the shape of leadership

Building a Culture of Constructive Feedback

How fresh insight may help you take steps toward improving your sermons and your church’s ministries

Hunter Wilson on March 11, 2020

Share the Same Vision

New York Times bestselling author Simon Sinek once wrote, “There are only two things in this world: content and context. Content is the stuff we do, the things we say, the work we’re engaged in. Yet content has no meaning whatsoever without context. Context is the picture on the jigsaw puzzle box that shows us how to bring the pieces together — the why. The stronger, more vibrant that picture, the easier it will be to figure out this puzzle as a team — a team united under a common cause.”

At Oaks Church (Assemblies of God) in Red Oak, Texas, we often ask team members and others for feedback on the content we create, including the sermons we plan to deliver. But we are also careful to share the context of what we consider a win.

Before I give feedback on the content of a sermon, I want to make sure I know the context of what the speaker is trying to accomplish with the message. I like to ask three questions: What do you want people to know? What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do because of this sermon?

Once everyone involved is clear on the context, or what a bull’s-eye sounds like, we give our feedback team the following prompts:

  • What about this sermon was right that we can optimize?
  • What about this sermon was wrong that we can fix?
  • What was missing that we can add?
  • What was confusing that we can clarify?

When everyone knows the desired finish line, we have an easier time providing a quality evaluation.

The Goal

Delivering feedback that actually makes people feel grateful for the tweaks is an art. If the feedback comes across as a personal attack, they will likely withdraw or assume a defensive attitude.

Feedback is vital to any team that wants to get better.

A common mistake people make in their critiques is explaining what they would have done. The goal is not to make everyone sound like you. This approach almost always strikes the wrong tone. The primary mission is helping the speaker reach his or her goals. Try framing your feedback like this:

“I know you said your primary goal for this message is to help people understand what it means to love their neighbors. Can I suggest one way to bring that point out more clearly in your conclusion?”

Unsolicited Feedback

Why is it that hearing feedback from one person can feel totally different than hearing the same remarks from another? Critiques are seldom well received in the absence of respect and relationship — especially when they are unsolicited.

Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.”

If you are tempted to offer unsolicited feedback, first ask yourself these questions:

  • If I were to grade myself on a scale from 1 to 10, how much does this person respect me?
  • How much do I respect him or her?
  • How strong is our relationship?

The lower the number on any of these, the more careful you should be with the feedback you give. While constructive criticism can be beneficial, unsolicited feedback is usually more annoying than helpful unless there is a healthy relationship and mutual respect.

Positive Change

If you want to grow, or want your church to grow, you’re going to need help. Feedback is vital to any team that wants to get better. If consistent feedback is not part of the culture in your church, start by modeling the way.

If you’re a pastor, invite a select group you highly respect and have a relationship with to speak into your sermons. Once that becomes normal, open doors for input in other areas. The fresh insight may help you take steps toward improving your sermons and your church’s ministries.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 edition of Influence magazine.

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