Weeding Through Feedback
By Julie Beader
Hearing criticism can be painful, but if you want to move your career forward you must become an expert when it comes to receiving feedback. Recently, Children’s Ministry Professional Edition interviewed Julie Beader, ministry consultant, writer, founder of Connect Ministries International, and children’s minister for more than 20 years, about the importance of listening to and assessing feedback from a career perspective.
CMPro: As a career-conscious leader, how important is it to be open to feedback?
Beader: It’s as important as making sure your air tank is turned on when you go scuba diving. If it’s not on, you might see some pretty things, but you won’t last long! A leader who’s not open to feedback has just identified a major insecurity and perhaps a character flaw. You have to ask yourself, Why do I not want to hear what others think? The answer will most likely have something to do with pride, which is a pretty clear red flag that there’s trouble ahead.
CMPro: When children’s ministers reach a high level of leadership, do you think they tend to be more or less open to feedback?
Beader: Both. First, you have those who are open to feedback. If they’re strong leaders, they take in others’ thoughts, weigh them against the overall vision, and decide-without prejudice-which are the best to keep and which to let go. You have to be objective and emotionally detached from your opinions and previously held views. You have to hear criticism without taking it as an assault on your identity. It comes down to this: When you know who you are, whose you are, and what you’re called to do, it frees and empowers you to learn from others’ opinions because they don’t define you.
Leaders who aren’t open to feedback tend to be small leaders; even if they lead a large number, they’ll always be smaller than what they could have been. That’s because they don’t allow others to add to them for fear that someone will take something away.
CMPro: Does feedback from leaders, parents, and team members carry equal weight?
Beader: They’re all valuable and all to be taken seriously, but each is sorted and applied in a very different way using different criteria.
Feedback from your leadership had better be taken very seriously. This is Self-Preservation 101. Whether or not you particularly agree, if they’re in authority, they have final say. Period. A lack of understanding in this area will short-circuit your career so fast you’ll wonder what happened. And worse, you’ll probably blame the very person God placed over you.
Feedback from parents should also be taken seriously, but weigh it against the purpose of your ministry. You aren’t going to make everyone happy, and the bottom line is that your church isn’t for everybody. If you try to respond to every bit of feedback from every parent, your ministry will have no clearly defined purpose. It’s good to listen and learn what you can. But you’d better still be doing what God called you to do and not what a parent’s whim dictated.
Criticism from team members carries more clout. These are the precious people putting themselves out there, laying down their lives for the cause. Having said that, whether their feedback takes the form of a complaint or an idea, you still have to weigh it. No one’s going to give you more valuable insight into the inner workings of your 2-year-old class than those who serve there, but people are still people. Is Nancy just being cranky, or is there a valid concern? Does Jim’s big idea line up with the overall vision of the ministry, or will it be an extraneous effort? Your job is to empower the people on your team to do their jobs effectively; to own their ministry and maximize their potential in it. But this has to be done in light of the bigger picture.
CMPro: What’s the best way to handle negative feedback?
Beader: You’re going to get negative feedback. It may even feel like you get more negative than positive. You can’t take it personally, even if someone launches what feels like a very personal attack. That’s the time to remember, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood.” That person isn’t your enemy-but you do have an enemy who hates that you work with and for kids. When you remember the source, it’ll help you to get up, dust yourself off, and keep going.
CMPro: What’s a good strategy for assessing feedback?
Beader: First, consider the source. Second, ask yourself, What can I learn from this? Even the ugliest of criticism generally has some shred of truth to it. A secure professional who truly wants to grow in his or her leadership potential will examine every scrap of dirt thrown to see if there might be gold dust there. If there isn’t, drop it. If there is, make the hard choices. This might mean letting go of ideas that originated with you. It might mean admitting that someone else had a better idea.
CMPro: When should a leader drop everything to address an issue raised through feedback?
Beader: When feedback brings up a safety issue, it takes precedence over all else. Providing a safe environment must be at the top of your list. If someone raises a concern, don’t say, “I know, we’ve really got to deal with that.” Deal with it. This may be your last warning.
CMPro: What role does day-to-day feedback play in terms of someone’s long-term career goals?
Beader: Every single day in ministry you’re faced with opportunities to grow as an individual, as a Christian, and as a team player. If you weren’t challenged today in some area, you probably weren’t listening. If you work on your “game” both on and off the field (not just Sundays and Wednesdays), you’ll be ready when the coach looks at the bench for someone to make the big play.
This article by Julie Beader is excerpted from www.childrensministry.com/leaders.