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Fear of Feedback

Most of us hate feedback! I know that that has been the case for me throughout my career. Most people – especially ministers and pastors – hate the idea that we would submit ourselves to another’s thoughts, judgments, and perceptions. It all seems terribly threatening, and for good reason too. There are simply too many stories of some poor preacher being made to sit through a sermon rebuttal at the weekly elder’s meeting or having to attune themselves to the constant carping of one or two hard-hearted and untrained church members?

There are some kinds of feedback that are only destructive. While we know as a leader there is absolutely no way to please all the people all the time, yet a good leader learns to hear criticism appropriately and use if effectively.  In addition, for us to become what the Kingdom of God needs us to become, we have to open our ears and lose our fear of feedback. Here’s why:

First, “good” feedback has limited use. For years I thought I wanted feedback, but what I actually coveted was “good” feedback. Good meaning, “You did a great job, Sean.” While we all need our strokes, good feedback has limited ability to make us think more deeply and broaden our perspectives. Good feedback has a tendency to point us backward to what we have done instead of forward toward what we can do. We need to hear good feedback. We need to hear that we are on track and that our work and prayers have been meaningful to others. Yet we also need to seek out thoughtful, measured voices to tell us when we may have hit a wrong note or are headed for trouble.

Second, feedback gives us perspective. As a Senior Minister I have a great deal of latitude in what happens on any given week in my congregation. Yet it would be abusive to shape congregational life around my preferences or the preferences of a privileged few. Because I’m human, I naturally orient things around what I like. But in the process of seeking deliberate feedback I can see, hear and feel what others see, hear, and feel. At the end of the day, my job is to add value to my congregation’s worship experience, not design the perfect experience for myself. This cannot be done if I have not endeavored to know what their perspectives are. Leaders, it seems, should ask themselves, “Am I doing this because it is what I like, or because it best serves my church.”

Third, feedback keeps us humble. This applies to both positive and negative feedback. At no point in my life am I more in awe of the power of God then when people are telling me stories of how God has used my life to change theirs. At the same time, when we receive negative feedback we stay in touch with our own humanness. Let’s face it; some of us think that once we’ve entered pastoral leadership we’ve been anointed with greatness. Sometimes we are great – or do some things great – but many times, we are simply filled with hubris. If you cannot handle negative feedback, then you might need to get your ego in check. What happens in ministry is not about you, and to be good leaders, we have to know the areas where we need improvement.

These are simple ways we are aided by criticism and feedback and I don’t want to work with or alongside anyone who feels she or he is above it. If you don think you’re above it your department or organization is going nowhere fast. As a leader, your challenge is to identify the very best modalities to hear and incorporate valuable feedback. Know this, though they may not mean to be, oftentimes, your critics are you allies.

First and Last

Today is my last day in the office at Bering Drive Church of Christ. I’ve come to the same office, sat in the same chair, had the same view out the window and cluttered the same desk for over nine years. Today will be the last time I do that. A new chapter is beginning — as I’ve mentioned before. But before newness can break in fully, something must be done with what has passed. So today, I offer some random reflections on my time at Bering Drive.

1. Bering will always be precious to us because this is the church that our daughters were born into. Much of what they’ve learned about God, Jesus and the church came from Bering Drive. Malia, my 5-year-old, speaks about how much she’ll miss Bering. I’ll miss it much more than she. In 10 years she will hardly remember ever being here, but I will remember God sending her to us here.

2. The time I spent preaching at Bering in the interim (August 2003 – June 2004)was the greatest time of my ministry life. Rochelle was pregnant with Malia (a pregnancy that wasn’t supposed to happen); the church had it’s highest attendance since the hey-day of Dr. Bill Love’s preaching; staff and congregational morale was high; I was working nearly 60-hours per week and loving it; and each week it seemed like there were new young or minority people in the pew. For ten months we caught lighting in a bottle. One church member described it as “Camelot,” an older member said “It was the most meaningful church experience of my life,” a single, middle-aged woman said “You’re changing my life,” and the wife of an atheist said, “My husband doesn’t believe, but when he hears you preach, I think he’s close.” Those times can’t last forever, I know. It was a great ride, though. Thank you, God for using me.

3. At Bering I was challenged to think in new ways and allowed the freedom to challenge others in new ways. Thoughtfulness was encouraged, and I am a better minister for it. I know far too many ministers who are subtly told to not think, and merely replicate whatever is fun and popular. I became “theological” here, and it has changed my life. The commitment to theology was so deep here that some very good men and woman paid for me to get my masters. How many people are willing to do that?

