How do the people you lead experience your ministry? Have you ever asked them for feedback in order to learn how you might improve?
Probably there are people who look to you as a Christian leader — even if you don’t think of yourself as a “leader.” You don’t have to preach to 1,000 people every Sunday to be a leader. Whether you serve in a church or work in business, lead a small group or care for children, teach students or have a Facebook page you have an opportunity to mediate the grace and wisdom of Christ to the people around you.
It takes humility and security in your belovedness to God to ask for honest feedback from people, but you’ll learn so much about how to be a better leader for Christ!
Jesus Christ asked for feedback to learn how his leadership was being experienced. After many of followers left him he asked the Twelve, “Do you want to leave too?” (John 6:67). He asked his core team of disciples, “Who do people say that I am? What do you say?” (Matthew 16:13-15, paraphrased). He asked the Rich Young Ruler, “Why do you call me good?” (Mark 10:18) He asked a group of people, including the Pharisees, “David himself calls [the Christ] ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” (Mark 12:37)
A Pastor Received 360 Degree Feedback
Recently a pastor I work with was feeling stagnate in his ministry and leadership. We talked a lot about his spiritual life and his soul. Then I asked him, “When was the last time you went through a 360 Degree Feedback process?”
He said that many years ago at a previous church a leadership coach did this for him. The consultant took him through the same process that business executives use to receive 360 Degree Feedback from a variety of co-workers on their leadership effectiveness. In his case this meant that his elder board members, associate pastors, admin assistant, some church members, and his wife all completed anonymous survey evaluations on the job he was doing as a leader.
They evaluated him on areas like his vision, strategy, initiative, organization, decision-making, communication skills, and results.
He said, “It was a thorough process that took a lot of time and money, but it wasn’t very helpful.”
What was missing? Why wasn’t this 360 Degree Feedback more helpful to my friend the pastor?
The Christian consultant didn’t connect with this pastor’s heart for Christ. He brought in cultural wisdom from the business world rather than a Biblical understanding of effective spiritual leadership.
I Changed My Leadership Style
Early in my career as a young Christian psychotherapist I fell into the trap of cultural leadership. The Christian psychology training I’d received frowned on sharing Scripture with therapy clients or praying in session. “That’s leading the client and pushing your values,” I was told. “You’re a therapist, not a preacher.”
I was in graduate school training to become a psychologist because I believed that God had called me into ministry. But I became afraid to explicitly draw on the great resources of Christian spirituality — even with clients who wanted this! Furthermore, I wasn’t effectively taught how to identify and reject the ideas of secular psychology that were contrary to the way of Christ described in the Bible.
But it was helpful to me to read in the Bible where Paul warns us: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ who is the head over every power and authority.” (Col. 2:8-10)
I talked with Christian colleagues and saw that I needed to change my approach. This was confirmed by feedback I received from clients in therapy. One client said, “Sometimes I feel like I’m in a white, sterile hospital room. You’re using counseling techniques to help me, but it feels distant.” Others said, “I want you to pray for me” or “I’d like you to teach me how to use spiritual disciplines as part of the therapy.”
Thankfully, I came to better honor and appreciate Christ as the Wonderful Counselor, spiritually living in me and present in the therapy office and I learned different ways of helping people in distress to connect with the Lord.
Cultural Leadership vs. Spiritual Leadership
Often in the Church we import ideas and practices that have been successful in the business world without realizing that we’re engaging in a cultural process that in important ways is different than the ways that are demonstrated for us in the Bible.
When James and John made bold moves to take on higher positions of leadership in Jesus’ kingdom the Lord said to them and all of his Apostles: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28)
In other words, for disciples of Jesus leadership qualities like vision, strategy, and initiative are transformed by spiritual leadership values like discernment, prayer, and love of neighbor. You won’t find many 360 Degree Feedback Surveys — even those being used in our churches and nonprofits — that put the highest priority on Christlike virtues.
