How You’re Missing out on Feedback

Church people like to give feedback.

It comes from a healthy place. Congregation members share directly because they are speaking the truth in love about something they see in you. Matthew 18 conversations help people get to the bottom of conflict. Sins get confessed. Miscommunicated sermon points get corrected.

If you’re considering vocational ministry or serving in leadership, get ready. You need to be comfortable with feedback.

But just because you’re comfortable does not mean you’re using it as well as you could be. You could be missing out on valuable information and direction that has come your way.

We all have a mental appendix of all the great wisdom we have received over the years. What about the not-so-good stuff? How often have you received the following?

  • Advice you didn’t ask for
  • A pitched idea (that’s bad)
  • Criticism that wasn’t so constructive
  • A take on things from a narrow point of view
  • What do you do with something like that?
  • Smile. Nod. Discard.

Has that ever been your response? I’ve been there and done that.

This is what Sheila Heen calls “wrong-spotting.” Heen authored Thanks for the Feedback, and Thank God for the Feedback, a small group companion guide. Both books offer guidance on turning advice and even criticism into practical learning.

Heen explains that our brains are naturally wired to resist feedback. It’s human nature. We are bombarded with information every moment of our lives. Wrong-spotting helps us triage to reduce the mental strain and see a little more clearly.

Remember the Biblical metaphor of separating wheat from chaff? Wrong-spotting sees a pile of both and decides there’s not enough wheat in there anyways so we toss the whole thing. If we do it enough, we waste a lot of wheat.

Heen says feedback, “could be 90% wrong, but the last 10% could be exactly what you need.”

There’s a grain of truth in every assessment. And in leading the church we should be seeking truth – real truth – anywhere we can find it. Any voice that comes from the body of Christ should not be dismissed. Wrong-spotting can keep us from seeing people and their view points as what they really are – cherished by God.

When in doubt, rely on these words from the book of Proverbs: “Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life” (Proverbs 19:20 NLT). Take it all in and do the hard work of accepting what is true.

This post was originally written for on January 18, 2017

    Helping people who feel like impostors

    What is the “impostor syndrome”?

    The phrase describes the experience of someone who is unable to internalize or accept his or her accomplishments, and there’s a consistent fear of being exposed. These people think of themselves, “I am a fraud. I don’t deserve to be here in this role.” Ironically, evidence that should contradict their self-doubt tends to reinforce their fear rather than cause the fear to go away.

    Take the example of a student with such self-doubts who is facing an upcoming exam. She is plagued with anxiety. In order to deal with the anxiety, she will either procrastinate or over-prepare for the test. If she over-prepares, she will likely to do well on the exam, receive recognition and praise from others, and experience temporary elation or relief. However, such successes will intensify her sense of being a fraud, rather than help her build an enhanced sense of self-confidence. Praise from others can prompt thoughts like, “Oh, now they think I’m an even better student than I really am. And when they find out I’m not, it’ll actually be worse.”

    Thus, the cycle of anxiety, over-preparation or procrastination, temporary relief, and renewed self-doubt gets stronger.

    Is impostor syndrome a form of humility?

    It’s not humility. If you think about it, humility is seeing myself accurately. Humility is about knowing where I stand in the world with my shortcomings, my blessings, my gifts. I see all these things in a real, authentic way. At the end of the day, a humble perspective on myself is: “I don’t see myself as inherently better or inherently worse than I really am.” In contrast, impostor syndrome thinking is: “Oh, I can’t really do this. It is merely by chance or luck that I’m in the place that I am and have had the ‘successes’ that I’ve had.”

    How long has impostor syndrome been recognized?

    This phenomenon was first researched in the 1970s. Two psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, studied successful women in the marketplace. Originally they assumed that women doubted their abilities because of the culture at the time. Because successful women were not as common as successful men in businesses, these women thought, “I don’t belong here.” However, further research in the 1980s suggested that impostor syndrome is common. In fact, most of us experience it at one point or another in our lives.

    How does awareness of impostor syndrome help pastors be more effective at coaching and training leaders?

    Leaders in the church—especially lay leaders—are prone to experiencing impostor syndrome because we’re asking them generally to step into something they might not ever have seen themselves doing. Remember that one common manifestation of impostor syndrome is procrastination (avoiding risks associated with new tasks). The last thing you want is incredibly diligent leaders to be riding the brakes because they feel that they’re not the right person. You always want to help release those people from that so they can serve unfettered.

