This past month I received an email from a church planter friend of mine who was going through some tough times. It had been a tough few weeks financially at his church and for the first time in the life of the plant, he would not be receiving a check that week. He was down, ready to quit and so he asked for feedback.
I replied immediately that major decisions shouldn’t be made when we are down emotionally. It was August—a low time for churches and a bad time for finances since it is at the end of the summer. It was a Sunday night—a low time for pastors and planters because we’re emotionally drained. And it was right after he got the news of no paycheck. So this was a trifecta of gloom. I encouraged him to relax, to hang in there and get back up emotionally before making a huge decision.
And his financial coach, Dave Bennett gave him the very same feedback.
But a former colleague of his gave some very different feedback. He sent my friend’s email on to a distant acquaintance who emailed back that even though he barely knew him (he had only talked to him twice), my friend was “not a church planter” and he should and “execute the dissolution of the church plant.” Wow!
I got together with my friend recently and he asked me what I thought of the feedback he had received. I told him it reminded me of what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy:
You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!
…But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance…But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.—2 Timothy 3:1-5, 10-11, 14-17 (NLT)
Paul tells Timothy that there are all sorts of folks out there willing to give us feedback. There are manipulators and there are mentors. There are the self-centered and other-centered. There are those who have their best interests in mind and those who have your best interests in mind. There are the religious and there are those who have an actual relationship with God.
Here are four tips on feedback from 2 Timothy 3:
1. We all need feedback.
Paul wrote to Timothy to give him some feedback. We all need that.
· The longer you live the less feedback you get.
It’s true, isn’t it? As a kid, everyone chips in their two cents, parents, older siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, coaches—it is a constant barrage of, “Knock it off, stop doing that, that’s better, way to go…”
But as we age, it is less and less culturally acceptable to give feedback to people. And when we get to be older people just don’t bother. “It’s ‘part-timers,’ he’s stuck in his ways, don’t mess with Grandpa…”
· The longer you do something the less feedback you get.
When you start out on a job or task, there usually is some training, but once you reach journeyman status it is no longer acceptable for someone to point out anything without them being labeled a control-freak or smart-aleck.
· The longer you lead the less feedback you will get.
The more you move up the ladder in an organization, the less anyone would ever think of pointing out something you might want to work on. It is lonely at the top rings true, which leads to the last secret:
· The longer you succeed the less feedback you get.
After working eight years as a surgeon, Atul Gawande, a distinguished Harvard surgeon and author, realized that his operating room success had slowly reached a plateau. Soon after that realization, he had an afternoon free, and tried to track down someone to play in a game of tennis. Finally, he went to the local tennis club and was told that he could practice there only if he paid for a lesson and hit with the club pro. Gawande writes what happened next:
“He was in his early twenties, a recent graduate who'd played on his college team. We hit back and forth for a while. He went easy on me at first, and then started running me around. I served a few points, and the tennis coach in him came out. "You know," he said, "you could get more power from your serve." I was dubious. My serve had always been the best part of my game. But I listened. He had me pay attention to my feet as I served, and I gradually recognized that my legs weren't really underneath me when I swung my racquet up into the air.
My right leg dragged a few inches behind my body …. With a few minutes of tinkering, he'd added at least ten miles an hour to my serve.”
Not long afterward, Gawande was watching tennis star Rafael Nadal playing a tournament match on TV.
“The camera flashed to his coach, and the obvious struck me as interesting: even Rafael Nadal has a coach. Nearly every élite tennis player in the world does …. But doctors don't. I'd paid to have a kid just out of college look at my serve. So why did I find it inconceivable to pay someone to come into my operating room and coach me on my surgical technique?
Coaching operates from the premise that "no matter how well prepared people are in their formative years, few can achieve and maintain their best performance on their own."
The apostle Paul knew that we need coaches in living. Watch me, he said. And let me give you some pointers. We learn by seeing truth lived out and modeled. We learn by imitation. Some things are caught, not taught. Some things are caught and taught
We need feedback!
2. Stay away from the wrong kind of feedback.
Stay away from people like that!—2 Timothy 3:5 (NLT)
The Bible is full of admonitions to avoid bad feedback!
A false witness will perish, and whoever listens to him will be destroyed forever.--Proverbs 21:28 (NIV)
Don't listen to everything people say…—Ecclesiastes 7:21 (NCV)
Get behind me Satan!—Matthew 16:23 (NIV)
Seth Godin put it this way: “You won't benefit from anonymous criticism. I recently heard from a speaker who was able to quote, verbatim, truly nasty comments people had posted about her talk. And yet, I've never once met an author who said, "Well, my writing wasn't resonating, but then I read all the bad reviews on Amazon, took their criticism to heart and now I'm doing great..." There are plenty of ways to get useful and constructive feedback. It starts with looking someone in the eye, with having a direct one on one conversation or email correspondence with a customer who cares. Forms, surveys, mass emails, tweets--none of this is going to do anything but depress you, confuse you (hey, half the audience wants one thing, the other half wants the opposite!) or paralyze you. I'm arguing that it's a positive habit to deliberately insulate yourself from this feedback. Don't ask for it and don't look for it. Yes, change what you make to enhance delight. No, don't punish yourself by listening to the mob.”
Let’s be careful who we are listening to. An email from someone who barely knows us who says we are not anything and should dissolve our church is an email that needs to be deleted and forgotten before we finish reading it!
3. Stay tuned to the right kind of feedback.
This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you…-2 Timothy 1:6 (NIV)
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. --Proverbs 27:17 (NIV
Strategic planning is the key to warfare; to win, you need a lot of good counsel.—Proverbs 24:6 (TMV)
There are some people like Paul in your life and mine. People who know you, who love you, who have your back. People who won’t pile on when you are down, but will have your back when you need them. Identify them, cultivate them, and go to them.
There are people who will tell you that if you are a pastor, don’t make major decisions on a Sunday night in August when the offering was weak that day!
The reason we have a network is so we can become honest feedback dispensers for each other.
4. Stay close to God’s feedback.
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.—2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)
Paul reminds us that the best feedback comes from God. Are we letting God give us input?