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A Pastor’s Response to Feedback

             We have all had it, the comment, at the conclusion of a service as our friends and parishioners pass us by.  If we were each honest, we enjoy the positive words.  Sometimes our day or week hinges on the feedback we receive from people on Sunday mornings and occasional fall out on Mondays.

             What do we do when we receive the word?  Do we puff up, feel good, maybe even pride enters in?  Yeah, God used you.  He chose to work through a broken and incomplete vessel.  God chose to use you to reach into the hearts of a hurting or needy soul.  Praise God!

             I have found when I think I hit a home run, it really ends up being a foul ball.  When I hit a scrubby shot off the end of the bat it sometimes floats over the fence and I didn’t even know it.  When it’s God’s word, He uses it when and where he wants.

             Authentic character for each of us, however, becomes apparent when the short, unexpected word, articulated along with a hand shake cuts to the core.  What if the comment is mean, short sighted, or critical?  How do you feel then?  What is your response?  Let me urge you to have a thoughtful and loving response prepared for just those moments.  Below are four ways we pastors often respond to criticism:

Ignore Unwanted Comments:
                So what does ignoring do?  It can hurt you and it can help you.  First, lost people respond to the gospel in a variety of ways.  The message of the Gospel can inspire the vilest of responses.  Your delivery, your tone, rhythm, vocalization, and even your motions can be distracting and anger a person under conviction.  This is where your thick skin is an advantage.  People comment and it doesn’t faze you a bit.  Your smile and short but sincere “thank you” is all that is required.
                Second, if you want the truth, your thick skin can save you, but it can also hurt you.  By ignoring a hitch or habit you can distract from the message delivery.  If you have a repeated word or a mispronunciation you can detract from the real message.  If you stand on one side too often, raise your voice too much, appear unintentionally disheveled or unmatching you can detract from the message that saves lives.  Look for a blind side, it can be an issue for the whole church.

Selectively Listen:
                Listening selectively can include an element of the above ignoring response.  You can listen to only the good things people say.  Great pitfalls of arrogance and feelings of “my way or the highway” can deceptively creep in to your leadership.  Nonetheless, you need to sift through the negative feedback and search for kernels of truth. 
             If a pastor listens only to the negatives and takes them to heart, that pastor will soon be out of the ministry.  Discouragement quickly sets in when a person thinks his efforts are unfruitful.  To listen selectively, one must be willing to shake off the hurt which can yield enormously helpful results.  Be earnest in one’s self review.  Don’t err on listening to one side more than the other without critical evaluation of each comment, good and bad.

React indignantly, negatively, or hostilely:
                If you are honest, pastor, you have responded defensively more than once to critical evaluation, if only in your mind.  I know I have.  I say, “Hey, that can’t be true, I prepared and worked on this and it is from God!”  Other comments might be; “Who put you up to this?” or “Where did you hear that?”  Not listening and/or reacting defensively will most assuredly result in a back lash from the other side. 
             Pastor, you have preached it, turn the other cheek and remember God is your defender.  This truth is real and helpful firmament.  With each negative word, God is either teaching you something or allowing you to learn from a seemingly abrasive attack.  Be wise.  Do not disregard the words as a whole, but ask God what He is trying to say through the unkind and uncherished words.  Proverbs 12:18 says; “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”  Concentrate on healing and ask God what you need to learn rather than reacting indignantly or hostilely.

Listen Profitably:
                If God is teaching you something or allowing these words to hack at your armor of pride.  Don’t pray for their quick passing nor conversely take the words too seriously.  Listening profitably is the stance of humility.  In the wild, animals working at creating a heard or are actively in confrontation, stare at each other, make eye contact, puff up their chests and attack.  Mom always told me don’t stare into the eyes of an angry dog.  In humility, listen and seek to hear what you can learn from the unwanted but possibly warranted words.
                Yes, be a learner.  Learning comes from hearing.  Proverbs 19:20 sums it up best, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.”  It is true, mean words and mean people hurt.  Yes, you may want to find that heaven on earth where everyone at your church adores you and not an evil word is spoken.  Be sure, that place exists only in heaven above.  Remember there may be some very important truth wrapped up in a pretty ugly package.  Listen profitably and you will be counted as wise.

Love you today!
Jeffrey

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