Do You Have a Perception Problem?


By Jake Kircher

perception-problemA few years into the role with the church that I have now been with for eight years, I became more and more frustrated, due to some criticism I was starting to hear from a number of different leaders at the church. Sure, criticism isn’t always easy to hear, especially for someone who is naturally defensive. However, it wasn’t the criticism in and of itself that caused my frustration. It was the fact that almost all of it wasn’t applicable!

Now, as I’ve already admitted to being a bit defensive from time to time, let me explain. For the most part, the criticisms that I was receiving at that point seemed to fall into one of two categories:

  1. They were opinions of people who had never even been to the youth program, didn’t have kids themselves and hadn’t consulted any parents or students for actual feedback.
  2. They were criticizing aspects of youth ministry programming that I had actually changed months prior.

Naïve. Ignorant. Stupid. Those were the growing angry thoughts on my mind every time another person shared feedback about how the youth ministry should be run. I had plenty of days where I was tempted to just walk away and let these “experts” run the ministry since they were so sure of what we should have been doing.

I very quickly understood that I had a pretty big perception problem on my hands. The way that some leaders in the church were viewing my leadership and the youth ministry programming wasn’t accurate. It’s really easy to get angry and defensive because of someone’s bad perception; but that doesn’t change the fact that the perception exists. Instead, I learned that what’s important is to take a step back from the emotion and take the time to understand why people are seeing things they way they are.

As I did that in my situation, I eventually began to figure out that I was as much a part of the perception problem as they were. Sure, leaders in my church were sharing feedback of a program for which some of them had no context; but part of that was my fault for a few reasons:

First, I realized that I needed to do a better job with including others in the process of making or evaluating changes in the programs we were running. I am a very driven, get-it-done type of a person, which comes in handy quite a bit. But the downside is that sometimes I incorrectly assume that everyone is on the same page as I am. If I had been more proactive about talking with different people on leadership about potential changes, their perceptions wouldn’t have been off.

Second, I learned that I needed to do a better job of telling stories. Again, because of my task-oriented personality, most of my reports in leadership meetings were going through my checklist of accomplishments. That’s all well and good. However, taking the time to share a couple of stories from student or parents experiences would have helped provide a better context.

Third, it was immature of me to want adults to respect my leadership when I dressed and acted more like a teenager than an adult. Of course people were questioning what I was doing because I carried myself like someone that needed to be questioned! It’s all well and fine if you want to dress a certain way when you are with students (honestly, I don’t think it really matters how you dress when you’re with students, but that’s another blog post…), but you can’t expect other adults to see or treat you like a peer if you don’t look the part.

Now, these three things that I learned about myself may not apply directly to you, but the fact of the matter is that throughout ministry we will always find people who have a different perception about our leadership and our ministries. Instead of getting angry the next time that happens, I’d challenge you to take it as an opportunity to humbly evaluate yourself and figure out the ways that you can grow as a leader.