Four Reasons to Welcome Feedback

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She chewed out Pastor Larry angrily, her temper flaring. He tried to reply calmly but nothing he said seemed to help.

Finally, she stormed out of his office.

That wasn’t the end of it, of course. She emailed a denominational leader. She talked to people. Other members weighed in with their opinions. Some took sides.

Unfortunately, a few folks left the church.

Her anger and frustration should not have totally surprised Pastor Larry. This conflict had been brewing for some time. It could have been addressed earlier and more proactively with less damaging fallout.

However, Pastor Larry missed all the warning signs. Never saw it coming. Why? As he later admitted, he failed in the arena of receiving feedback.

The member had spoken with him previously, always in a more calm and reasonable manner. She had laid out her concerns rather plainly, actually.

Pastor Larry listened superficially and politely each time. He didn’t agree with her, so he merely ignored what he heard and moved on. In other words, he blew her off, just as he tended to do regularly when members approached him with suggestions, observations or complaints.

Most people responded to his disinterest by simply shutting down. In some ways, Pastor Larry realized this and liked it. He didn’t really want to hear a bunch of complaints or silly suggestions anyway.

However, this lady did not shut down. She blew up! When she did, others took her side.

That’s not to justify her immature, dysfunctional behavior. She behaved badly.  

Yet, reality is that Pastor Larry could have saved himself a lot of trouble by paying more attention to feedback from her and others.

Did he need to implement every suggestion, agree to every criticism or endorse every opinion presented to him? Of course not. He could have paid more attention, though, to what folks were trying to tell him.

Here’s my challenge to every pastor: strive to welcome feedback – positive or negative. Here are four big reasons why:

  1. To stay in tune with people’s thought and needs
  2. To learn how people are perceiving your actions and motivations
  3. To find genuine opportunities to grow as a Christian and a leader
  4. To prevent destructive conflicts – at least in some cases – by heading them off at the pass

Pastor Larry’s trouble eventually blew over; he made some changes and became a wiser, more effective pastor. He gained this insight, though, at the cost of upset, hurt and a few lost members. He also had missed out on good ideas from his less volatile members who simply didn’t share them because they knew he would not respond.

Proverbs 15:31: If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. (NLT)

Let folks know you want their feedback. Then, make certain to listen, prayerfully consider and provide a thoughtful response when they offer it. You will be a wiser pastor for it.

Top Seven Real Life Problems Facing the People in Your Pews

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Want to make your preaching more relevant? I'm certain you do.

My work operating a Christian counseling center provides a unique overview into the problems facing Christians -- at least, those in my geographic area -- and I have no reason to believe it’s much different in yours.

So, I thought it may be useful to share with you my perspective on the "real life" problems some of  your congregants may be thinking about on Sunday mornings as you deliver God’s Word to them.  

Here's my top seven problems occupying the minds of the people in your pews.

1. Marriage Problems.  Roughly 40-50 percent of calls to our office involve marital problems. If you think no one in your congregation currently struggles with their marriage, has affairs or is currently contemplating divorce, well, you may want to rethink that.

2. Affairs.  Did I already mention affairs? Fact is, several hundred people came to my counseling center last year to see me or one of my associates. Of those seeking marital counseling (including professing Christians), many come to address an extra-marital affair. This has really burgeoned over the last decade as social media has broken down barriers which previously made crossing that line more challenging.

3. Anxiety. Another top reason Christians coming to counseling: anxiety. Prolonged stress, perfectionism and trauma contribute to the anxiety puzzle. People show up frequently complaining of panic attacks, racing thoughts and similar symptoms.

4. Depression. Yet another big reason Christians coming to counseling: depression. Many describe depression as this cloud that won’t leave or the inability to climb out of a horrible pit. People complain of depression that interferes with sleep, appetite, and ability to focus. They feel hopeless, worthless and full of shame and guilt. Some fantasize about suicide.

5. Addictions. Alcohol abuse, cyber addiction, and porn addiction often show up in my office. We see many family members in pain because someone they love is addicted. We see those who have lost family and friends to the heroin crisis.  Not infrequently we see people with shopping or gambling addictions or with hoarding disorders, which some consider an addiction.