4. The kids, the kids, the kids. Each of them deserves an entire blog post. Suffice it to say they are genuine, talented, funny, and beautiful. I am more proud of each of them than they’ll ever know. I will forever love them, and not being able to think of them without moist eyes, a broad smile, and my greatest hopes.

5. At Bering I met some older Christians (many), whom I truly respected; people who were wise and steady, yet forward-looking. I was 25 when we moved here McAllen, TX, and in so many ways entered adulthood at Bering. Thankfully, there were some helpful guides along the way. You can’t go wrong surrounded by people like Edward Fudge, Bill Love, Rolfe Johnson, Bill Ward, and Rob McRay. They taught me much that I will carry forever.

6. I will desperately miss my T.R.I.B.E. (The Right Individuals Believing Endlessly). Every minister needs a fan club. These people were my unwavering supporters. Folks like Sara Faye Fudge, Jean Worley, Laura Bard, the Hughes, Leah Snyder and so many others. The trusted my heart and accepted my humanity while believing in my gifts. If you don’t have a tribe. You should get one.

As I move on to the next phase of life and ministry; the phase orchestrated and ordained by God, these are just a few of the things I enjoyed in my time here. My God bless the believers who meet in this place.

Wise Words #1

I’m oft reminded of the wise words I’ve come to memorize and live by over my life. (I’ll post wise sayings every now and then.)These sayings, for whatever reason, have exploded in my mind and I will never forget them. Today’s wise words are from one of my heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr.

“In the end, it is not the words of our enemies that we will remember; it is the silence of our friends.”

The Voice (In Advance of Reviews)

The Voice: New Testament is here and available for purchase at your local book seller. The Voice is a dramatic re-telling of scripture. The project began with writers, musicians, speakers and poets retelling the Biblical story with editorial and scholarly review being added by some of the world’s best Biblical theologians. If you’re a long time follower of the blog, you know that I was asked to contribute to the Old Testament, which will not be released for a while.

The Palmer Perspective is one of one-hundred blogs selected to read and review The Voice as it enters in first month and pre-holiday sales period. As soon as the book arrives from the publisher, I’ll launch into the review. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Sean’s a contributor to the project, so his review will be biased.” You’re right. I am both proud and honored to have been asked to participate. Very proud, indeed. Though I’m a gnat on the backside of this project, Brian McLaren, Lauren Winner, and Donald Miller are some of my favorite writers, and Chris Seay is one of the kindest people I know. So to have my name alongside their’s is incredibly humbling. But in the end, I will try to be fair and open.

The truth is that though I have had some advanced copies and the editions of the gospels that have been released individually, I have rarely used The Voice. Plus, some of what I’ve read, I have had slight criticism of. I even brazenly asked Brian McLaren (a friend and man I greatly admire) about his use of “ritual cleansing” in Luke rather than the term “baptism” (here I show my church of Christ stripes). So, I will try to be fair, and the publisher has asked me to review it from “a writer’s perspective.” I blushed at that. No one has ever called me a “writer” before. Little does he know, huh?

At any rate, I ask you to pick up a copy of The Voice: New Testament and read it along with me. I would love to hear your thoughts, and how you’re using it in your home, with your friends and among your community.

Check back here later for the review. Let’s read the Bible together!


Was anyone as astonished as I was to see Roger Clemens throw his wife under the bus yesterday? Roger said that his wife, Debbie, not him, took HGH. So the HGH user in the house was Debbie, not Roger.

Not only that, but his best friend, Andy Petitte took HGH, but not Roger. Another teammate, Chuck Knoblauch took HGH, but not Roger. And Roger’s trainer peddled HGH, but never to his best customer…Roger.

Everyone close to Roger — including his wife — was dirty, but not Roger. Really?

Okay. That’s believable!

However, whether you believe Roger or not, you have to feel for what his family is going through, particularly his sons. If he really is innocent, this is almost the worse thing that can happen to a professional athlete.

The entire steroid era of baseball should force all of us to ask questions about what is truly important in life. How important is personal success? What are we willing to sacrifice to climb to the top of the mountain.? It should also highlight how fleeting applause and acclaim are. Like Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the people who cheer you one day will be calling for your head (figuratively) as soon as the winds change.

Success clearly isn’t worth doing anything for.

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