Posts Tagged ‘giving your pastor feedback’

Many years ago, I did something really stupid.

(I did something stupid yesterday, too, but let’s ignore that.)

Someone tried to convince me to show a music video during a Sunday service.

I liked the video … and the group that did the video … and the song they sang.

But the first time I saw the video was during the service … and the video just wasn’t appropriate for our congregation at the time.

And I heard about it … and handled the reaction that came my way rather poorly.

When pastors get together, they sometimes share war stories about the complainers and critics inside their churches.

Many times, the pastor doesn’t deserve the critcism he’s receiving … but sometimes, he does.

And many … if not most … pastors haven’t created feedback mechanisms for attendees when they’re unhappy about something.

I once knew an older gentleman who would stop and see me in my office about once a year.  Whenever he stopped in, he had one or two “suggestions” he wanted to share with me.  And they were always good ideas.

But if he didn’t have the courage to approach me directly … and many, many churchgoers are too afraid to speak with their pastor about anything remotely negative … I wouldn’t have benefited from his observations.

What kind of feedback mechanisms can pastors use to solicit congregational feedback?

First, I believe that every pastor should take an open-ended survey of the congregation on an annual basis.

A pastor would ask five or so questions that demand more than a “yes” or “no” answer.  For example:

*Why do you come to this church?

*What do you like best about the church?

*In which specific ways can we improve?

*What can we do to attract more guests?

*If you could wave a wand and get rid of one thing, what would it be?

I’m not suggesting that these are the actual questions to be asked … they’re just samples.  Every pastor needs to devise his own.

But this kind of a process makes the following statements:

*This church isn’t perfect.

*We value your input.

*We believe that you notice things we don’t see.

*We put a premium on constructive feedback.

*We take your ideas seriously.

To really be effective, this kind of survey has to be conducted during a weekend service … maybe at the very end, so people can finish their surveys and then leave.

But if church attendees knew that every year … maybe at the beginning of fall … they would be asked to share some opinions about the church, wouldn’t that be a great place to channel their ideas?

In this case, I think it’s okay to ask people to fill them out anonymously unless the person filling out the survey wants to expand upon their suggestion.  In that case, they can give their name and email/phone.

Second, I believe that churchgoers should feel comfortable emailing their pastor about their feelings and ideas.

I’m more of a visual guy than an auditory one.  Many things that people tell me go in one ear and out the other … as my wife can attest all too well.

If I can read an idea, I’m far more likely to remember it than if I just hear it.

For that reason, I’m not too receptive to people coming up to me after a service and hitting me with a complaint or a suggestion.  I’d prefer they put it in writing so I can understand what they’re trying to say more accurately.

Maybe this is just me, but I’d rather have someone email me their suggestion on a Monday morning than talk to me after a weekend service … and I suspect that many pastors would agree with me.

Whenever people gave me feedback via email, I tried to get back to them within 24 hours … and I always thanked them for contacting me directly … even if I didn’t like what they said.

I’ll share some more feedback mechanisms next time.

Which feedback mechanisms do you believe work in congregations today?

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*True or false: pastors are infallible.

That’s false.  I grew up in a pastor’s home, married a pastor’s daughter, and became a pastor myself, so I know better than most that pastors are sinners saved by God’s grace, just like every other believer.

*True or false: pastors need other believers to help them grow.

That’s true.  No matter how close a pastor is to God, he is still an imperfect being, and will be until he becomes like Jesus in the next life.  Pastors need mentors and friends and family just like anybody else.

*True or false: pastors sometimes need to be confronted about an issue in their life.

That’s true.  We all have our blind spots, pastors included.  Pastors can be lazy, or bitter, or insensitive, or arrogant – just like non-clergy.  If someone who loves a pastor confronts him about a possible sin, and that pastor changes, then he will grow more quickly to become like Christ.

*True or false: a pastor’s wife is the only person qualified to confront him.