Addiction of some nature is probably the second most common factor we see in marital counseling as well. Again, if you think no one sitting in one of your pews Sunday morning struggles with addiction, you may want to reconsider.

6. Debilitating levels of stress. Many people we see feel stressed to their breaking point. The most common stressors include financial, job or career problems, children’s problems, time and schedule conflicts, and caring for elderly parents.

As you know, most couples both work full time jobs, then spend a significant portion of the evening helping kids with homework in addition to running them to various extra-curricular activities. Some take on the role of part-time caregiver for parents while still raising teen-aged children.  Many feel the stress of problems in multiple areas of life.

7. Loss or Trauma. Loss of loved ones, especially untimely deaths of children, parents or other close relationships burdens some people. Those with unresolved childhood trauma seem to have greater difficulty.  Other losses that people present to me include loss of health, coping with an empty nest, job loss, and aging.

I also see people who have experience the trauma of combat situations, accidents, losses or other catastrophic events. Increasingly, children experience increased feelings of trauma and fear due to school shootings and other events.

Finally, one additional, significant reason people come for counseling: spiritual problems. Now, Christians rarely cite “spiritual problems” as their main reason for coming to counseling. However, I often hear the following themes as people talk to me:

  • Lack of devotional or prayer life
  • Condemnation or fear that God is ‘mad at me’.
  • Anger towards God and sometimes estrangement from Him along with some version of, “Why did God allow this to happen to me? He could have stopped it if he wanted to!” (This is very common.)

Pastor, likely, you too see these problems in your ministry. Hopefully, this elaborated list can serve to help you be even more alert to the problems the people in your pew actually wrestle with as you preach to them on Sunday mornings and make the Gospel of Jesus their greatest source of hope and help.

Three Things to Overcome If You Want to Break the Micromanaging Habit

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Some pastors struggle with a serious obstacle to effective leadership: micromanagement.

Often, this involves supervising minute details of subordinate’s responsibilities. Other times, it may play out as what I call “clipboard management”: personally ensuring that all rosters, sign-up sheets, luncheon menus, committee agendas and every other administrative detail has been completed correctly.

I’ve struggled with this myself. My counseling center was not able to grow rapidly until I broke the habit of taking every little problem into my own hands. I’m learning to step away and let others handle the details!

If you know that you micromanage, you probably already recognize it as a problem, right?

You need to shift your gaze from the minutia to the strategy, from the operational details the strategic larger vision.

Fail to do so, and you run the risk of stunting the development (and morale) of volunteers and paid staff, and yes, even the numerical growth of the church.

After all, your church will not grow beyond the horizon of your gaze.

Plenty of articles offer warnings on the dangers of micromanaging and prescriptions for what to do instead.

It’s easier said than done, though, to abandon micromanaging habits and move on to higher levels of leadership!

Of course, I don’t know you personally and we’re all unique individuals, but if you find yourself operating as a micromanager, one of the three following factors may be at play.

Your foe may be perfectionism. You may fear that if you don’t do it, it won’t be done correctly or well. Fact is, sometimes that will prove to be the case. But if someone makes a spelling mistake in the church bulletin, so what? Consider what really drives your fear of a mistake. Then overcome that fear!

Your fear may be of losing control. These days, when problems arise at my counseling center, I am much more likely to walk away from my administrative personnel and let them handle it. Maybe you need to work on something similar.

Your mindset may be tuned to a lower level. Maybe you’re simply not trained in the skills of organizational leadership. Perhaps your background didn’t prepare you to cast a vision, lead people and empower them to achieve it. However, those skills can be learned.  

God called you to greater things than dressing down an administrative assistant because she made some small error. He called you to higher tasks than making sure someone brings salad to the picnic.

Certainly, we all have to attend to some administrative details we would rather leave to others. However, we must not allow ourselves to focus too much on such matters. Instead, let's lift up our gaze to the horizon and beyond, then take our people there!

7 Lessons from Betrayed Leaders

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I’ve blogged over that past several weeks mostly about the unspeakable pain of betrayal. 

