God's Word for today

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Performance reviews for ministers?

I've just been engaged in an interesting Web discussion over at Methodist Preacher's blog, in which he raised the somewhat controversial topic of evaluating the performance of ministers.

It's an issue that comes up in our Circuit each year, usually at Budget time, when at least one member of the Circuit Finance Committee questions whether increases granted in respect of stipends and allowances are related in any way to merit. From a laity perspective, it's a fair question to ask, especially since virtually all persons in secular employment are subjected to some form of performance review.

I am of course aware that the Superintendent Minister carries out regular "Reviews of Ministry" with each minister, but being still a candidate I have not been part of such a review. Laity have never been privy to the outcome of these reviews.

Methodist Preacher has raised the ire of a number of clergy by questioning the effectiveness of clergy deployment, performance of ministers, "job descriptions", etc. within the British Methodist Church. I have no doubt that many in South Africa are asking the same questions.

As one who is in the process of "crossing over" from laity to clergy, I am in a very scary place right now.

When I was 20 years old I started my training as an accountant - and a pretty useless specimen I was in my first year, I'll confess. Gradually I started to learn the ropes, picking up skills and gaining valuable experience. Upon completion of my training, I embarked on a corporate career spanning 8 years, after which I launched out into my own accounting and tax consultancy practice. In addition, I write on tax topics for MoneywebTax. 18 years and 3 degrees later, I am approaching a point where I would be considered (by some) as an expert in my field.

Then came "that" day at Synod, when God turned my entire world upside-down.

When I started out on my "first" career, I would never have thought that I would be starting all over again - from scratch - at the age of 39. In many ways, Phase One of probation will be just like first year of articles all over again - and I fear that I will be just as useless a specimen as a minister in 2009 as I was as an accountant in 1990.

But one of the things that really helped me grow in my career was the regular feedback in the form of performance appraisals. Now I was considered to be quite a strange animal, at least in the eyes of my bosses. For I wasn't too interested in the areas where I had done well (although these were the things that result in promotions and the fabulously large salary that I was earning at the time) - I wanted to know where my weaknesses were.

In my own business, while there is no "boss" who tells you how well you have done, there is no harsher critic than one's clients. If you do well, they give you more business and recommend you to their friends and colleagues. If you don't, well then, they, er, don't!

Writing for a website also provides opportunities for feedback, especially when it comes to something like tax. For not only do the readers want you to tell them what they don't know about tax - they also want you to reinforce what they do know. And if you get it wrong, the comments come in thick and fast! Get it wrong too many times, and they push off to another site.

So how does this have relevance to ministry? Firstly, I have found in my short time as a pastoral assistant that the congregation doesn't actually expect too much from their minister. You just need to do the following:
  • If someone needs you in a crisis (e.g. a death in the family), be there. Listen to them. Cry with them. Hold their hands. Keep the coffee coming. And if you really have to, say something to them.

  • When taking a service on Sunday, honour the congregation by preparing properly. Believe me, if you stand up in the pulpit and sprout a whole lot of gobbledygook because you were too busy / tired / lazy to prepare a proper message, the congregation knows.

  • Walk your talk. Remember, as a minister, you are telling people how they should live. Such messages should start with you in fromt of the mirror. Jesus never instructed His disciples to do one single thing that He had not first done Himself, and nor should we. It starts with the little things, like keeping appointments and being on time for meetings.

  • Remember that the congregation lives in the same economy that you do, and if you are feeling the pinch, believe me - so are they. So go easy on things like telephones, electricity, stationery, etc. You normally don't have to pay for these things - your congregants do. It's a privilege for you to be accommodated and paid a stipend through the generosity of people who themselves are battling to make ends meet. Never abuse this privilege.

  • Finally, keep your ears open and your gob shut. Members of congregations will entrust you with all sorts of private stuff, which is on a "need to know" basis. In 99.99% of cases, no-one else needs to know.

Now I don't know about any other minister out there, but believe me, I would want to know how I am doing in each of these areas. And with the greatest respect to whoever my future Superintendent is likely to be, he/she is one of the last people who is likely to find out, unless the Society Stewards report me. The District Bishop is even less likely to find out what kind of minister I am, unless I blow it so badly that charges are laid against me!

However, the congregants will know. And the Society Stewards, especially so!

So I want to do something that may seem radical to some. I've never seen this happen in a church context before. And some may believe I am potentially setting myself up for a fall.

What I want to do is to devise a performance review document for a minister, which I intend to hand to Society Stewards for the purposes of evaluating me. Because this is still an idea at this stage, my thinking is that it will be in the form of a questionnaire, with either "yes / no" answers or ratings on a scale of 1 - 5. Each question will have space underneath to provide comments.

Some examples of such questions could be as follows:

  • When Rev Jones conducts a worship service, do you believe that the content of his message brings the congregation closer to God? (Y / N, elaborate)

  • How do you rate Rev Jones' relationship with (a) the church leadership, (b) the congregation, (c) visitors, (d) outsiders? (scale of 1 - 5, elaborate)

  • Do you believe that Rev Jones exercises prudence when it comes to the use of church resources (Y / N, elaborate)

The intention is to group the questions into appropriate categories - these can include the ones listed above (my views on what congregations expect from their minister), and/or other frameworks (e.g. the Four Mission Imperatives).

I am therefore calling on experienced ministers to provide me with feedback as to appropriate criteria on which a minister can be evaluated. Comments can be posted on this blog.

1 comment:

Rock in the Grass (Pete Grassow) said...

I absolutely agree with you that we ministers need feedback/evaluation. It is the only way we will grow and improve. And I for one would like to give my best for God. But getting honest feedback is a very tricky thing. In my experience:
1. Most Church members are kind and generous, and often offer encourgement and support - even when we suck.
2. Some members are only too keen to criticise/offer comment. But this is because of their own needs, and not really about what God needs.
3. Probably the best critique I have has is out of covenanted relationships with a few key members in the congregation who have agreed to walk alongside of me (you will be given a learning partnership as a student minister).