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:
- To stay in tune with people’s thought and needs
- To learn how people are perceiving your actions and motivations
- To find genuine opportunities to grow as a Christian and a leader
- 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.