  • A youth pastor forced out of a position
  • A Christian CEO subjected to serious but completely false accusations
  • Plus, I’ve spoken with other leaders who faced relentless, undeserved opposition

So, what good could can God possibly bring from betrayal? At a minimum, what can we learn from these folk’s stories? I’ve summarized below seven lessons – kind of a mix of lessons and observations, really – I’ve gleaned and found helpful.

1. Deal head on with your feelings. All the people I spoke to who have successfully dealt with the pain of betrayal have grieved, cried it out, or talked it over with others in some fashion. Several sought out therapy. Rather than merely hurting silently they focused on processing their feelings and worked through to a better place.

2. Engage in self-reflection. Every single person stated that during recovery from betrayal they became aware of areas of their own lives in which they needed growth.  One pastor whose story we have not published realized while being forced from his pastorate that his own anger, regardless of the things done to him, was out of control. He’s worked diligently over the years to correct that fault.

3. Forgive. You, like Jesus, simply must forgive betrayal. There exists no other way to get on with your life in a whole and health manner.

4. You can come away with a deeper faith, trust and dependence on God. As several leaders stated in one way or another, “God will always see you through”. 

5. You can gain wisdom about working with people. They learned and planned for more effective ways to deal with people in leadership in the future.  We’re not talking here about becoming cynical or generally distrustful. Instead, folks told us that they gained insight into the signs of a genuinely trust-worthy person.

6. You may learn things about yourself – and find some areas of potential improvement. As I said above, the survivors of betrayal I wrote about all did some self-inspection. It wasn't uncommon to hear some say that they themselves were not completely blameless in the difficulties they experienced. 

7. Scars, yes, but healing, too. Scars remain for all of them. But the bleeding has stopped and there is no infection. Some pain still remains but they are not crippled by that pain. They report feeling healthier emotionally and spiritually than ever and wiser with others. Most report a desire to help others through their own pain. Some told us they are now in the best place emotionally that they ever have been. They lead thriving organizations, churches and ministries.

I hope that betrayal never happens to you or me.

However, if it does, we remember that Jesus knew the pain of betrayal, too. We may be called to share some measure in that suffering. Yet, God will also help us through that dark night and in due time into the dawn of greater joy in life and success in ministry.

Finally, thank you to all who shared your stories with me. I pray for continued healing in your life and greater fruitfulness than ever in your service to Christ.

 

A Christian CEO Recovers From Betrayal and Discovers the Faithfulness of God

[I share Julie’s story with her permission although under a different name and a few altered details in order to protect the privacy of all involved. Julie wants to relate her experience in hopes it may help someone else and for that I thank her.]
 

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Have you ever been blind-sided?

Julie sat in her counselor's office, as she had regularly over the past year, tears in her eyes.

She is by no means a weak person. In fact, Julie is a very high achiever and a strong Christian.

An entrepreneur in her 30’s, she launched her own non-profit from scratch about eight years ago. She experienced tremendous success as her organization grew rapidly into an international ministry. The city she lives in recently recognized her as a top leader in in her region.  

So, what brought her to the point of tears?

Betrayal.

This is what happened. When she started her growing and thriving organization, she selected a right-hand person to work with her very closely. Julie went to church this person and worked with her every day.   

Julie trusted her implicitly.

Imagine her shock and dismay to learn this person had launched a campaign of lies about her in the community, outrightly accusing her of misappropriating ministry funds! Blindsided, Julie felt devastated.

She assembled a quick meeting of her board. Fortunately, their accountant assured the board that the organization's finances were in tiptop shape. There existed no possibility of impropriety whatsoever.

The board acted quickly and decisively. They instructed Julie to fire this person right away which she did. However, the firing created additional backlash as Julie’s once trusted friend, now nemesis, began talking to people in Julie’s Christian circles, smearing her and spreading additional rumors.

The person also attempted but failed to launch a duplicate organization. Some people believed the rumors. Still do, in fact.

Julie, despite the stereotype of the hard-nosed CEO, is a sensitive, caring person. All this hurt her deeply and thus her visits to a therapist to deal with depression and even burn-out.

Here’s the encouraging part. After a year of therapy, prayer and to some extent just the passing of time, Julie feels much stronger.  

