Starting a new job is hard. I don’t care if it’s at Baskin Robbins ice cream shop or running a Fortune 500 company, being in a new environment where you’re out of your element is intense. This is where I find myself. At times I’ve felt very comfortable in my new role. I enjoy meeting new people, learning about the history of the church, strategizing for the future and even taking time to create a workspace that has a sense of flow to it. But then, along come those dreaded long nights where I bolt out of bed and think, “I can’t do this. This doesn’t feel right. The problems are too huge to be solved.” Of course there are a handful of well-meaning friends who offer up some form of advice like” “Just pray. God will help you through it.” While true, the prayer seems somewhat trite without any practical tools to walk me through this strange in-between time.
A recent article in the magazine Christian Century (July 22, 2015) highlighted the benefits of good pastoral evaluations. Since I was beginning a working relationship with my pastor, I thought it would have valuable insight to help him be a better leader for me. What I discovered instead was a reminder of some quality advice my brother-in-law Bryan gave before I accepted this job. He knows how hard it is to hire the right people and he’s had a lot of experience in lay leadership in the church. I imagine he’s seen the effects of not providing clear roles and responsibilities for new staff. While he agreed that the job seemed to be a good fit, he stressed that the church Council had to develop a clear list of expectations before I accepted the job. Sure, the phone interviews were insightful and well done, the face-to-face interview gave me a good impression of the ministry and I thoroughly enjoyed the people; but, the job was a new one for the church and much of it was ambiguous and left to personal interpretation.
I’m happy to report that Crossroads CRC did indeed provide me a list of amazing expectations that tapped into my gifts, my personality and the mission of the church. What I most appreciate is the fact that I now have a measurement tool to guide me in the coming years of ministry work. This is what a performance evaluation aims for–it’s a tool to keep the working relationship moving forward in a positive and nurturing manner. I believe those who are in the business of hiring don’t want to see their new employees fail. Too much time, money and energy is wasted when we don’t do the hard work of clarifying what we’re aiming for.
I know it’s hard for churches to regularly assess the performance of their pastor and staff. It just doesn’t seem nice or kind to deliver hard news in the form of constructive feedback. Some congregations are fearful that structuring regular assessments makes church too much like a corporation. And others think that providing any critique questions the pastor’s call to ministry. I think if we look at the process as a mutual encounter between people who trust each other, we more clearly see the benefits. In today’s culture, story-telling is an effective way to communicate and I recommend that we ditch reviews that rate performance on some type of arbitrary scale. Instead, reviews conducted in narrative form allow staff members to share what they’ve been working on, reflect on how they see their efforts in the life of the church and to hear new ways they may grow in their position. I’m a champion of annual performance reviews but this doesn’t eliminate the need for pastors and staff to engage in frequent and candid conversations with church members and leaders. There’s nothing more exciting than hearing how people are growing in their faith life and those stories inform the work that you do.
The author concludes by stating: “Congregations that develop good review structures not only do a favor for their pastor or staff, they also inspire internal morale and confidence for what they hope their church will accomplish in the world.” I can’t think of a more compelling reason to do the hard work now.
6 essentials for pastoral evaluations
- An annual review (a 90 day check-in review for is helpful for new staff
- Specific feedback
- Constructive and collaborative reviews. Face to face reviews are a must
- Reviews conducted by your supervisor or in the case of a solo pastor, two or three congregational leaders.
- Realistic goals. SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely
- Written documentation.