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 SmallGroupNetwork.com on January 18, 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.

    Silence

    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).

    Surrender

    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.

    Stillness

    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 smallgroupnetwork.com 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.

      When More is Not Better

      I recently asked on Small Group Network’s Facebook page, “What is the biggest challenge you are facing in your small group ministry?”

      A friend replied, "A big challenge is serving in a church that does small groups but also wants to do a million other discipleship ministries/ venues simultaneously..."

       

      A common temptation in ministry is to go after discipleship with more, more, and more! A congregation member or senior leader will pitch a need or gap in the community. It’s hard not to want to create an offering to “fix” the problem. More is better, right? 

      Or, perhaps ministry offerings exist from a vision or plan that is no longer current. These are hard to end or transition. Grandfathered programs can stack the deck and make it feel like your church is going in too many different directions. This confuses our congregations and taxes our staffs.

      Small group point people work under the banner of discipleship. Here we are especially prone to what project managers call “scope creep.” Scope creep refers to new and different ideas that expand our original intentions and plans. You may be kicking off a campaign in the fall and someone suggests you host Spanish speaking groups. The scope of your original project has grown. 

      Tom Kendrick, project management authortells us that new opportunities and interesting ideas might be good, but they generate “a perpetual temptation to redefine the project and make it “better”.” 

      Making the project “better” is a good thing, but we need to be earnestly careful when we “redefine the project.” Redefining affects our staff, members, leaders, budgets, message, etc. Sometimes we don’t feel these effects immediately, but they impact us regardless.

      Those Spanish speaking small groups would definitely benefit the members of the groups. However, they might tax your staff. Your communications staff might not be equipped to translate materials. Recruiting leaders for these groups might be a huge hurdle. The end state idea is “better,” but as leaders we need to consider the road that leads there.

      So how do we navigate these questions? As a pastor, you see endless new opportunities and interesting ideas for your congregation. How do we grow our ministries without losing track of the ultimate goal?

      Since the church is living, growing, and moving there is no single answer. But there are questions and answers that your team can develop together. There is no single right answer for every church, but there is a right answer for your church. Start asking the right questions and you’ll be able to diagnose the problem.

       

      1. Define the project: You can’t assess scope creep until you have identified your scope. Get with your leadership team and put some real handles on your philosophy of discipleship. What should it look like in your context? What is spiritual growth characterized by? What are the specific life changes you are driving towards?

      2. Minimum requirements: Remember when software and computer programs were sold in boxes? They always had the “minimum requirements” listed on the back. What are the “minimum required offerings” to grow people in your congregation? Drive your team to identify what is necessary and label everything else accordingly.

      3. How do groups fit in? Groups can be part of the problem or part of the solution. Has your leadership team considered filling gaps with small groups? Small groups can meet almost any specific need with proper content and training. Larger programs like Financial Peace University and Alpha make use of small groups. They understand what many churches have come to realize. A thriving small groups ministry can reduce scope creep and keep congregation members engaged and growing long term.  

      This post was originally written for smallgroupnetwork.com on August 29, 2016.

      How Should You Connect People Into Small Groups?

      If you’re new to small-group ministry you might be surprised to find that different churches handle something as core as connecting people into groups very differently. Some churches ask group leaders to find their own group members, while other churches have people sign up for small groups and then assign them to groups. Neither is better, but each has their pros and cons.

      It got me thinking, What was Jesus’ primary method of connection? In Luke 15, Jesus tells stories about important connections. In the story of the lost sheep, Jesus illustrates leaving the 99 to find the 1. The story highlights the importance of seeking others. In the story of the prodigal son, however, we see a father whose primary characteristic is his steadiness and receptivity. When the son makes the decision to come back, the father is prepared and responsive. This story highlights the importance of receiving others.

      Jesus was equally focused on going out to the lost and allowing the lost to come to him. Our ministries can adopt either mindset or try to hold both together.

      Seeking: Leaders fill their own groups.

      Receiving: A connection person assigns someone into groups.

      Combining: Your team splits focus and integrates both strategies.

      We all engage in both forms of connection casually and formally. With the finite resources we have, however, we will all focus on one of these three methods. Your church will benefit from thinking deeply on this topic to determine which method will work best for you. Hopefully, this stirs up the right questions for you and your ministry team to answer together.

      1. Leaders Fill Their Groups

      Why Choose This Model

      Jesus’ mission was not just to save the lost. His mission was to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). And Jesus didn’t just tell stories about seeking lost sheep—he lived it. While common practice of the day was to avoid the sick and indigent, Jesus went right to them. While most students sought out the most prominent teachers and pleaded to be their students, Jesus sought out his disciples. He found them and called them to follow him.

      Church staff will always focus on outreach, but it is absolutely valid for our small-group leaders to do the same. If you want to develop missional communities, you will encourage leaders to take 1 John 2:6 to heart when it says, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” It can be powerful when small-group pastors encourage leaders to actively ask God who might be their next group member.

      The Benefits

      The benefits of groups filling themselves are threefold. First, when leaders and groups take the task of finding new people seriously, it stretches them. When a leader asks God who the next member of their small group should be, they depend more on their faith and less on the church staff. Steven Furtick has famously said, “Extraordinary moves of God begin with ordinary acts of obedience.” When groups own the connection process, they get to see God at work.