When I told her that I had been writing some articles on Christian leaders recovering from betrayal, she actually asked me to publish her story. She wants others to know that healing lies on the other side of the storm.

In speaking with Julie, I asked about her recommendations for people going through a trial such as hers. Julie said, “No matter what, God will see you through.”

In addition, she notes that she is now much wiser in terms of who she selects for top leadership positions. She considers closely their level of emotional maturity.

Personally, I must also add that Julie’s story is a cautionary tale about leaders keeping their organization’s or churches financial affairs in order. If Julie’s books hadn’t been perfect, think of the potential consequences. I personally know a pastor who experienced a similar situation to Julie’s and ended up being disciplined by his denomination for some financial indiscretions – nothing too serious, but the cloud of accusations made things worse for him.

So, we will end this story on what I consider to be Julie’s plain yet profound advice: when betrayed by someone you trusted, it will hurt. Hopefully, you will learn something helpful. Above all, though, no matter what, God will see you through.

How God Healed One Youth Minister's Heart, Part III

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Part III

Note: This is the third and final installment of a story shared with us by a former youth pastor (now serving at another church in a different kind of staff position). We have changed the names and some details for the privacy of all involved.

Brad had moved his family out of state to take a position as youth pastor. After a couple of years there, he found himself let go from his position overnight. Brad and his wife Andrea, deeply wounded by events, moved back to his home church.

As time passed, Brad realized he had learned some things about himself. Still, there was more healing to come and we pick up the story there.

Dr. Jeannie

 

At some point, a young lady attending Bible School had approached the Senior Pastor of Brad’s home church about a school project requiring her to interview someone who had been hurt in ministry. He referred her to Brad and Andrea.

Answering her questions actually started them on their healing journey.

(Note from Dr. Jeannie – I mention this because I believe that reflection and prayer help us overcome hurts from the past. In Brad and Andrea’s case, the interview became a springboard to reflection. For other people, journaling could serve a similar purpose.)

However, one further major test lay ahead for Brad and Andrea before they could complete their healing journey.

Brad relates that just recently, one of his former youth group members reached out to him. Her father, a man who had supported Brad’s ministry, unexpectedly and suddenly passed way. She wanted to know if they would come to be part of the funeral. Of course, the leaders by whom Brad and Andrea felt so hurt would be there, too.

Prior to this, Brad had written a letter to his former leaders at that church, releasing all the bitterness. In fact, it took him six months to get to the point that he could send it because he wanted to make sure that when he dropped it in the mailbox the forgiveness was real and permanent. He wanted release!

They did go back to the funeral. They saw the former leaders there. Brad says, “We felt perfectly at ease there and for me, that’s proof that God had healed my heart.”

I asked Brad what he had learned from this whole situation. There was somewhat of a long silence. Then he said, “That's a loaded question!”

His response, though: “God is faithful. He still uses us in spite of us and in spite of other people. God was faithful to provide jobs for us immediately when we left. All our needs were met. We never went without a roof over our heads even though our world had been turned completely upside down.”

I also asked Brad this: if you were sitting face-to-face with the young ministerial couple who had just been through something similar to your experience, what would you say to them?

He said, “Well, I know it's a totally Sunday school answer but I would say ‘Keep your eyes on Jesus’.

Brad and Andrea say those were the darkest moments of their lives and ministries. However, today they are now in a healthier place than ever. They minister in a growing church. They're seeing people's lives radically change. And their current leadership stands behind them and supports them.

Brad told us to share his story because "If it helps just one person, it will have been worth it."

If Brad and Andrea’s story has helped or encouraged you in some way, please email us or leave a comment below. We will pass it along to them.

How God Healed One Youth Minister's Heart, Part II

Part II

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Note: A former youth pastor (now serving at another church in a different kind of staff position) shared this story with us. We have changed the names and some details for the privacy of all involved. We published Part I last week.

Brad had moved his family out of state to take a new position. After a couple of years there, he found himself let go from his position overnight. Brad and his wife Andrea, deeply wounded by events, moved back to his home church. We pick up the story there.

Dr. Jeannie


Brad says, “Fast-forward about a year after us getting plugged back into our home church. I was trying to work through some of the bitterness toward my former leader as well as another staff member that was part of this decision of us being let go.”

