After a couple of days of essentially suggesting we shouldn’t put too much stock in feedback that comes over a handshake, I want to suggest that there are some really helpful bits of input that can come without us requesting it. Just as we need to learn to discern the generally worthless, let’s also grow in our sensitivity to the genuine and worthwhile input. Several ingredients tend to go into helpful input:
1. Time. When someone speaks to you about a message and there is time involved, then you should put more stock in the feedback. The time might be delay before speaking to you. “The message you preached two weeks ago has really been on my heart…” keep listening and see what you can learn from this interaction. “The message you preached last year on X really changed my life, here’s how…” keep listening and thank the Lord for genuine encouragement.
Or the time ingredient may be the length of conversation. Even though it happens right after church, if someone wants to talk for a few minutes about the message, then perhaps they aren’t just being polite. They may be socially uncomfortable and struggling to get away from you, but hopefully you are socially aware enough to discern the difference. If there is time in a conversation, then generally that means there is something beyond the polite being said. This could be encouraging/affirming, or it could be constructive/helpful – be alert, welcoming and responsive to both.
2. Thought. If someone has put thought into what they are saying, then you should put more thought into processing it. A from the hip comment may speak more truth than it knows, but often it can pass us by without anything being lost. But a thoughtful comment, an interaction about the message that has been thought through, this is the stuff of potential when it comes to getting constructive feedback. Without straying into the pursuit of praise, you can probe with a question or two when someone is obviously and genuinely thinking about a message. “What was it that stood out to you?” or “What would you say was the main point of that message?” These aren’t questions to ask all, but they may be helpful with some.
3. Insight. Sometimes somebody can make a very brief, yet very insightful comment. If you sense a rabbi, a jedi knight, or a wise sage has just said something, be sure to lock the thought away for further pensive perusal. Not every quick comment should be quickly dismissed. Sometimes the value of these comments only come out through prayer and meditation.
May God give us the wisdom to discern the difference between most comments and helpful comments, and may He give us the courage and humility to take onboard that which is helpful in all.