For instance, here’s an example of a 360 Survey for Pastors. It’s a good survey that a church planting organization is using to evaluate pastors. It even includes questions on “Mission Focus,” “Relational Skills,” and “Spiritual Leadership.” But out of 56 questions there are none that assess the pastor’s prayer life, empathy for others, or effectiveness in teaching the Bible. Mostly, it draws on cultural wisdom and adds in some Christian elements.
The Apostle Paul’s 360 Evaluation Process
What if the Apostle Paul were designing a 360 Degree Feedback for church plant pastors or other leaders? What did he think was most important for effective Christian leadership?
One way he describes a Christian leader is in a list of qualifications for elders in Titus 1:6-9:
An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
Or in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 Paul has a longer list of leadership qualifications for elders and deacons, both men and women leaders.
The overriding thing that jumps out in Titus 1 what Paul expects of leaders is Christly character. Leaders are godly men and godly women who lovingly serve people under God, helping them to walk in the way of Jesus Christ.
Maybe we “do church” more than we “do Jesus”? Today it’s easy for church leaders to become absorbed with the church’s A-B-C’s: Attendance, Buildings, and Cash. (Other Christians leaders probably have other business metrics hanging over their heads.) Numbers matter when they reflect the welfare of specific people, but they’re easily turned into a yardstick for leaders that fosters ambition, ego-boosting, or shaming. Yet, Paul says a leader’s success is measured not just by quantifiable outward factors, but even more by personal factors like caring for family, being patient, offering hospitality, and teaching God’s word in an encouraging way.
Christian leaders often talk about “Strategic Planning” in the same way that Fortune 100 companies do. Of course, it’s good to be strategic — as long as this is a prayerful discernment process under God and not a “make it happen” approach that relies on human intelligence and muscle. Paul says we’re to manage our organization as “God’s household” and to do this with “blameless” character. For instance, spiritual leaders are not overbearing or quick-tempered. How often do those characteristics hit the top of the list of management skills?
We like “visionary leaders” and that’s good. But Paul says the issue is for our vision to come from the gospel message of Christ. Maybe the ultimate mission statement for our churches and ministries is simply Jesus’ “Great Commission”? (Matt. 28:18-20)
In short, as Christian leaders we embody the presence of the Lord and Savior in all that we do to inspire people to follow Jesus with us.
Simple 360 Degree Feedback
Another problem with the 56 question approach is it may feel overwhelming to the evaluators to have to answer so many questions and to the leader who is given so much data to analyze. Perhaps this is a case in which less is more.
A great example of a simpler approach is provided by Charles Stone, a pastor and the founder of Stonewall Ministries. To evaluate his own pastoral leadership effectiveness and that of the pastors who report to him he did a “Simple 360 Assessment.” A variety of co-workers (bosses, colleagues, direct reports, and church attenders) were sent a short letter via email from a church elder (a psychologist) asking that they anonymously answer three simple questions to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) about the leader:
- What’s going well under name’s leadership?
- What’s not going well under name’s leadership?
- What’s missing under name’s leadership?
Then the elder compiled the 360 Degree Feedback email responses on each pastor, weeding out any unhelpful and hurtful responses and summarizing the rest into about three key themes. Then the elder and pastor met to discuss the results.
For instance, one of Charles Stone’s work areas was to put himself in the shoes of the people he led and cared for (to empathize with them) and ask, “Would I feel loved at this moment?” He explained, “I’m a task guy, and this simple learning has helped me focus more on building relationships.”
The Simplest Way to Get Feedback
Gathering feedback to improve your ministry leadership can be even simpler! Periodically, even in an informal way, we can ask people that we’re helping or leading about their experience with us. “What’s most helpful? What’s not so helpful?” (Doing this with our peers and subordinates not only helps us learn about our leadership but it also paves the way for us to give them feedback on their leadership.)
For my 50th Birthday I gathered feedback from fifty people that I serve including pastors, students, and family members. Kristi helped me. She asked everyone one simple, all-important question: “How have you been drawn closer to Jesus through knowing Bill?”
This was hugely helpful to me! It re-directed my priorities and I was greatly encouraged by the ways that as a leader I was influencing people for Christ. I wrote a short devotional about this experience called “The Winning Shot!“