He continues, “One night over dinner, a friend asked me if I had a passion for youth ministry. I responded ‘Yes, of course’.”

He said, “Well, Brad, I honestly don’t think you are called to do youth ministry.”

Since this was a friend, Brad listened, even though the question reminded him of his former church leaders telling him he was not called to youth ministry.

The friend continued, “If you had a choice between a room full of teens doing those crazy games you like to play with youth groups or be in a room full of adult folks who are getting close to taking a step of faith in Christ, which would you prefer?”

Brad says, “I began to cry as we were eating our wings. I wanted to be in the room full of those adult ‘baby Christians’.”

“This conversation impacted me deeply. I began to reflect and eventually realized that, in the past, I assumed for various reasons that I was called to youth ministry. Now I am blessed to serve in a church that is growing and full of adult baby Christians and ‘almost there’ folks. I love it!”

This is one of the reasons I love Brad’s story. Though he was not treated fairly and the disappointment hurt deeply, yet he still had the willingness to learn something about himself from the bad experience.

Brad says, “I now realizes that the church had wanted me to focus on the students already in the church. However, my focus at the time had been on students outside the church.”

In his words, “Somehow I just never picked up on that during the interviewing process or any time during my work there.”

By the way, let me make this clear. I am not saying that Brad’s former leaders handled his situation well at all. It seems their decision to simply dump Brad was based more on church politics than true concern for his calling.

Here’s the point: rejection, disappointment, betrayal or simple lack of support from those we love and respect hurts very deeply. It can take time to heal. Still, one aspect of our healing and God’s redemptive work through those circumstances resides in our ability to learn some things about ourselves – maybe even uncomfortable things – through reflection.

In the end, God redeems all suffering by making something good come out of it. One of the good things can be greater personal insight.

There’s more to Brad’s story and the healing he and Andrea have experienced. I will share the remainder of it next week.

How God Healed One Youth Minister's Heart

Note: In our pursuit of understanding some of the pains that can come along with ministry, a former youth pastor (now serving at another church in a different kind of staff position) shared this story with us. We have changed the names and some details for the privacy of all involved. We will publish this story in two or three installments. The real “Brad” told us to publish this because “if it helps just one person, it will be worth it.” So, please, if you do find Brad’s story helpful, let us know and we will pass the message along to him.

Dr. Jeannie

 

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Brad, Andrea and the kids drove off on the long trip to Brad’s new call: youth pastor in another state.

Andrea felt anxious, upset: she really didn’t want to be a youth pastor’s wife; certainly not one of those clergy couples that moved every two years or so. They talked it through, though, and she agreed to go.

Still, Brad struggled with the decision to completely uproot his family, even selling his home to move far away and start in a new ministry position.

Somehow, though, he believed God would bless this step of obedience.

Two years later, things seemed to be going just fine. At Brad’s annual review, the Board told him, “You’re doing a great job. We love having you here.”

It’s funny sometimes how only a few weeks change things.

A leading family left the church and pulled their kids out of the youth group. They let it be known they weren’t happy with Brad’s ministry.

The senior pastor called Brad on his day off.

“Brad, I need to see you in my office. Today.”

Pastor made the talk short and sweet, “Brad, the church has realized you’re not really called to pastoring youth. We’ve decided to put you in charge of visitation and some other things instead. Unfortunately, though, it will not be a paid position.”

Just like that, with no warning, the senior pastor fired him with, as Brad viewed it, no adequate justification. Even more than that, though, it felt like an attack on his identity. He was not called to be a youth pastor? Brad loved the young people!

Brad and Andrea, devastated and crushed with disappointment, soon did the necessary to survive: they found jobs back where they came from and returned to their home church.

Several years later, Brad related his story to me (through an email and a phone interview with my husband, Bud).

Today, he and Andrea have worked through the anger and bitterness they once felt. Their marriage strong, they work together in a thriving ministry. Emotionally, they say, they are in the best place of their lives.

They see God’s hand both in the events that occurred and in the healing that followed.

We don’t have space here to complete the story of their journey. However, in next week’s blog, I will share details of how God worked in Brad and Andrea through this situation to guide them to a place of prosperous ministry and deeper joy.