      Second, your small groups have fantastic networks. Any group knows a multitude of people that might be open to an invite. When groups are tasked with filling themselves, they lean on networks to which the church does not have access.

      Third, when a group leader invites people into their group personally, there’s a better chance of them sticking. When a group member invites a friend, there’s already relational equity, and there’s a higher chance of new people attending. Organic connections like this are fantastic. If a pastor assigns people randomly to a group, however, the people start from scratch—relationships may form, or they may not.

      The Challenges

      There are some difficulties with this method. First, pushing a leader out of their comfort zone and into an invite-mindset requires frequent vision casting from leadership. Some group leaders will take it and run with it, but finding a leader who facilitates well and has an invite mindset is challenging.

      Second, many of your leaders will need support and equipping to do this well. The more ownership and autonomy you give leaders, the more you need to train and develop them. This is not a bad thing, but it can present a challenge for churches with fewer resources earmarked for group life.

      2. Group Members Are Assigned to Groups

      Why Choose This Model

      In the story of the prodigal son, the father does not seek out or go after his son. Instead, the father immediately received the son. People walk into our churches every single Sunday with needs just like the son. This model shines in receiving people who come into the church looking to connect. It’s especially great for connecting people new to your church.

      Churches who use this model generally have a dedicated person who makes connections and makes sure these connections happen quickly. This is great because new members of your church know exactly what they need to do to get into a small group, and they don’t have to wait long. Being fast matters. Consider: How many Sundays is the average church attender going to come to your services without knowing anyone? Will they stick around long enough for someone in an existing group to befriend and invite them? A connection person can quickly connect them into a group that fits their geography, affinity, and stage of life.

      The Benefits

      The major benefit of a central connection process is control: You determine who gets new group members, how many, and when. You and your ministry team will need to determine how important this value is to you.

      This leads to a second benefit. When a staff-led connection process exists, your team gets to see the development of your communities firsthand. If leaders own this process, your team will only get to see the results of connections. If we make the connect, we have an opportunity to shepherd everyone involved. We get to see the big picture more clearly.

      Central connection is far more practical, efficient, and fast. The ROI of having a connection person is huge. If we believe that community is key in the life of the church, then facilitating it with a specific process will yield great returns. Community can be messy, so whenever we can set up an easy-to-understand process, we can develop great wins.

      The Challenges

      Assigning someone into a group can feel mechanical. Even if you have the warmest person at church serving as your connection person, these assignments can feel a little forced. After all, you’re being sent to a group of strangers.

      Additionally, this model requires us to have a smooth process. Process-development might not be a strength in your ministry. The best people to do connection are generally the worst people to develop the operations side of connections. Connection people are warm and inviting, and they love relationship. On the other hand, they often hate paperwork. Does your church have the support to provide them so they can do what God has designed them to do? To do it well, you need a system of tracking and relationship management with both group leaders and prospective group members.

      Central connection is actually high risk. If a connection doesn’t work out and the staff made the connection, the person might attribute the mismatch to the church. Without fantastic follow up, this can lead to major challenges, and people may not want to try getting connected in the future.

      3. Combine Both Methods

      Why Choose This Model

      As with anything in ministry there is always a middle ground. This does not mean that the middle ground is best for you. Sometimes if we try to do everything well, we end up sacrificing too much in all areas.

      That said, there are many ways to combine these strategies. Some churches do central connection year-round, but host connection events where leaders and prospective members can interact face-to-face (often called GroupLink, a term introduced by North Point Community Church). Other churches use the HOST model to launch groups. They lower the bar of small-group leadership and invite people to host people in their homes. These churches then come behind the hosts who have stepped up and do more of the intensive training on the back end. Still other churches primarily depend on leaders to fill their own groups, but still allow new people to sign up online or through a form at church, assigning them to groups as they sign up.

      Regardless of how you integrate these models there are still benefits and drawbacks of bringing them together.

      The Benefits

      If your ministry is pretty new, you might not yet know if either model is “right” for you. Combining both models or running them at the same time can be a great way to see what works best for your staff, volunteers, and culture.

      Combining both strategies also allows you to be flexible. This allows you to pivot quickly in the case of changing vision, staff, or weekend messaging. It also means you can empower a variety of types of group leaders. For instance, if leaders love evangelism, they may enjoy filling the group with people they meet. Others who are more focused on shepherding can depend more heavily on the church assigning people into their group.

      The Challenges

      Have you heard the phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none”? When you use everystrategy, you can find yourself without any clear strategy. Clarity is key when we’re challenging people to step up in their faith. When we have two different connection strategies it can be confusing.

      The combination of strategies can also put stress on our team. If you are in a context where you have a sizeable team, this is less of a burden. You can have different people who handle different things. If you have a smaller team, it may be unnecessarily burdensome.

      Choosing Your Best Connection Strategy

      There is no right choice for everyone, but there is a right choice for you. Any of these strategies can thrive and produce spiritual fruit—but not in every context. Each church is different and every small-group ministry exists in a series of larger cultures. Trust God, lean into your team, and be intentional in choosing your connection vision—and don’t be afraid to try something new if your current strategy isn’t working.

      This post was originally written for smallgroups.com on August 10, 2016.