That’s false.  While she may be in the best position to do so – living with him all week long – she may become so accustomed to his faults that she’s learned to overlook them.  Because my own wife has been so positive toward me and my ministry over the years, when she has taken the risk of confronting me, I know she’s usually right.

However, a pastor has interactions with many people when his spouse isn’t around, such as staff members, board members, counselees, ministry leaders, and people in the community.  A pastor’s wife can’t possibly witness all of his relationships.

*True or false: God may choose to use you to confront your pastor about an issue.

That’s true.  He may use you.

Imagine that some men from your church invite you to play basketball, and your pastor comes along.  You’re excited because you’ll have a chance to see who he really is away from the church.

But it doesn’t take long to discover that your pastor is extremely competitive.  He travels with the ball but won’t admit it, fouls other players without owning up to it, and throws in a few profane words at inopportune times.  And besides, every time his team scores, he engages in trash talk.

You’re hurt, disappointed, and even a bit angry.  What, if anything, should you do about it?

Your options:

You can let it go and treat his behavior as an anomaly.

You can ask other players what they thought about the pastor’s behavior.

You can go home and pray for your pastor.

You can write a letter to the church board and tell them how he misbehaved.

You can throw the ball at the pastor, or give him an elbow on the next rebound, or …

You can talk to the pastor yourself.

I recently saw the film We Bought a Zoo starring Matt Damon.  (Great film, by the way.)  In the film, Damon’s character has a talk with his son and refers to the importance of “twenty seconds of insane courage.”

In other words, if you have something important to say to someone, but you’re afraid, you only need “twenty seconds of insane courage” to say it.

Why should you be the one to say something?

Because you witnessed his behavior … which is why you can’t pass this assignment off on someone who didn’t experience it.

Some tips:

*Talk to him directly.  Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you [and your pastor is your brother, too], go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”

Instead of pronouncing judgment upon him (“May God strike you dead for using foul language!”), ask him a question, like:

“Why do you use those words out here but not in the pulpit?”

“Why can’t you admit that you’re guilty of fouls like the rest of us?”

Even if the pastor is in a competitive zone and brushes you off initially, if he’s truly a man of God, he’ll eventually grapple with your questions.

I have a theory: in the majority of cases where a pastor is involuntarily terminated, those who are angry with him (staff members, the church board, others in the congregation) have never shared their concerns with him directly.  They tell everybody except the pastor … a clear violation of Jesus’ words.

*Talk to him privately.  Nobody likes to lose face by being reprimanded in public, including pastors.  Jesus says to “go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”

If you’ve trained yourself to confront other believers, then you could wait until after the game and ask the pastor if you could speak with him for a moment.  During those “twenty seconds of courage,” let him know that you love him but that his behavior stepped over a line.  Next:

*Talk to him lovingly.  Jesus says, “If he listens to you …”

Let me be honest here.  Many pastors are not good listeners.  They love to hear themselves talk but aren’t quite as generous when others are speaking.  You need to use a tone that compels your pastor to hear you.  I’d opt for a gentle tone (not a judgmental one) as mentioned in Galatians 6:1.  Finally:

*Talk to him redemptively.  What’s the aim of any confrontation?  Jesus encourages us to win our brother over.

We’re not trying to harm our pastor, but restore him.  He’s temporarily become fragmented.  We’re trying to help him become whole again.

Let me end today’s article with a quote from Ken Sande in his book The Peacemaker:

“Your responsibility to go to someone who is caught in sin does not vanish just because that person is in a position of authority over you (e.g., an employer or a church elder).  Since these people are as human as you are, they will also sin and need correction (see 1 Tim. 5:19-20).  Of course, you may need to exercise special care in choosing your words when you talk with such a person.  Speak in a respectful manner, and do all you can to affirm your regard for that person’s authority.  In doing so, you may not only encourage needed changes, but also increase that person’s respect for you.”

Next time, I’ll discuss various ways that pastors respond when someone confronts them.

Have you ever confronted your pastor about an issue?  If so, how did it turn out?

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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