You may be surprised by some of the things they learned.

For now, know that Brad says to any who are hurting as he once did, “God is faithful”.

The Sting of Betrayal

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I recently asked my readers – mainly clergy and pastors – to share with me any stories they may have about betrayal in ministry. I didn’t stipulate exactly what I meant by “betrayal”. In fact, here is my request verbatim:

If you have experienced some form of betrayal in your ministry - and I sincerely hope you have not - would you be willing to share a little of your story with me, possibly including lessons you have learned?

About 5% of those who read the email responded, so I have to assume that the people who have experienced some kind of betrayal would far exceed that number.

Here’s the first thing I learned:

Betrayal hurts.

I mean, really hurts. The wounds strike very deep into the heart and the pain can last a long time. Years, in fact. Maybe decades. Perhaps some never heal.

The damage often involves more than the emotional pain. Jobs have been lost, ministry has been hampered, career trajectories have been forever altered.

Relationships – personal relationships, professional relationships, denominational affiliations –  often damaged beyond repair.

Betrayal undermines the foundations of secure human relationships. Frankly, it’s hard to trust again after someone near you puts a knife in your back. Yet, we can’t be happy humans without trusting others we depend upon.

So, this is not a prescriptive article. I offer no glib nor even professional answers today about how to heal. Perhaps some other time.

Job’s comforters knew all about what Job should do, where he had gone wrong and why he suffered as he did.

I think I will skip that approach today.

Let me simply say this: if you have suffered betrayal by someone you trusted in ministry – or any other relationship, for that matter – I know it hurts. I know your psyche suffered injury. I know your life has changed in some ways because of it.

Yet I also know that Jesus, himself betrayed, found courage to go on, complete his mission, forgive his enemies and minister to those around Him even on the cross.

I pray you find solace in His example and sufficient grace to heal, restore and persevere.

Facing Criticism Without Losing Your Mind

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I don’t like to feel criticized and you probably don’t either!

Criticism catches us off-guard, feeling blind-sided, discouraged. Even well-meaning or constructive criticism, well – it just plain hurts.

Criticism presents an occupational hazard for the well-being of many clergy.  The Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling several years ago reported on a focus group of randomly selected clergy members who assessed the impact of adverse interpersonal criticism. The study concluded:

“…interpersonal criticism can have deleterious vocational, psychological, and health consequence for those in the ministry… and can lead to stress, burnout, and early departure from the ministry.”[i]

So it can be a significant issue. However, one aspect of emotional intelligence is learning to manage criticism in ways that are:

  1. Best for you
  2. Best for the person providing the “feedback”
  3. Bes t for the growth of your congregation (or staff or organization)

What we don’t want is to react defensively or in such a way that escalates a simple incident into an all-out war. That does not help anyone!

Instead, I recommend three strategies to make the best out of the admittedly uncomfortable situation of receiving criticism.

First, the best thing for you is to mine the criticism, however well or ill intentioned, for any nuggets of truth. Fact is, I’m not perfect and neither or you. So try to listen with an open mind and admit any areas that could be potential opportunities for growth.

Second, the best thing for the person criticizing you, generally, is to feel that they have been heard. Regardless of motives, feeling heard reduces the odds of even worse conflict. Here’s how to make people feel heard: do not state your own position until you can state the other person’s perspective to their satisfaction.

Restate to them what they have told you: “So what you are telling me is…” Don’t defend yourself at all until they agree that you understand their criticism. This strategy sometimes works miracles. Try it!

Finally, discern whether the criticism reflects the isolated opinion of this one individual or possibly reflects the opinion of more than one congregant. Fact is, this person may be doing you a favor; cluing you in to what a lot of people think but won’t say!

You may want to follow up with your Board, or trusted leaders or some other advisors. Is this criticism true? Should I in fact do something about it?

You may be surprised what you learn or you may be reassured that really, it’s nothing at all to worry about. Either way, you benefit from the information.

I know criticism hurts. I realize it can test our self-control. However, let’s not find ourselves acting overly defensive but with openness and willingness to hear.

God will take care of the rest.

 

 

[i] Retrieved on 4/14/18 from  http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/154230501306700102