    One of the best ways to combat this is to get people who are in the same situation—becoming new leaders—in a room together. Oftentimes in these training situations somebody says, “Hey, I feel like I have no clue what I’m doing.” And then other people in the room can empathize: “Oh good, I’m not the only one who feels that way.” If somebody has the courage to give voice to the problem so others find out they’re not alone, it completely reduces the shame factor. It also opens the door for people to think, “This person actually thinks he has no clue of what he’s doing. I think he’s amazing at what he does.” It also helps people in the group go a step further: “Okay, if I look at myself through the same lens, what do I come up with?”

    How can pastors help people who struggle with impostor syndrome?

    Help people to see themselves accurately. A passage of Scripture that’s really helpful for me when I’m feeling “less than” in any way is Colossians 1:21–23. Paul writes:

    Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.

    I look at that and say, because of Christ, I am reconciled. If I’m down on myself—and a lot of us experience seeing ourselves as “less than,” whether it’s called the “impostor syndrome” or not—here’s the truth: I’m a sinner. But if I really believe in the hope of the gospel, and if I truly follow Jesus, then I also must believe that I am reconciled to and without blemish before God. That is a huge thing to say. God has standards higher than we can even imagine, because He is greater than we can even imagine. But He has cleansed me in such a way that I stand before Him without blemish. That’s a truth that I will speak over people and myself. I will tell people, “The stuff you might be thinking in your workplace, or in your ministry, is actually small stuff in comparison to God’s grand scheme and the reality that God sent Jesus so that He could have a relationship with you. That’s your foundation. That’s your starting point. If you view your actions or inactions, or your successes and failures, in light of that, you will have a clearer perception.”

    You’re going to find that a lot of Christians, as they look at their successes, will attribute them to God. That’s good. Yet, they should not deny whatever ingenuity or effort they put into their successes. I think they should cultivate a discipline of celebration and recognition. With some coaching, you can help them realize that they actually had a hand in their successes, too. They should do that in a way that’s not boastful, pompous, or arrogant. They are simply marking a milestone, which they have achieved by the grace of God.

    If pastors feel like they’re impostors, what should they do?

    I think pastors need to have a community where they can address this. There’s always an inner dialogue about what I’m doing as I’m doing it, whether I’m up on stage teaching or counseling a couple through a hard time. And I will be hindered if I’m not processing my self-doubts in a community that’s going to treat me with love and speak the truth in love, as Paul says in Ephesians 4. That might mean knocking me down a peg, or it might mean lifting me up when I see myself inaccurately. Either way, I’m going to invite my community to help me see myself more the way God sees me.

    This post was originally written for on January 19, 2017


      3 Values to Cling to in a Busy Season

      No one is immune to the many demands of life. Everyone has a busy season.

      You would think the more active we are the more we would rely on God. Unfortunately, that’s often not the case. When the demands of ministry, work, family, and more weigh on us we often lean more on our own understanding.

      This is why groups are absolutely vital for spiritual growth. Who else is going to reflect our priorities back to us? How else are we to get an accurate measure of how we are living life? It is only the power of community that can support us in this way.

      At the time of this article’s writing we are quickly approaching Christmas. It seems like this time of year is everyone’s busy season. Are your group members holding each other accountable for clinging to the values of Scripture in this busy season?

      Below is a helpful resource for group leaders and members to hold important conversations about these Scriptural principles. How are you doing in these three areas? How are your church’s groups doing in these areas? Consider sharing this resource to begin a dialogue.


      When something is important we often have the funny tendency to speak more than listen. During a listening exercise in our church’s marriage ministry a husband told his group, “This is the first time I’ve fully listened to what my wife was saying without thinking about the next thing I was going to say!”

      There are important times for us to speak. God’s word invites us to share our testimony, encourage others, pray to Him, etc. However, we cannot afford to lose the value of silence. Only in silence can we wait for God and truly hear Him as He intends. Psalm 62:5 proclaims, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.”

      We also have a tendency to get ourselves in hot water when we speak too much or too soon. Unfortunately, busy seasons invite these practices. Scripture warns against the overuse of words as in James 1:19: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” How often we get it the other way around when we are rushed! Silence affords us protection against hurdles like this. Even if our heart is in the wrong place, it is often wise to err on the side of silence since, “even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28).


