by Greg Anderson
Ministry can be difficult and there are many reasons why.
Sometimes ministers create difficulty by not being team players. At other times, church leaders’ formal expectations, those written in a job description, do not match tacit expectations, those written in their hearts. Sometimes, church member attitudes encourage ministers to scour the classifieds.
Regardless, there is one “ministry can be difficult” contributor that has derailed ministries in churches of all shapes and sizes. The good news is – it does not have to be the case!
The contributor? Lack of clear expectations related to desired ministry outcomes.
The solution? Staff performance evaluation.
Before you throw your hands up and say, “That’s too corporate! We’re a church, not a business!” please hear me out. Performance evaluation is a term that describes a process of mutual accountability. If done poorly, any method of coaching, mentoring, or employee development is a recipe for disaster. However, if approached with the right spirit, it can be a great exercise in co-discovery related to course correction and future growth.
Scripture is full of instances where those in authority clarified expectations of those they commissioned to carry out projects, ministries, and responsibilities of various scope and size. For example, in 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul outlines God’s will for church leaders as he encourages them to balance correcting, rebuking and exhorting church members while preaching the Word of God. Paul contextualizes these desired outcomes within the context of “great patience.” If we couple a passage like this with Paul’s “committing to the word of God’s grace” the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, we see a posture that makes performance evaluation life giving, not demeaning or harmful to staff members.
In professional job contexts performance evaluation is typically defined as, “Formal determination of an individual’s job-related actions and their outcomes within a particular position or setting.” I think similar terminology can be used in a church setting, but I prefer the term “conversation” over “formal determination.”
In our previous posts, I mentioned assessing performance at a minimum of once every six months. The idea is to look back and look ahead. The ideal is to mitigate broken expectations from stacking for months or possibly years. The point is to diminish the likelihood of scarring, scapegoating, firing, or any number of less than desirable outcomes.
The process of performance evaluation may:
- Be used to create an individual development plan for one staff member or an entire team.
- Recognize gifts and celebrate wins.
- Reinforce positive ministry performance.
- Identify opportunities for ministry improvement.
- Hold staff members accountable for personal and team performance.
- Provide opportunity for a staff member to comment on his or her ministry execution and clarify expectations.
- Examine if job performance is moving forward the vision and mission of the organization.
- Provide bases for determining pay increases.
While performance evaluation does “look back” in order to ascertain opportunity for improvement, the primary motivation is proactive, meaning it “looks forward” in order to keep expectations clear and keep staff on board for the long haul.
At first glance, it is tempting to think this performance evaluation is a controlling mechanism. In a sense, it is a form of quality control, but it is not intended as a means of confining individuals to a rigid punch list of do’s and don’ts. Quite the contrary! Proper performance evaluation puts both the eldership (or governing board) and staff in position to analyze what is and isn’t working. This enables them to focus more on what is working and make course adjustments on what is not.
So, how does this help the church? Please allow me to answer that question by posing another, “If the governing board and staff do not have clear expectations of one another then how can the church have clear expectations related to overall direction?”
Performance evaluation conversations are not shared with the church. Those exchanges are between the elders and staff members. However, the church most certainly benefits when the staff and elders are “rowing in the same direction and at the same speed.”
The church also benefits when staff members have a clear sense of purpose and direction. Purposeful performance evaluation contributes to such clarity. Additionally, such open dialogue mitigates the probability of making a bad situation worse and keeps verbal and non-verbal communication congruent.
Performance evaluation is not a silver bullet for all ministry woes, but if facilitated properly, it can act as “good soil” for healthy seeds to take root and flourish.