It was a sunny, California Wednesday morning.
We were having our weekly staff meeting, innocently sorting out the details for an upcoming service, when I mentioned an illustration I wanted to close out my sermon with.
Then it happened.
One of the staff members spoke up. “We already have a lot going on in the service agenda for that day. We can only do that if you shorten your sermon a bit, because the last couple weeks you’ve gone long.”
No one in the room gasped, averted their eyes, or thought “Oh, that’s too bad, I’m going to miss working with you.” It was just another piece of honest feedback, and we all took it as such.
I responded with, “yeah, I’ll have to cut back if we’re going to add that illustration.”
Then we moved on to the next agenda item.
The moment meant so little to us that no one thought anything of it. In fact, they’re probably scratching their heads as they read this, trying to remember when the meeting in question happened.
Every healthy staff should be able to offer constructive criticize to other members, including the lead pastor, with that little amount of concern.
Don’t Let Bad Criticism Shut You Off From Good Criticism
A healthy church fosters an atmosphere in which people feel free to express their ideas openly – especially at the leadership level.
A church staff that never criticizes or corrects their lead pastor is not healthy. Maybe they're afraid to be honest. Maybe they lack creativity. Either way, without criticism, there’s information you need to know that you're not being told. And that hurts everyone.
A pastor who places themselves above criticism is not a good leader. But even if you say people are allowed to disagree with you, but they never do, something is wrong.
I can hear the roars of thousands of pastors laughing, “If not hearing criticism is a problem, then we’ve got the healthiest church in the world! Everyone loves telling me when I mess up – even when I haven’t!”
Unfortunately, there are a lot of churches like that. Filled with chronic complainers and control freaks. And if you’re in one of those situations, I’ve been there and I sympathize. In fact, I became overly-sensitive to any criticism for a long time because of having been criticized relentlessly and (mostly) undeservedly.
But I decided I wasn’t going to let the cynics win. I had to drop my barriers, swallow my pride and welcome valid criticism back in again. I encourage every pastor to do the same. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Create A Feedback Environment
In a recent podcast, Mike Erre advised pastors to "surround yourself with people who tell you the truth before your critics do."
One of those people for me has been Gary Garcia who, as my associate pastor, has reminded me many times, “I don’t want you fighting a battle you don’t know you’re fighting.”
Every pastor needs a strong team of trustworthy people like that.
In a small church that may only be one or two. But we need someone.
One aspect of being a good team member is knowing when to say “that’s good” or “we can do better.” Part of leading that team is being able to hear either one and be grateful for it. We need a healthy balance of both to keep the team, the church and the pastor strong.
Strong pastors develop a habit of asking for honest feedback from people they trust. They create an environment where honesty is valued, but rudeness is not tolerated. They thank people for fresh ideas – even the ones that don’t work.
Creating an environment where that can happen is not easy.
But it is worth it. In fact, it’s essential.
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