      When faced with a challenge or struggle we often reflexively rely upon our own judgement and abilities. Eve ate the apple when tempted. When walking on water, Peter looked away from Jesus before sinking. Similarly, we tend to grasp at our own conceived solutions without God at times. How are you doing at following the wisdom of Psalm 127:1-2? “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” The bread of anxious toil is no good. It cannot sustain us like the bread of life.

      In busy seasons it seems paradoxical to surrender. We want to advance, win, and tie up loose ends. The world tells us to go, go, go, but James tells you to, “humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10). When we stop charting our own course, He will show us the one we should really be on.


      Probably the hardest value to uphold in a busy season is stillness. Most hectic seasons are busy for good reasons. Celebrations, grand openings, transitions, moving on, and moving up all take time and effort. We become misled into believing more action means better outcomes. Sometimes this is true, but sometimes we would do well to listen to the Psalmist who says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). The Israelites, filled with fear probably wanted to run or fight. But Moses encouraged them, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:14). Can you imagine how conflicting that must have felt? And yet it was key to moving forward.

      Sometimes we stop out of fear. Sometimes we stop out of exhaustion. However, God wants us to stop out of worship. He told Job, “Stop and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:14). The living God who created the universe has moved heaven and earth and ransomed His only son. He did it to be in relationship with us. Whatever busy season we face pales in comparison to what He has done for us.

      These values look good on paper, but they can seem counterintuitive in the moment. Community is vital in supporting values like these in the midst of a busy life. Continue to give and receive support to follow God’s plans for our lives.

      This post was originally written for on December 13, 2016.


        Another Conversation with the Group Talk Podcast

        I was again interviewed by Carolyn Taketa (@taketacarolyn) for Group Talk. It's a great podcast  all about leading small group ministry. 

        In this second session Carolyn asked: 

        • How do you council leaders to handle broken & hurting people?

        • How long is an appropriate period of time to deal with a crisis during a group?

        • Three categories of “Needy” people, and how a group should handle them.

        I was eager to share and have a thoughtful conversation with Carolyn. I lead a hybrid team that handles pastoral care and discipleship in our church. It has educated me in far more than any book could on the subject. 

        Click to listen to the podcast. They cover a lot of helpful, practical ground generally.

        Why Differences Destroy Some Groups

        Here in America the recent election has caused disruption between and within communities. It reminded us that differences in opinions can grow into disruptions of community. Small Group Network’s international membership is likely not experiencing this in the same way. But we are all familiar with the lurking questions that create dissonance.

        The dynamic of divisiveness is universal. New Testament writers frequently address disagreeing groups and coach them to right relationship. Rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, groups that disagree on specific teachings. They are all encouraged and equipped to handle these situations.

        Differences of opinion, especially heated or hostile differences, cause divide. It might be temporary, but there is always a risk that it intensifies. Sometimes it grows deep and wide enough that it cuts off relationship and communication. Divides can break up friendships and marriages. They can also lead to a Christian community’s splintering.

        What causes a difference of opinion to grow into a disruption of community?

        There are several factors that lead opposing points of view to disrupt relationship. Help your leaders monitor these influences whenever possible.

        It’s personal: Disagreeing about a theoretical idea is easier than a personal concern. Imagine a small group of singles navigating the Bible’s stance on divorce. Now imagine a divorce recovery group reading these same passages. For the first group it is theoretical. The odds of it disrupting their community are low. For the second group it is deeply personal. Differing opinions can translate into accidental attacks if the group is not careful. Caution, sensitivity, and grace must abound.

        There’s a story behind the story: Sometimes the group is unaware when an issue is personal. A theoretical conversation takes a turn and someone gets defensive. Words are exchanged and the group leader sits back and wonders, “How did we get here?” In this case, it is helpful to ask, “What is the story behind the story?” What happened outside of this room that so affected these group members that a conversation erupted into a conflict? When we have enough trust and strong relationships we can ask these important questions.

        Rank ordered beliefs: Sometimes a belief is too high on a priority list. Suddenly, a difference of opinion turns into a divide of community. Seldom will group members divide over a difference in favorite sports teams. But when we start discussing politics and current events things can take a turn. Paul had important words for a divided church needing to re-prioritize beliefs.

        In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul writes, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV).

        We must not allow our inevitable differences to overshadow the unity we have in Christ. Even and especially when they are personal and pressing. How we handle them will define our community.

        Small groups that are “completely humble and gentle” will find their common call together. What they share will be far more meaningful than their differences.

        This post was originally written for on December 1, 2016