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The Art of Receiving Feedback in Youth Ministry

I carried a common misconception out of college into my early years of youth ministry. I assumed that since I had spent 4 whole years reading, interning, reflecting, writing and “preparing” for ministry that I was done. So when I screwed up and received feedback letting me know as much, my internal story was, “Well, I must suck at this and there is nothing I can do.”

It took me years to learn that my internal narrative was my hindrance, not my mistake or the feedback. Today, I realize that I’m always evolving and growing. When I get feedback now that I messed up something, my internal story is, “Well, I must suck at this but I don’t always have to.”

The same is true for you too. If your internal narrative is fixed, making all feedback an evaluation of your abilities you don’t have to believe it. You can choose to change your internal story and believe that you’re a work in progress, which makes all feedback an opportunity for growth.

Feedback Killers

If we accept that we’re a work in progress and that feedback can be a growth opportunity, we still have to deal with two big feedback killers.

  1. Truth Flag – You make be getting feedback from a parent, church member, teen or lead pastor and the truth flag gets thrown in your mind. “That’s wrong!”, you scream internally. But hold back on the truth stick. Instead, you’ll want to dig for understanding because there might just be a nugget of truth behind the perceived misconception.
  2. Relational Knowledge – You may get feedback from someone with a horrible track record on the very issue they’re critiquing you on. Before you pull out the witty reply, “Well seems like the pot is calling the kettle black…”, push for clarification. They might just be able to see something in you that you haven’t been able to see because you’ve had the blinder of comparison on.

Decoding Labels

Now that you believe feedback can help you grow and you’ve stopped yourself from pulling the trigger on the two big feedback killers, you still have to push forward to find the meaning and goal of the feedback.

  1. Labels – Feedback typically starts with labels. “You can’t over communicate.” “Being proactive is a good thing.” Understanding a feedback label only happens when we discover what’s behind them and where they are going.
  2. Behind Labels – Labels are created from an observation and interpretation. For example, a parent may be watching an impromptu dodgeball game unfold at the end of youth group and see that there was no other adult around watching the middle school boys. They interpret it as meaning their child is typically unsupervised. And they slap the label ‘Chaotic and unsupervised youth group meetings’ on your ministry. To get behind the labels info you need to ask, “What did you observe/see/hear/etc. that led you to that conclusion?”
  3. Where Labels are Going – Once you find out that the parent saw the impromptu dodgeball game and a lack of adult supervision, then you can ask, “So what would you advise?” or “What do you think needs to happen?” This invites the parent to engage with you on youth ministry resources, structure, and way of life. Even if their advice isn’t practical, you still invited a parent into the life of the youth ministry, which is a win.

How do you take feedback deeper? What are some other feedback killers?

paulsheneman_image_medThis is a guest post by Paul Sheneman who is an author, speaker and youth pastor, with over 15 years of youth ministry experience. He currently serves as the Methodist youth pastor in Macedonia, OH. He drinks way too much coffee for his own good and enjoys a good book. You can follow his ramblings at or on Twitter @PaulSheneman.


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2 thoughts on “The Art of Receiving Feedback in Youth Ministry

  1. […] such grace that I wanted to share it with you. In the last few posts we’ve talked about handling feedback in youth ministry well, even if it’s negative and hurtful feedback. This is one practical example of a youth […]

  2. […] The Art of Receiving Feedback in Youth Ministry: Paul Sheneman guest blogs over at Youth Leaders Academy on how to manage your internal narrative when receiving feedback. […]

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