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The Transformative Power of Feedback in Vulnerable Friendship

“Can I give you some feedback?” 

Those words can make the hair on your arms stand up, your heart rate quicken, your lips purse, your eyes narrow. We naturally think, Oh no. What is he/she going to say? Will this “feedback” attack my version of my ideal self? I’m not sure I’m ready for what’s coming.

The longer I live, the more I realize I have a choice when I hear this question. Do I harden my heart and prepare to defend myself? Or, do I breathe deeply to get oxygen to my brain, reclaim by faith my identity in Christ, and give permission for the “feedback” in a spirit of humility?

There is one caveat for giving another person feedback. Are you their friend? Have you built trust over time? Do they know you love and care for them? Before asking Can I give you some feedback? it is good first to ask Do you trust me as your friend? 

Friendship is crucial for feedback reception. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).

Sidenote: Could some of our struggles in the LCMS, at all levels of leadership, be a result of shallow friendships with little room for feedback? I think there is something here…but I digress. 

A trusted older pastor friend took me out to lunch recently. We spent the first fifty-five minutes simply talking about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in Scripture, and in Christ’s Church. It was soul-enriching. The joy of Jesus was so present.  

Then, taking the risk of friendship, he asked, “Um, Tim, we worshiped with you for your Reformation service. It was great…and, um, can I give you some feedback?” 

Because we had spent so much time talking about Jesus together over the years and Jesus’ delight over each of us by grace, I could offer a quick “Sure.” I must be honest; there was still a tiny part of me that wanted to prepare to hide in shame or fight in self-defense. 

The Holy Spirit took that spirit from me as I listened to my friend’s feedback. In writing this blog, I’ve prayed about whether I should share what he told me. I’ve decided not to. My friend’s feedback was for me, and I received it. I’m grateful for it, in fact. His feedback will make me a better pastor, leader, and follower of Jesus in my various vocations. His feedback did nothing to change my primary identity. I am God’s son, claimed in baptism. Nothing can change my primary identity.

Why is receiving feedback hard? We live in a performance-based culture that rewards effort with money, status, and power. Feedback is often given in the spirit of competitive power plays. Our culture is Law-based. Our culture is not kind. Our culture does not cultivate deep, vulnerable friendships. 

The Church of the risen Jesus should. 

Maybe these words will make receiving feedback easier: You are the beloved of God. Nothing you do or fail to do changes this fact. Jesus came to die and rise for all of you–your idealized self and your broken self. “There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). By faith, you will never be condemned by God. Jesus is such a kind friend.

Can I give you some feedback? I pray you are cultivating relationships where you can receive and provide feedback in a spirit of vulnerable friendship. 

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