Over my years in ministry, as a volunteer and as a church and denominational staff person, I have experienced a fair amount of complaints and criticism. I learned early to listen carefully to the individual. In fact, just listening to many of these persons deflated the situation. I also learned to place what they were sharing into two categories: (1) what I needed to change and (2) what was in need of no response. I was never afraid to apologize for something I had done wrong or even something that had happened that was out of my control. (Again, that often deflated the response.)
In my experience, I believe 360 degree feedback is helpful for Sunday School teachers and leaders to make the most difference. Here’s what I mean. Let’s talk about an adult class teacher. I believe the teacher will become the best teacher possible when he/she has one or more persons at each of three levels who provide regular feedback about the job that he/she is doing:
- class member (one being taught and led);
- another teacher (a peer); and
- pastor/Sunday School director (a supervisor/coach).
Each of these is asked to share responses and input in order for the teacher to improve his/her effectiveness in teaching and leading the class. Each of these is asked to be honest rather than simply affirm the job the teacher is doing. As a result, the teacher has more eyes surveying the response of the class to his/her leadership and teaching. The teacher is able to adjust quickly when needed.
But why are so many Sunday School leaders hesitant to seek evaluation? I am aware that some individuals have experienced difficult bouts of criticism that make anticipating future bouts more difficult. I recently read a great article by a great teacher, Howard Hendricks. The article is entitled How Do You Know You’re Effective?. His answer to the title question is that experience “in teaching doesn’t tend to sharpen my abilities; rather it dulls them. Evaluated experience improves my skills.” In the article, Hendricks offers five suggestions for overcoming hesitancy to seek evaluation. His suggestions are in all capitals followed by my commentary:
- FEAR THAT EVALUATION UNDERMINES AUTHORITY.The reality is that our leadership is built on trust. When a leader seeks evaluation, instead of undermining authority, it often adds respect. As Hendricks puts it, “A teacher who is vulnerable, realistic, and committed to excellence wins the respect of others. It shows personal security and strength.” When we invite people to evaluate us, we actually are asking them to be even more involved and supportive, to be a part of the team.
- FEAR OF PEOPLE’S BIASES. Each of us has our preferences, our biases. It becomes the teacher/leader’s job to sift through the evaluations to find those nuggets that will help us to improve. I like how Hendricks puts this, “I have found that I simply must evaluate the evaluations. I have to recognize where people are coming from and read their comments with that perspective.”
- FEAR OF THE TRUTH THAT OUR TEACHING [OR LEADERSHIP] HAS FAILINGS. Sometimes we misspeak or misstep. We don’t do it intentionally. It is much better to correct it quickly rather than let it fester. And sometimes the fixes are simple, such as explaining terms that we use or talking a little more loudly (or softly). We all have blindspots that those who are trying to help us can enable us to see.
- TENDENCY TO OVERSPIRITUALIZE THE ISSUE. I understand that judgment day will come at some point, but will we be more harshly judged because we had an opportunity to adjust our teaching/leadership and we didn’t do it? The same God of judgment also sends His Holy Spirit to provide wisdom you need to hear at times through others.
- INTANGIBLES OF MINISTRY ARE HARD TO MEASURE.We can tell about the success of a coach by the games his team wins. We can tell about a school teacher by the pupils who do well on tests. But how do you measure teaching, ministry, and leadership success? It is important to look hard for measures of progress. Measures and progress are sometimes easier to see with multiple sets of eyes and perspectives. How are lives being changed? Who is stepping up into leadership? How are people living differently?
There are so many benefits from seeking evaluation for our Sunday School efforts. Pray. Seek evaluation. Seek effectiveness. Be revolutionary!