Sunday, April 29, 2012

When do you make a change in ministry due to feedback?

In ministry, Mondays are sometimes "interesting" mornings.  It is on Monday that you cautiously check your email as a pastor, wondering if you are going to get any "About Yesterday's Service" communications outlining parts of the Sunday worship service that was not appreciated by some.  But when do you know if you should change something about the church service due to such feedback?  I mean, you can't switch gears any time someone offers constructive criticism or you will go nowhere fast.  So how do we know when making a change is appropriate?  Below are some principles that I think are helpful in making this decision.

PREFERENCE OR PRINCIPLE?  One of the things that I have tried to teach my church is the need to put purpose over preference.  In other words, there may be some things I don't necessarily like because it is not my preference.  But if I understand and can get behind the purpose behind it than I should be able to fudge on my preferences.  So when I get feedback about a part of the service that someone didn't appreciate I try to ascertain if the issue was simply that person's preference or if there was a principle behind it that was worthy of our consideration.

SQUEAKY WHEEL OR FAITHFUL FRIEND?  Another thing to take into consideration when deciding if something should be changed due to negative feedback is the source of the criticism.  I'll be honest, sometimes it's hard to take this kind of feedback seriously when it comes from a regular source - the proverbial "squeaky wheel."  If the comment comes from someone who more weeks than not has a "complaint" or "concern" than I personally am not as prone to make a change.  But when the feedback comes form someone who is always supportive and has proven to be someone who can put purpose over preference, my ears perk up and are far more sensitive.  With that said, let me also say that in ministry we have to be careful that we don't just write off the feedback of the "squeaky wheel" because they may at times offer criticism that is genuine and truly requites change.  But when the feedback comes from the "faithful friend" we must take the words communicated very seriously.

MISSION CRITICAL OR EXTRA ADDITIVE?  One of the things that should be considered when deciding if constructive criticism requires change to our ministry or not is the issue of how critical the element is to the mission.  Most of the time the elements involved in our Sunday worship is what we would call "mission critical," meaning that it is necessary to accomplish our goal and purpose of the morning.  But there are also secondary elements that are sometimes involved that are nice extra additives that we have included.  These elements would be helpful but if they did not happen they would not keep us from accomplishing our goals.  If the issue involved is not "mission critical" I am far more open to making a change than if the element is needed to accomplish our goals for the morning.

PROTECTION OR OUT ON A LIMB?  One of the other lessons I have learned in ministry is that there is value in having the protection of a team making critical decisions than my making them completely on my own.  If I am the only person who has thought through and made the decision about an element in question that I am "out on a limb" by myself if there is any question or controversy.  On the other hand, if I am part of a team that discusses and makes the critical decisions than there is far more protection.  If the team is all in agreement on the direction we are going than I am far less likely to make a change.  So when constructive criticism comes it is always good to have the team talk through the validity of the issues involved.

Recently here at Gaylord E-Free we had something planned for the morning service that fit our theme and that we thought would create energy.  Before Sunday came around we had received some feedback expressing concern about one aspect of this particular element.  It was not feedback driven by personal preference but rather by an issue of principle that had not even crossed our minds.  The feedback came from a source that has proven to be able to put purpose over preference.  The aspect in question was not mission critical to accomplishing our goal and that particular element had not been discussed by our entire planning team but had been added more last minute.  As a result, we made the decision to change this particular aspect of the element.  This was a case where constructive criticism was very helpful to us.

The truth is that sometimes we in ministry don't like to hear many of these pieces of constructive criticism but we must always remember that "feedback really is our friend."  We can learn from all feedback but that does not mean that we need to switch gears every time we open our email - especially the Monday morning emails.

1 comment:

Randy Todd said...

Excellent insight into what can often be a provocative and somewhat dangerous area. I appreciate your thoughtful words... now could you please turn down the volume and start singing more hymns... as he writes with his tongue firmly placed inside his cheek. :)