard to pull off.  When a pastor is making his annual calendar, he can make sure to schedule quality time … maybe with one group every month … where he can meet with them and take questions.

Early in my pastoral ministry, I met with the deaconesses of my church and tried to give them a vision of what they could become.

They didn’t want to hear such a vision from a man … and they let me know it.

It was the last time I ever invaded a woman’s meeting without being asked to attend.

But on occasion, I was asked to speak to the women of the church … and that’s a great opportunity for feedback … provided the pastor doesn’t tell the deaconesses how to run their operation.

Third, I believe a pastor should solicit questions on occasion about certain issues that touch people’s lives.

If I was preaching topically, I’d end a series maybe once a year by asking people to submit written questions about the issue at hand.

For example, if I was preaching on marriage, I’d let everyone know throughout the series that they could write down questions about marriage on their response card.  Then I’d sort through them all and look for patterns and themes.

Then I’d let those questions provide the outline and frame my message for the last Sunday of the series.

Frontal lobe issues are best for this kind of thing … relationships, personal finances, raising kids, apologetics questions, social issues … even Bible questions.

Years ago, I read that R.T. Kendall, who pastored for many years at Westminster Chapel in London, would take questions from the congregation after he taught.  He arranged for microphones to be set up in the aisles and listeners could ask him anything about the message he just gave.

I love this approach because it’s akin to how Jesus and Paul taught at times … and people usually learn more through dialogue than a prepared monologue.

Besides, it’s much less predictable … and has the potential for both fireworks and fun.

Finally, I believe that churchgoers should set up an appointment to speak with their pastor if they have an idea or a concern.

Most pastors … even in large churches … make provision for seeing people from the congregation at least once.  It may take a few weeks to land an appointment, but they can be landed.  (And if not with the senior/lead pastor, at least with an executive pastor.)

Whenever people made such appointments with me, I was usually nervous ahead of time because I had no idea what they were going to talk about … and sometimes, they came in great anger.

For this reason, I almost always tried to figure out why they were coming to see me … and usually got it wrong.

But a one-on-one session is really the best way to share feedback with somebody.

You can see their eyes … and their body language … and their facial expressions … and they can see yours as well.

I once read that the average American citizen could see Abraham Lincoln when he was president.

Certainly Jesus did one-on-ones with people like Nicodemus.

Every pastor should welcome this kind of feedback, even if he can’t make everybody happy.

I hope these ideas are helpful.

If a church has structured feedback, churchgoers won’t be as likely to ambush the pastor or staff with their concerns.

Your thoughts?

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Last month, our country held its mid-term elections.  Imagine that you went into the voting booth having no idea who was running for office until you got there.  (If I still lived in California, I’d exclaim, “Oh, no, Jerry Brown is running again?”)  Many of us become familiar with those who are running for major offices, although we still don’t know anything about more than half the names on the ballot.  But how wise would it be for officials to unveil the names of political candidates only on the day of voting?

And yet that’s how thousands of churches choose leaders every year.

When I was in my late teens, I was asked one year to count ballots for the annual business meeting at my church.  95 people cast their ballots for elder, and one man received 20 “no” votes.  Because the candidates only needed to receive a simple majority, he was still elected to office, but shortly afterward, he resigned due to sexual misconduct.  I wonder how many of those 20 people knew something about this man’s life that the rest of us didn’t?  Maybe if some of those people had known ahead of time that his name was being considered for elder, they could have shared what they knew with the pastor or church staff and his name could have been quietly withdrawn.

For years, I attended public church meetings (whether they were called “business” meetings or “congregational” meetings) in which candidates/issues were presented to the church and then the church was expected to take a vote immediately.  This process often raised the anxiety level for people because some of them simply were not ready to make a quick decision.  They wanted time to think, pray, and talk to others before casting their vote.  When they were not given that opportunity, they sometimes claimed they were being “railroaded.”

That’s why I like the process of selecting elders that our church has.  Last Sunday, three potential elders came and stood on the  stage with their wives.  The pastor briefly introduced each person and then referred to their biographies, which were made available on an insert in the program.  Then the pastor said that we had a month to give feedback about these men and we were told how to do that.  Only after the one-month feedback time would these men become elders.

Those who know me know that I am very deliberate when it comes to decision-making.  The more crucial the issue, the longer it takes me to decide, but once I do, I don’t look back.  Whether it’s voting for the President of the United States or an elder in my local church, I take my vote very seriously.  And from the time a candidate’s name is introduced to me, I need time to think, to pray, and if need be, to speak with others.

When a church introduces candidates in a public meeting, and then expects God’s people to vote immediately on those individuals for office, people are denied the ability to think.  They are denied the ability to pray.  They are denied the ability to speak with others.  In a word, they are being manipulated.  Some people may vote “no” on some of the candidates just because they inherently sense this even if they can’t put it into words.  They feel violated.

Why do churches do this?  Sometimes it’s because the leaders figure that people will only come out to one meeting, if that, so that have to take all their votes at once.  Sometimes it’s because the leaders don’t know who is running for office until right before the meeting!  But usually, it’s because of anxiety.  The leaders just want to get the “voting thing” over with.

But if believers aren’t allowed to think, pray, and talk with others, why vote at all?  Then the members end up becoming “sheeple,” just doing whatever their leaders tell them to do.

Is there a better way to handle such meetings?  I believe there is.  That will be the topic of my next blog.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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