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Leaders Need Feedback

Leaders, you need feedback. But most of us don’t have it. Why? Because feedback is scary.

Let me tell you the story on where this post is coming from.

Last year I moved to Silicon Valley to start Garden City Church. This was the scariest move of faith I’ve ever made. With just 3 people committed to my dream, just 3,000 dollars in the church bank account, and a heart full of big vision, I moved my wife and 3 young sons to start this new adventure. Plenty of people told me I was crazy.

Garden City Church is now 6 months old. These past 6 months have been the most exciting, difficult, rewarding, busy, and thrilling 6 months of my life. I’ve poured my heart and soul into this church. I’ve given it everything I’ve got. We’re off to a great start as a church and we are already far beyond my hopes and expectations of where we would be 1/2 a year into our life as a church.

But, as in any church or organization, things aren’t perfect. There are changes that need to be made, branches that need to be pruned, sins that need to be confessed, data that needs to be processed, and courses that need to be corrected. And, as the lead guy, I’m the one most responsible for looking at reality, calling a spade a spade, and leading change and forward movement.

About 2 months ago I started realizing how I didn’t want to hear too much feedback (criticism) about the church because of how close my heart is intertwined with this church, with this dream that God birthed in me. I started talking to God about this and asking him to help me. This was happening at the same time that I was taking a closer look at the DNA and culture of our church and noticing some changes that needed to be made (nothing major here, but still important). I told God that I didn’t want to be an insecure leader who ignores truth and that I wanted to set a stronger culture in our church, especially among the leadership, where loving feedback is easily given and easily received. Though 6 months earlier I’d already put in place a provisional elder board and a solid deacon board who I repeatedly invite to be iron in my life–to love me, critique me, and hold me accountable, I felt that something more was needed.

So, I did something that was scary for me to do. This last Sunday I held a “holy discontent” meeting at my house with all the leaders in our church. I sent an email to all the leaders 7 days before the meeting and laid out the situation: that I was full of deep contentment in God and so happy over the life of our church, but that I was also full of holy discontent over some status quo realities in our church and that I’m the one ultimately responsible. I told my team that I didn’t ever want myself to get in the way of what God is doing in our church, that I don’t want any of our egos screwing things up, and to prepare for a meeting at my house where we would air all of our “holy discontentment” and then spend some extended time in prayer.

Doing this ignited some great (and hard) emails and conversations throughout the week. Then, on Sunday night, we had the meeting. And it was awesome! All the leaders expressed their feedback in a manner that was both humble and loving, and in a way that didn’t compromise the truth or mince words. It was the best, most important, and most powerful meeting we’ve had as leaders. What stood at the center of our meeting was the gospel of Jesus Christ and the vision we have for this church. With Jesus at the center, egos are left to the side and deep unity and love can be experienced among leadership teams and in a church.

Leaders (church planters especially), feedback is tough because our hearts are so raw. You are so deeply invested in loving and leading people and your people likely do not understand how much pressure you’re under, the stress and pain that happens behind the scenes, the sleepless nights, the dissonance between the vision God has given you and the reality in your own life and the church, and how much your heart beats for the things of God and the well being of your church. But this cannot be an excuse for avoiding feedback.

As early as possible in your organization you need to establish a culture of feedback. The longer you wait, the harder it will get. This will look different in different organizations. You need to figure out and initiate the culture of feedback that is most effective and God glorifying for your context.

The worst person to be leading an organization is a person who is insecure. Yes, we’re all insecure to differing degrees, but there’s a type of leader who is deeply insecure and avoids all feedback in order to not be hurt, threatened, our found out. That is sin. That is pride. And that is incredibly dangerous for the leader and for the people being led. Insecure pastors are a dime a dozen and the only thing that can change this is team leadership/feedback and the deep feedback of the gospel.

The healthiest leadership is team leadership. And if you believe, as I do, that a team needs a lead guy to lead the team, you must put a strong team around you. The stronger you are as a leader, the stronger the team you need around you. I’m strong and stubborn, so I’m thankful to have a bunch of strong people surrounding me, loving me, and challenging me. (Note: Leader, it sounds like a paradox, but you must also follow Spurgeon’s counsel: “A minister ought to have one blind eye and one deaf ear.” You must ignore certain feedback that is harmful, not helpful. Turn a deaf ear to it.)

But more than anything a leader needs the deep feedback of the gospel. The good news of the gospel is the one thing that can liberate a leader from the fear of feedback. Leader, you will never receive a greater criticism than Jesus gave you on the cross (you were such a mess that the Son of God had to die for you). And you will never receive a greater compliment (you were so loved and treasured that the Son of God laid down his life for you–for you!). The gospel liberates. The gospel turns insecure leaders into secure leaders. The gospel creates leadership and church cultures where feedback is sought, not fought, because everybody is pursuing the same thing: a community that’s centered on Jesus and led by Jesus.

Leaders, get your heart back to the gospel. Jesus must be the most exciting thing in your life. When Jesus is most exciting to you, when your living from the feedback you’ve already received from Jesus, you’ll be free to really lead and not merely manage an ego.

Leader, is God crushing you right now? Welcome it. He may well be killing the idols and insecurity in your life in order to really set you free as a leader. God crushed me before I moved to plant this church (long story). Looking back, I’m so glad he did. It was my gospel re-awakening. Had he not done that, the way I’m leading this church plant would look really different, would be more about me than Jesus, and would be a lot less fun.

Jesus + Healthy Feedback = Healthy Leadership


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