Ministry tends to be hard, messy and thankless.

At the end of a long week, the last thing you want to hear is another complaint from a whining member, volunteer or staff person. But there are those in leadership who actually seek out negative feedback.

Why? Receiving full and wide feedback (positive and negative) helps you serve better, meet real needs, and reach more people with God’s love and message.

Leaders who do not actively solicit honest feedback tend to insulate themselves. They surround themselves with those who already agree with them, or who are compelled to say only what the leader wants to hear.

Sadly, some ministry leaders act a lot like the politicians we’ve come to loathe in Washington, DC. They adopt a Beltway mentality: “I know what’s going on out there. I know better. I know what’s good for you. I know better than you how to spend your money.” The more they settle into the Beltway life, the more they “hunker in their bunker.”

Some pastors hunkered after I suggested in an earlier blogpost to conduct exit interviews with those who leave their churches. One said, “Don’t expect a phone call from me.” Another refuses to talk to departing members, saying, “Most ‘church leavers’ want to be catered to, fawned over and spoon-fed. Jesus did not do that and his church should not do it either.”

But Jesus did listen, he did make himself accessible to a wide swath of people (receptive and not-so-receptive), and he did ask lots of questions.

Today, smart leaders in companies and non-profits ask lots of questions too. They solicit feedback–especially negative feedback. They know the feedback helps them improve, and helps them control the “word on the street.” You see, people who have an unresolved negative experience with an organization typically tell 10-20 others about it. But when they interact with an organization that listens and responds, they tend to turn into the organization’s most vocal supporters.

So, how can you solicit more feedback, especially from those who may be unhappy? Some tips:

1. Prepare your mind and spirit. Separate your work from your identity, so that you take complaints as critiques on your work rather than attacks on your personhood.

2. Seek feedback from a wide cross-section of your people. Especially seek out those with whom you don’t often interact.

3. Use a variety of methods to collect feedback. Do surveys, comment cards, focus groups, and simple conversations over a cup of coffee.

4. Listen. Refrain from crafting a defense. Just listen.

5. Contact those who leave your ministry. Find out what really led to their departure. You’ll often be surprised.

6. Keep track of the feedback. Put a simple system in place to quantify and qualify the feedback you receive.

7. Act on the feedback. First, thank those who offer feedback. Sometimes your listening ear is mostly what they need to calm their angst. And when you hear legitimate concerns, take corrective action.

8. Remember your role and God’s role. The one who is above reproach is God. The rest of us will benefit from listening to critiques and striving to serve Him better.