What do you do if a leader you follow or serve under says or does something that you don’t agree with? How can you bring a concern to a leader without damaging the relationship or causing unnecessary conflict?
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Lately I’ve seen and heard a lot of talk about problems that are happening in the church, and there may be issues in your specific setting, whether it’s false teaching or abuse or just questions about a particular approach to ministry.
But sometimes when I hear the conversations about bringing these issues to the leadership of a church, the recommended approach is quite problematic.
And then, on the other hand, I know of situations and stories where a member of a church or an organization DOES attempt to bring a concern to a leader, and they are met with less than helpful responses. The leader might become angry, defensive or perhaps they hear the concerns but then behave passive aggressively towards that person.
Because I’m passionate about how we communicate with one another, and because I can relate to both situations: having a concern to bring to a leader AND being on the receiving end of concerns, I want to share some thoughts on how we can get to a place of having a healthier and more productive process for this.
In this solo episode, I’m going to share with you a 4-step process you can use to bring a concern to a leader. And in my next solo episode, I’ll talk about receiving feedback and concerns from others.
How to Bring a Concern to a Leader
What not to do:
In a past job that I had, I received a message from my leader that had me completely upset. I responded right away–in the moment when I was upset. I didn’t say much, but it was enough for him to know I was not happy.
Then, my leader called me. I knew I was not in a good space to talk. I knew I needed time to calm down and process my emotions. But, I picked up the phone anyway.
And I unloaded all my thoughts and feelings right in the moment. I told him exactly what I was feeling–and let’s just say it was NOT my finest moment.
After that phone call I was sure I was going to be released from my role. However, there was grace and forgiveness.
But I can tell you this: that was NOT an effective or useful way to bring my concerns to my leader. It was the exact opposite of that, and I definitely let my flesh win the battle of how to respond in that situation.
What I am sharing today is not from a place of “I have it all figured out” but rather “I’ve made some mistakes and here’s what I’ve learned… and here’s what I think might be helpful for you if you need to bring a concern to a leader.”
Two times you might need to bring up a concern:
There are a lot of different scenarios in which you might need to bring feedback or a concern to a leader. In some cases, like it was with mine, it could be an issue that is immediate and directly impacts the work you are doing. You might be an employee or team member, and the concern may be related to the work environment, the team atmosphere, or the relationships on the team.
Other times, you might be attending a church, for example, and the pastor preaches on a topic and shares something that you either have questions about or don’t agree with. In those situations, you may not be an employee or a staff or even a member of a team… but rather a participant in that church or ministry who has concerns.
The situation I was thinking about when I first thought of doing this episode is the 2nd one–the one where you attend a church or you’re a member of someone’s community online, and they say or do something that concerns you.
But I hope what I share today will be beneficial for either scenario.
4 Steps for Bringing a Concern to a Leader
Step 1: Assess the need for the conversation
First ask yourself: does this issue need to be brought to the leader’s attention? In my situation with my leader, yes, I do think I needed to share my concerns. But I definitely did not need to do so right then.
In the situation where perhaps your pastor at church has preached something that you feel is questionable… ask yourself: is this a big enough issue that I should be concerned about it? Does it relate to salvation or the core doctrines of the faith? Or is it more of a secondary issue?
Check in with yourself, too, and ask yourself if this is a matter of personal conviction or is it truly a biblical mandate? A lot of times, the things that have us concerned are around personal convictions and are not clearly outlined in scripture.
Finally I want to say this about assessing the need: silence is not the answer. Unfortunately, many people stay silent about major concerns because they are afraid of the fall out… afraid of the reaction or the repercussions. And this is a real concern, especially if we are talking about your workplace or if you’re also a leader.
In some cases, if you bring a concern to a leader, you could be at risk of losing your job or more. However, if it truly is a matter of sin or someone breaking the law or doing something unethical, it is vital to bring this to the light.
We’ve discussed the issue of speaking up when it’s hard or risky with a couple of our guests: Episode 80 with Sharon Hodde Miller and Episode 121 with Terra Mattson.
Step 2: Share your concerns with curiosity rather than accusations
I’ve heard people say: “If you hear your pastor preaching something that doesn’t align with scripture, go to him and tell him why you’re concerned and give him resources about the issue, etc.”
Many times, this approach carries with it an attitude of self-righteousness–an attitude that indicates that you have the monopoly on the truth for this particular issue, and your leader needs to be educated on why they are wrong.
So, instead of going to your leader saying, “here’s the thing I’m concerned about, this is why, and this is what I think you need to change”, I believe we need to go in with an attitude of humility and curiosity.
For example, you could say: “Hey [name], I really appreciate all that you do and I love being a part of your (team, organization, church). Recently you shared something and I had some questions about it. I would love to be able to learn a little more about your perspective on this.”
If you’re on the receiving end, which of those 2 approaches are you most likely to be open to? The second one feels alot better right?
So then after you’ve come with the attitude of humility, you can share what your concerns are. If you can be specific and have examples, that is helpful. Present the concerns without accusing your leader… try not to use blaming language or language that assumes the leader has made awful decisions or behaved badly.
Then ask, “Could you share your perspective on these issues?”
Step 3: Be open to hearing your leader’s response
Now here’s the real kicker. You need to actually be willing to listen and hear your leader’s reply to your concerns.
And he or she may not have an immediate response right away. There might need to be a separate meeting, phone call, or email.
Whatever the case is, be willing to step back and hear the response. Ask more questions as needed, but do so in a way that is curious rather than angry.
Oftentimes, the leader has actually thought about your concerns. They may have done some research about the topic and/or already processed through a lot of the issues you’re bringing up. So give him or her a chance to share this!
You can also confirm that you are hearing your leader by saying something like: “So what I’m hearing you say is….. Is that correct or did I miss anything?”
Step 4: Evaluate and determine your next steps
Finally, after the conversation, you’ll need to consider what your leader shared and determine how you want to proceed. Was the leader receptive to the conversation? Did he or she hear your concerns? Did they provide a response to your concerns?
In some situations, you may be satisfied with the answers. It may have given you clarity or at least a deeper understanding of why the leader holds the position they do.
Remember you do not have to agree with someone on everything to be under their leadership. It is okay if you disagree, as long as that point of disagreement doesn’t create a level of tension that you are not able to live with.
In some circumstances, especially if it’s a big enough theological issue, you may make a decision to leave a church. But I really think it’s vital, if at all possible, for you to at least attempt a conversation before doing so.
Kadi Cole provided some guidance for us on this issue in episode 60. She was speaking specifically about the issue of women in leadership, but I think this principle can apply to a variety of topics. (Note: this is not a direct quote rather a summary of her points during this portion of the interview).
If you disagree with the theology, you do need to leave the church unless you can set aside your beliefs for the sake of the kingdom because you’ve been called to that church.
If you agree with the theology, but disagree with the culture, this is the place to lead change. Step into what God’s given you. Show up.
There may be a difference between the theology your church holds vs. the culture of the church. It’s vital to seek God and ask Him to guide your next steps.
I hope that this 4-step process will help you the next time you have a concern or an issue that you want to bring up to a leader.
“Silence is not the answer.”
“We need to go into conversations with an attitude of humility and curiosity.”
“You do not have to agree with someone to be under their leadership.”
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Find out more and grab this mini-course here: http://confidentconversations.co/
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