I am learning that there is something very few people have experienced in a formal and organized way, and also something very few people seek out, on purpose. That something is feedback. Let’s be honest, it is hard to hear what people think of us, especially when it is not positive. Part of the reason we hate feedback is that we do in fact receive it, all the time, but usually in reactionary, unplanned, emotionally heightened, and unhealthy ways. Therefore, while the content might be accurate, the social situation is not conducive to the feedback being received well. But, feedback is not only important, but absolutely essential to our personal maturity and growth as Christians.
I am learning this because my job as a pastor is one of being under constant scrutiny, especially at a church that is getting used to a Lead Pastor [read: me], who has a significant amount of influence delegated to me. Being a pastor is also inherently one of existing under the microscope. Most pastors get feedback, but unfortunately its in the unhealthy camp – jabs, criticisms that come at you between services, emails, second hand gossip, people who leave over one sentence you said in a sermon taken out of context, etc. But, my elders are doing something really wise. They have set me up to get regular, intentional, thoughtful, feedback. In fact, we are now having the entire staff do this at least once a year. We are building a culture among the staff where throughout the year we are affirming and coaching each other, and once a year, we evaluate. The idea is that we are helping each other know reality as outside, more objective, observers and friends. The key is that we are friends and loyal to each other. The feedback may be negative, but it is offered out of love, for the good of the other.
Here are some reasons we have made this change and are shaping a culture of feedback:
1. Reality is your best friend. Many people avoid knowing what other people think of them because they’d rather put their head in the sand like an ostrich than deal with reality. Put another way, the reality they want is what they want, rather than what actually is. When they do receive feedback, people like this write it off, get mad, wallow in self pity, and obsess over how the other person or people are wrong and misguided or even have it out for them. But friend, reality is your best friend. Feel what you feel. Think what you think. But reality is reality, and feedback helps you connect with it.
2. Perception is not equivalent to reality, but it is a part of reality. In other words, you don’t need to agree with all feedback (I will hopefully blog later about how to receive feedback), but you have to accept that certain people feel a certain way about you and you, like it or not, in some way played a part. You may not have sinned or made mistake, but for some reason, that you need to attend to, someone reacted negatively. Even if said party is reacting to you in total error, a conversation and a leadership move on your part is in order.
3. Feedback is a form of love. Feedback can be a dagger. Or, it can be the wound of a friend (Proverbs 27:6). As you seek out feedback, you are setting up a system of hearing what others think of you in controlled, intentional, thoughtful, and prepared situations. At the very least, you have prepared yourself. Again, you may encounter feedback that is not reflective of who you are and what you have done, but you may find out there is a relational rupture with a friend, colleague, or family member. Also, please don’t just focus this on work, but set up a culture of feedback with your family and friends, too.
Summary: reality is your best friend. Because we don’t believe that, we avoid life changing, even life saving, truth through feedback. The ostrich playbook is not helping anyone, not least you. So, cozy up to reality and start asking for feedback.
By the way, formal evaluations are pretty intense. Probably once a year is good for 360 evaluations. But, through thoughtful conversations, good questions, and a lifestyle of affirmation and coaching, feedback can be expressed throughout the year in healthy ways. And remember, part of feedback is also telling people where they are gifted, a blessing, and an instrument of grace in God’s hands. If you cozy up to reality and seek feedback, you are going to experience a lot more affirmation than criticism, by God’s grace.