Shift Ministry Models

Leading From the Pews

Communicate well your congregation’s personality
by Rebecca Sullivan | June 9, 2022

Who is the crucial leader in your congregation? Don’t be shocked: You are! 

Congregation members are an essential and the critical part of any congregation. No matter what role you might find yourself in, you set the tone, co-create the ethos and make the body who it is. Paul speaks about the church as being the body and that each of us is a part of that body: an eye, a foot, an ear. Each part has its own role and responsibility to the body, but the body cannot function with all the parts. So it is true of all congregation members as well. You have an important part to play in leading your congregation. 

Communicating feedback

How would you describe the “personality” of your congregation? Is the congregation set in its ways? Or flexible, thoughtful, or ready to experiment? The congregation’s personality begins with its communication style. 

Sharing feedback, both negative and positive, with the formal leadership – your pastor, deacon, or governing board – is an important part of being the church. The formal leaders cannot make changes, adapt to circumstances, or place a stronger emphasis on particular ideas or programs without feedback from you. Pastors and church leaders have their own perception of the outcome of various events, programs, or worship services, as they can visually scan peoples’ faces for interest level and note who is missing. However, if you are able to share your feedback in a way that is constructive, you can help build up the church and strengthen it.

But of course, as in any group, offering feedback needs to be done in a constructive fashion so that church leaders do not feel torn down. Start by offering feedback and criticism in a way that:

  •  naturally invites further dialogue
  • is very specific and 
  • has clear next steps. 

Too often criticism is a closed, single statement that doesn’t naturally lead anywhere. So instead of someone saying, “I didn’t like today’s hymn,” it would be more constructive to say, “I didn’t like today’s hymn, but I usually like them. Last week’s hymn was good.” Or instead of “I don’t like the music we sing,” it would be more constructive to say “I’d like to explore trying some different music. Some of the music I like is…” 

You might consider offering a variety of feedback, both positive and negative, to try to balance your perception. Church leaders want to hear when things are not going well or are not landing with their congregation members, so critical feedback is important to hear. One suggestion is to send the feedback via email with a request to meet and discuss it in person later. This can give your church leadership a chance to take in the feedback, discern how they want to respond to it, and for everyone to have a chance to lower the temperature in what might otherwise become a heated discussion.

Avoiding anonymous communication

Nobody likes anonymous notes, especially with negative messages. 

Anonymous communication should be avoided at all costs. It does not build up the body of Christ and only serves to sow division between its members. Relationships are what can build us up, and relationships can only be developed between people who know one another. 

When offering feedback, always speak for yourself. Church leaders so often get feedback that begins with “People are saying.” When the church leaders hear this kind of feedback, they have no idea who these nebulous “people” could be. Is it just the individual speaking? Is there a group of two or three? Or is it half of the congregation? Church leaders need to know who is offering feedback so there is an opportunity to respond and try to resolve any conflict or disagreement.

Jesus offers us instruction on how to handle criticism or conflict in Matthew 18:15, saying, “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister.” Jesus proceeds to offer additional instructions if the problem is not resolved with the individual one-to-one connection. Jesus doesn’t give any instructions that involve sending anonymous notes or speaking for a group of people. Jesus focused on resolving conflict through relationship and connection, escalating the number of people involved if the problem could not be resolved. Being in relationship with one another and knowing who it is that wants to share feedback is an essential part of building up the body of Christ.

Joyfully sharing praise

Do you like it when you get praise? Does it make your heart sing when you hear that you’ve done a good job? Does a pat on the back help you keep wanting to work hard?

Pastors, deacons, and church leaders also could also benefit from some positive feedback. Do you notice something going well at church – a sermon that connected with you, a Bible study that made you think, a hymn that filled you with joy, or an inspirational conversation? Share it with your pastor, deacon, or church leaders to help encourage them in their work. It is important for your church leaders to know what is working. Too often, silence or a lack of participation can be misinterpreted as something not working. Maybe a lack of participation in a ministry doesn’t mean the ministry needs to stop entirely, but that something else about it needs to be changed. Offering encouragement and praise can help build up your church leaders and the church’s ministry.

Being the church

You’ve probably often heard that the church is not the building, but that WE are the church. It might feel cliched, but it is true: the people who make up the congregation are truly the church. As members of the church, we get to speak up and share our input and feedback with our church leadership. We get to go to the church leadership meetings and share our input with those who have been elected to make official decisions on behalf of the larger congregation. These are all opportunities for us to live into our roles as the church. Being the church means that we participate and speak up when we feel God has called us to do so. We take responsibility for acting out our congregation’s personality. 

During my time as a pastor, I have heard some members say offhandedly that they’ve “done their time” as a Sunday School teacher, Council member, or youth group leader. I have often wondered why they consider serving in these roles like a prison sentence. 

It is indeed right and important for leaders to take a break from ministry and not become burnt out. Congregation members should think of serving not like a job or being in jail, but of being one big team. When you are actively serving in a role, you are on the field in a position ready to play. When you are not currently in a role, you are on the bench or in the stands, and can cheer on the rest of your team. Everyone on the team has a role to play. There can be times when you are on the field and times when you can rest, but you are always still part of the team. Seek to find ways to serve your congregation to share your gifts and truly be the church together.

About the Author

Rebecca Sullivan

Rebecca Sullivan is pastor of Lakeview Lutheran Church in Maplewood, Minnesota. She brings a love of connecting people and ideas from her former career as a librarian. When not leading worship, Bible studies, and other church activities, Rebecca can be found exploring her local public library, spending time with her family, or searching for a great donut.

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