Some thoughts on feedback

Many years ago I was in a comedy club and the guy on stage that night sang a little song with this chorus;

“Jer-u-sa-lem, Jer-u-sa-lem, if you’re the Messiah, you might as well come, to Jer-u-sa-lem, Jer-u-sa-lem, ’cause everyone knows we could use another one.”

I have occasion to sing that little chorus to myself on a semi-regular basis.

Keep this in mind, it’s important for what comes later.

In mid-December of last year, one of the associate pastors at my congregation here in Jerusalem gave the Shabbat message. When it was over, I went into the fellowship hall to eat cookies and chat with my friends, but an individual who I had never seen in the congregation before (we get a lot of visitors from all over the world) walked up to us and very rudely interrupted our conversation to ask us, somewhat brusquely, where he could find the man who had given the message. 

This individual’s tone and body language made it quite obvious to me that he had disagreed with something the associate pastor had said in his message and he intended to set him straight about it. Since that associate pastor is a friend of mine who I knew didn’t need any additional grief in his life, I shrugged my shoulders at this rude individual and said nothing.

However, someone else must have helped him because a few minutes later, I walked through the main hall and saw, to my sadness, that the rude man had in fact found our associate pastor and was standing in front of him loudly and pompously pontificating about all the points he disagreed with him about. I knew from experience that nothing good would result in any attempt I might make to interfere, so I just went to find one of the other elders to tell them about what was going on so they could go render the kind of assistance to our poor associate pastor that the situation called for.

Situations like this one are, for better or for worse, an unavoidable part of ministry work, especially in Jerusalem. There is, as some of my readers probably already know, a dedicated mental hospital in this city staffed by professionals who have received specialized training to treat “Jerusalem Syndrome” which is an umbrella term describing a wide variety of mental and emotional disorders that are tied, in one way or another, to Biblical themes. 

My personal favorite is the “Messiah complex” that the comedian that night at the club was singing about, as well as its close cousin, the “Elijah complex” whereby an individual believes that God has appointed them to bring a fresh revelation to the world. We get a fair number of Elijahs visiting our congregations here in Jerusalem, and we encounter them on the streets as well. I’ve heard that they also show up at congregations in other cities, particularly in Galilee, but Jerusalem is the most likely place to meet them.

I have lost track of the number of people I have encountered here over the years who come here to make a name for themselves doing some kind of work for Jesus, forgetting that one doesn’t appoint oneself to do Kingdom work, but rather one is either appointed or not by God. But Jerusalem is a place where many people appoint themselves to go, nearly always after they’ve been kicked out of a few churches in the place where they came from because they did something or other that was out of order. So instead of humbly accepting that God did not, in fact, appoint them to the work in His Kingdom that they wanted to do, they talked themselves into believing that God had “bigger” things for them and that (of course!) Jerusalem was the place to go do that “bigger” job.

This being the Digital Age, people don’t have to come all the way to Jerusalem to engage in this kind of activity. They can send their “feedback” to those of us who are working in Jerusalem without ever leaving home.

It’s hard to believe, but I have now been privileged to have a blog hosted here on KNI for almost six years. In that time, I’ve covered a variety of topics and received a great deal of feedback, either in the comments section or in private emails. Once or twice, people would recognize me from the picture and/or recognize my name on a name tag I was wearing at some event or other and tell me in person what they thought of my blogs. One such encounter was very unpleasant, involving a “Karen” who saw my name tag and exploded in rage, screaming profanity-laden abuse at me regarding a blog I’d written several years previously and completely forgotten about. She was, I later found out, the wife of a pastor from a very liberal mainline Protestant church in Calgary, Canada, who had posted a message on Facebook before flying to Israel saying that she hoped she’d meet me while she was here so she could give me a piece of her mind.

Don’t you just love it when dreams come true?

Jokes aside, as unpleasant as that encounter was, and as unpleasant, exasperating, and occasionally irritating as some of the comments on these blogs get, I have to admit that they’ve made me a better blogger. Some of my best blogs (or, at least I liked them the best) were blogs I wrote in response to rude, snarky comments people left. It’s also very flattering because, as my pastor is fond of reminding me, the Enemy doesn’t waste time attacking people who aren’t doing anything important for the Kingdom of Christ.

In this context, it’s worth mentioning that the majority of rude, nasty, obnoxious comments which I’ve received came from readers who lacked the courage and/or integrity to identify themselves in public, using lame, dippy fake names to leave their comments instead of their real names.

They do this (I guess) because it allows them to say things that they’d never have the courage to say to my face, or if they thought they might otherwise face real-world consequences or accountability for it.

The problem with that is this.

Someday every single human being who ever walked this earth’s surface will stand before the Throne of Christ and give an account for their lives. This will include accountability for every word that ever came out of our mouths, or our keyboards as the case may be. When you and I stand before the Throne, the anonymity offered by a fake name we use to post something on the internet won’t be there for us to hide behind.

So, all of that is to say, if you want to GIVE someone some feedback, remember that you’re trying to help that brother or sister do the work that God has given them to do in a better, more effective way. My own experience notwithstanding, most people who are working in some kind of ministry aren’t helped or encouraged by being personally attacked or put down. If you want to be a blessing rather than a curse, you should keep that in mind.

On the other hand, if you’re reading this and you’re in ministry work, or if you know someone who is, be encouraged.

Rejoice when people send you hate mail, leave nasty comments on your blog, or even come up to you after your sermon to tell you all the ways you’re wrong. Rejoice when people yell at you and tell you what a terrible person you are, either with the courage to do it to your face or with the courage that only comes from being able to hide behind the anonymity that the internet provides.

On the other hand, if they say something that actually makes sense, by all means, take some time to pray about it and otherwise consider if they might have a point. This is especially true if the person giving you feedback comes exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit of God listed in Galatians 5:22-23. That’s a good indication that this is God’s way of helping you improve and grow. As Proverbs 27:17 proclaims: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”. 

But, if the “feedback” you receive is composed mostly of abuse and/or is accompanied by rude, snarky, put-downs, and contempt, feel free to pocket the backhanded compliment the Enemy is paying you and otherwise just roll your eyes and move on. Try not to be too annoyed by it, and always remember to keep your sense of humor.

To help with that, I hereby bequeath to you the song I heard in that comedy club;

“Jer-u-sa-lem, Jer-u-sa-lem, if you’re the Messiah, you might as well come, to Jer-u-sa-lem, Jer-u-sa-lem, ’cause everyone knows we could use another one.”

That’s what I’ve got for you this week brothers and sisters. I hope it blessed someone.