Opinions aren’t in short supply, are they? From worship music styles to service orders and more, individuals within a congregation each have their own ideas as to what’s “right” or “best” for the church.
Even though all those opinions can be frustrating at times, the fact that people express their ideas is actually a good sign. This indicates that they are emotionally invested in their home church and want what’s best for it (at least their version of what’s best).
Also, seeking out input from trusted advisors (not “yes men” but people who’ll tell you the truth no matter what) is imperative for leaders – no matter how long you’ve been in ministry.
Seeking wise counsel is Biblical…
“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” – Proverbs 11:14
“Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.” – Proverbs 15:22
“For by wise counsel you will wage your own war, and in a multitude of counselors there is safety.” – Proverbs 24:6
…the key is whose counsel you choose to factor into your decision-making process.
Some church members will come to you with concerns and have a genuine desire to see the situation resolved in a way that honors Christ and best serves the church. Others simply want things done their way. When Jesus dealt with the Pharisees, he was able to answer their questions before they even spoke them out loud. He knew their very thoughts and their motives. While we receive discernment and wisdom from the Holy Spirit, let’s face it…sometimes our own opinions and biases interfere with our ability to truly listen.
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12
Another reason for listening to the opinions and suggestions of others is your inability to see the full picture at all times. As a church grows, the less visibility the senior pastor or other key leaders have on front-line challenges.
- You won’t know that long-time volunteer leaders are upset because your new volunteer coordinator is completely changing things without even taking the time to see if processes need to be changed.
- You may not understand why fewer teens are attending student services.
- You won’t know that your staff keeps forgetting to check their voicemail and people are going weeks without receiving a return phone call.
- You may only hear positive comments from people trying to win your approval.
You need the input and ideas from various staff members, volunteers, and attendees to prevent little problems from becoming big ones. After all, if you ignore all input people will eventually leave or will, at least, stop offering any new ideas.
“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” – Andy Stanley
However, once you’ve dealt with a few irate and unreasonable individuals it’s tempting to ignore anyone who comes to you with a suggestion or concern. So, while recognizing there’s no easy answer to this dilemma, here are some tips to help you decide when to listen and when to move on.
When to Listen:
- The individual offering the feedback is someone you respect and trust. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” – Proverbs 27:6. “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Proverbs 27:17. “Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed.” – Galatians 2:11.
- You can tell that it pains this person to tell you the ugly truth, but they’re doing so anyway because they care about you too much not to.
- The feedback is coming from multiple sources (and you don’t suspect they’ve colluded together). If one person complains about the new worship song, that’s probably just personal taste. However, if you receive several complaints about the lyrics then perhaps it’s worth a second look.
- When the person offers to work on the team (or lead it – whichever you prefer) to implement his/her suggestion AND this person has a track record of keeping commitments. People are happy to offer their opinions for free, but are less likely to offer their time and labor freely to implement their ideas. When someone comes to you wanting to redecorate the children’s ministry areas or launch a new small group, take that offer more seriously than the person who mentions those would be good ideas (for someone else to make happen).
- When the input aligns with Scripture.
- When you sense the Holy Spirit convicting you and not just the person offering the input.
- When this is someone who depends on you for a paycheck and is willing to stick his neck out anyway because he cares more about the health of the church than about his gainful employment.
- When you run it by your spouse and sense she doesn’t want to agree because she doesn’t want to hurt you, but she really does concur with the feedback.
- When you sense yourself getting defensive and wanting to rattle off all the reasons why this person is wrong
When to ignore:
- When only the problem is raised; not any potential solutions or offers to help.
- When the person offering the input is known for complaining or finding fault in anything that wasn’t his idea.
- When the input does not align with Scripture.
- When you’re only hearing this from one person and when you run it by others, they disagree (it doesn't count if those people depend on you for a paycheck!)
- When the input comes from random people online who have no connection to or investment (time, energy, finances) in the church.
- When the person offering the input is known for being against any and all change no matter what.
- When there’s no basis in Scripture or sound reasoning provided to back up the claim.
- When you sense this person’s core motivation is in trying to gain your favor to feed his/her ego.
People tend to expect church leaders to have all the answers…as long as they agree with those answers. That’s not realistic or fair, so it’s tempting to ignore all input and just go with what we think is best.
That idea is dangerous as we’ll end up surrounding ourselves with “yes men” and never consider the possibility we could be wrong. We all need people in our inner circle who will tell us the unvarnished truth when we need to be confronted and who’ll encourage us when we’re heading in the right direction. It’s better to err on the side of too many advisors than to isolate yourself and ignore all feedback. However, choose wisely whose counsel you’ll take to heart.
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