Communication and Leadership — Feedback

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IMGP9030Brad Jarvis is the EFCC’s Communication Catalyst. In previous posts in this Communication and Leadership series, he’s shared some of the choices we make as senders (including message and medium). He’s also shared some of the choices we make as receivers. This post marks the last of this series.


OK, this is where all of this turns real. All of the responsibilities of a sender and receiver flip when feedback is deployed.

It’s where communication changes from a broadcast into a conversation. Let’s think about where the church’s communication is most typically one-way: the sermon-listener model. It is still very prevalent in church gatherings, all around the world. But isn’t it ironic to expect people to be passive information recipients, and then wonder why they’re not active enough?

Without feedback:

  • How do we ever get a sense of what people are taking from our messages?
  • How do we get people to evaluate what they’re hearing?
  • How do we help them make sense of it in their everyday interactions?

I was in a conversation with a young woman completely unfamiliar with church, and she asked me: “So, how long have you been studying?” It rocked me! I don’t often see church from a complete outsider’s perspective. Have you ever had it put that way to you?

It started me down a whole new line of internal questions:

  • What are you studying for?
  • What are you going to do with all the studying you’ve done?
  • How do you know if you’ve studied enough?

Perhaps asking ourselves questions like that would better guide our understanding of what church is about. Sadly, I often encounter leaders who tend to think of church attendance as a discipline which, if we do it right, will become a habit. What a terribly shallow view!

As we keep hearing, the value of church-as-habit is eroding. Whatever else that is, it’s certainly a wake-up call.

Because it can be — it should be — so much more!

It all begins with engagement, with dialogue. Every day I’m reminded that dialogue in the church need improvement. So many conversations are steeped in human nature: self-protectiveness, presuming other people’s agendas (most often in a negative light), and a slew of unexamined assumptions (which their holders often resist examining).

If we want truly open dialogue, we have to engage in it prepared to change our minds. Most people don’t mean that when they claim this desire: they aren’t usually seeking to be convinced, rather to convince. They want the other person/group to be willing to concede to being wrong, at no cost to their own ideas/convictions. Line up two people with that kind of thinking on opposing sides of any issue, and you don’t get dialogue.

You get a brawl!

At any level, the most effective feedback starts with a willingness to be humble; to accept that we don’t know as much as we’re tempted to claim. It means we’re willing to learn from others’ experiences, perspectives, values and perhaps even beliefs.

And if we can do that, we can engage in conversations with people who are very different from us without fear, thereby avoiding its ugly effects.

If we can lower fear in dialogue at all levels, particularly in and around the Church, we’ll have much more healthy and coherent relationships, all of our communication will be more fruitful, and by extension, we’ll have a much more compelling witness.

This blog completes my series on Leadership and Communication. I hope it’s sparked some new thinking, or at least reinforced some positive values. If you’ve enjoyed it, please share it with someone you think would benefit from it. And if you have any comments, questions or suggestions, your feedback in the comments would be greatly appreciated! :-)