A ministry survival technique I wish I learned earlier:

Discerning between a person giving helpful feedback, a garden variety critic and a usual suspect critic.

At first, they can all look and feel the same, but they all operate differently and require different posture.

They can all 'feel' the same at first. Most criticism and feedback stings, and I think ministry folks may be more prone to the sting because ministry is so personal to us. Our work and identity can be fused in unhealthy, but understandable ways. But over time...

...We can discern and adjust to help our well being.

Helpful feedback: someone who genuinely sees a blindspot of yours, a pattern in your approach and leadership. They are for you, they are for the org, they are in it with you. Skin in the game.

It still stings because blind spot knowledge aways feels exposing, but learning to learn from them is crucial. I have matured and grown thanks to caring leaders who show me my own worst side, gently, but clearly. They are also available to help break those patterns.

Garden Variety Critic: has an opinion, is not particularly informed, sometimes comes with misinformation or partial. Has made assumptions, might be coming at you hot.


They'll talk to you, they will listen. The outcome is:

'Well I disagree, but thanks for listening.' or
'Oh, ok, I didn't know all that. Thanks that was helpful.'

There is true interaction, moving toward each other. You may not come to agreement, but respect is present.

Most churches have good number of 'garden variety critics.' And hopefully some of them will come to you directly. Most just talk to each other. The constant 'hey why did you do it this way' can be wearing, but these are decent people.

The 'usual suspect' has a pile of issues, never lands when you take an issue at a time, shifts a target, is playing a game of 'you lose.' No matter what you say, how often you meet, how reasonable you are there is no resolution.

These are the people you have to guard from

If you're not careful, you'll just keep feeding the wildlife even though the sign says not to. You will give them more time, more meetings, more insight.

But they don't actually want resolution or perspective. They want you to lose.

You can discern them by:

- noticing when they keep shifting a target
- when actual data doesn't shift them
- when they minimize their contribution to the problem
- when they wield your vulnerability and words against you.
- when they twist what you say.

BEWARE. Once you figure out your usual suspects, for your own health, and for theirs, frankly:

- never meet alone. They will behave better in front of a witness. and the witness can give account for your words.

- Stop giving them your insight. By trying to reason with them, you are feeding the wildlife.

- Instead gently show them the process or the dynamic or the pattern.

- Allow the witness to speak.

Look. Some people like to fight. They like to be right in spite of facts. And by meeting, giving your side, you are just perpetuating the cycle.

And most of us only have a handful of usual suspects, but we give them massive amounts of our brain space and energy.

Jesus is a fascinating example here. He had usual suspects and 'more insight' was not his move. Differentiation was his move.

He spent most of his time and brain space on mission.

Anyway, discerning who is who can save your life in ministry.


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More from @stevecusswords

7 Jun
The Inner Critic.


Its hard to dislodge the power and influence the IC has over us. Here is a helpful tool:

1. Find at least one other who cares about you and get together.

2. Have your friend write down the messages your IC tells you as you share it.

3. Then ask her/him to write the adjectives of these messages, ex: 'harsh,' 'unrelenting,' 'condemning.' etc.

So now you have the actual messages on one line and descriptors on the other.

4. Now write the descriptors of God's character and God's posture toward you. Patient, loving, kind etc.

5. What if I were at least as ________ to myself as God is.

Read 18 tweets
4 Jun
Toward the end of the cuban missile crisis in 1962, tensions were rising and nuclear war was becoming a near certainty. Russia and Cuba were constructing a nuclear site on Cuba with a firing range that could devastate over 80% of USA’s land.

Russia famously denied any such plan at the United Nations Meeting that year, but USA had spy photos confirming the activity.

Public threats, navy blockades, back channel communications. Kennedy vs Khrushchev.

But also behind the scenes the Kennedy brothers were battling their own military brass who were itching to fight the communists.

On day 11 of the crisis, Khrushchev telexed the White House agreeing to pull out of Cuba. After all the meetings and threats the crisis was over.

Read 11 tweets
29 Mar
Ways you can identify a 'usual suspect' critic vs a 'garden variety critic' or a 'helpful critic.'

1. No matter what you say, how often you meet, etc, they never come around. They don't want resolution.

2. They weaponize your insight against you.

3. As much as you try to resolve, they never land, they just keep shifting the target.

4. They continue to embrace their own POV over the objective facts of the situation.

5. You give them too much real estate in your brain.

Once you identify a usual suspect over other types....

1. Move them out of the corner office of your brain. They are usually tiny fraction of % of all your people, but you give them a large % of your mental energy and time.

Read 5 tweets
20 Mar
One aspect of Family Systems Theory that I think is at risk of being lost is 'playfulness.' Students of FST like Friedman and Whittaker actually measured anxiety through the lens of playfulness, the opposite being earnestness.

Playfulness doesn't mean you don't take matters seriously. Sometimes the more serious, the more important 'play time' is.

Playfulness is not only for people of privilege, it is a human need and a true antidote to anxiety's grip.

In the 1950, Murray Bowen, founder of FST coined the term 'societal regression.' It became one of his 8 core concepts.

As he studied the way anxiety spreads between people, he kept moving his view wider and wider from couples to families to groups to an entire society.

Read 14 tweets
12 Mar
I continue to explore tools and ramifications to decrease the grip of our Inner Critic.

It recently occurred to me that the message of the inner critic often fall into broad categories of:

- you must do it perfectly
- you must know the answer
- you must always love well.

Wait a minute there, Inner Critic.

Are you suggesting we should be:

All knowing
Unconditionally loving?
Always there for people?

Does that sound like anyone you know?

The very first temptation given to humans was:

'you can be like God.'

No. We cannot. We will never be like God. We can worship God and love God and follow God.

Most scandalous of all, we can enjoy God.

But we will never be like God.

Read 7 tweets
3 Mar
Pastors, let's talk about 'usual suspects' critics.

There are all kinds of critics, some of whom are an absolute gift.

Then there are the 'usual suspect' critics.

Helpful: they're in it with you, they're for the cause, they see things in you that you don't see, they help develop you as a leader.

Sometimes their feedback hurts, not because of them, but because we pastors tend to take our ministry so extremely personally.

Then there is the 'garden variety' critic. They don't have malice toward you, it just hasn't occurred to them that maybe you and your team have put 100 hours into the decision and looked at every angle.

Because they go to church, they think they know how to lead a church.

Read 10 tweets

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