Church Finances and Business: The Annual Review

collection.jpgThis is from a great post by Todd Rhoades at “Monday Morning Insight” regarding how to conduct a periodic review of church employees. But before getting to Todd’s advice, some background thoughts.

1. Many elderships don’t do annual reviews of their ministers. Some say that job reviews are too much like a business. Others don’t like conflict. Others say they have a continuous mentoring relationship with the staff and so don’t need a formal review. Well, business isn’t inherently evil, conflict avoidance is dangerous, and I don’t believe you. Even if you have a heavenly relationship with your staff, it’s unlikely that you’ve covered all the points that matter. Moreover, speaking as someone who was once an employee, there’s no such thing as too much feedback.

2. Some ministers hate performance reviews. For some this is because they hate being reminded they answer to someone other than themselves. Grow up. Others resent the reviews because they’re done poorly. Fine. Help your elders get some training. (ElderLink or maybe a training course at the local Chamber of Commerce. Seriously.)

Elders should periodically review the performance of their ministers, at least annually. Sometimes it should be a 360-degree review, taking into account input from people who work with them, under them, and over them on the organizational chart. Sometimes it’s just the elders.

If you don’t do a review, certain bad things happen —

* Problems and complaints are not addressed. Rather, they fester. Either the minister or the elders have no place to express their unhappiness, and so the problems get worse. Eventually, a good man gets fired or looks for other employment just to avoid the unexpressed, unresolved tension.

* The minister doesn’t know what the elders expect from him. Do they want him to oversee adult education? The youth minister? What’s his fault and what’s not his fault? Are they unhappy with his work ethic? Do they know how very hard he’s working?

* An emotional separation between the minister and elders develops. They have unresolved problems, they aren’t happy with their relationship, and they aren’t talking. The elders may even have different expectations of the minister, and they’ve never worked it out. Therefore, meetings become unpleasant. Trust evaporates.

Is an annual review the only way to solve these problems? No. It’s not even the best way (ongoing, continuous, open communicate is better but not sufficient). But the formality of a periodical job reviews forces both sides to think through things, to decide what’s important and what’s not, and assures the minister that he knows how the elders feel. You just have to discipline yourself to periodically say to the minister how you feel about his work.

And you need to give him the opportunity to do the same. It just helps.

Here’s Todd’s advice —

Check your motives. When I consider the big picture of ministry evaluation, as a supervisor, I ultimately have to return to the motive of my heart. It is everything. Like a ballast to a sailboat, if your sincere desire is for the development of your direct report [the person being evaluated], then you will find the balance that will maximize this important opportunity.

Think STEWARDSHIP. Often before I sit down with a person for a time of ministry evaluation, I will reflect on the responsibility of stewardship for which it calls. I go to a quiet place in my heart and consider how blessed I am to speak into the life and leadership of another person. I envision the time like a box of fine china marked “handle with care.”

Write it down. A ministry evaluation is a very deliberate and intentional process and, as such, requires the precision that comes from writing it down. The impact of an evaluation is markedly enhanced in a carefully-worded document. As a written document, it not only has “weight” in the moment, but even more so as the person reflects on it in the ensuing days.

Emphasize affirmation. Of the 5-6 categories in the ministry evaluation document that I have developed through the years, the first (and longest) one is AFFIRMATION. This section is a bulleted list of several areas of praise that I want to call out. For example, “Steve is a man who passionately pursues his walk with God” or “Judy is a pastor who is highly effective in developing leaders.”

Be honest. It is better NOT to do an evaluation than to do one that is less than honest. As a supervisor, and more importantly, as a leader, you owe it to your direct report to speak the truth in love. A ministry evaluation is the perfect opportunity to do so because it comes with a built-in expectation of candid feedback. Don’t miss the moment.

Be ready. Teeing up a tough conversation in a ministry evaluation takes concerted effort, but is well worth the investment. When it comes to addressing a difficult topic, thinking through and, at times, scripting your words can make a huge difference. For example, “Jim, I’d like to talk about a topic that I believe is essential to your ongoing development as a leader. I trust you will hear my heart and my commitment to you as we discuss it together.”

Invite input. In chasing down a difficult topic, often it is helpful to launch the discussion by putting a question on the table. For example, “Susan, as I read through the comments submitted by some of your ‘third party’ evaluators, there is a consistent theme about your reluctance to accept the input of other people. What’s going on here? Why do you think they would share that comment?”

Prioritize SELF-evaluation. Perhaps the most valuable lesson I have learned in my years of doing ministry evaluation is the strategic place of self-evaluation. Every ministry evaluation process begins with the person assessing their own life and leadership using a set of reflective questions. At minimum, two things will happen. First, you will discover with new intensity both the joys and frustrations being faced by this person. And second, you will find that the vast majority of the challenging topics that need to be vetted are initiated by the person himself.

Establish benchmarks. One of the many values of a ministry evaluation is the “paper trail” that it creates—a formal and written track record of one’s performance. This historical record is particularly helpful (not to mention critical when it comes to meeting HR standards) when the need arises to substantiate that there is an ongoing pattern of sub-par performance and it is time to consider some remedial steps or a change in employment status.

Keep a tight focus. Every ministry evaluation process needs to have a clear statement of what the person needs to do to continue the (lifelong) process of development. Through the years, I have found that this should be limited to 1-2 items. At least one item, because EVERYONE is a ‘work in progress’ and needs to know what their next step is. And no more than two items so that there is the ability to bring strategic attention to the area most in need of development.

Stay current. When all is said and done, a ministry evaluation should contain no “surprises.” Surprises ultimately reveal that the supervisor has not sustained an ongoing dialogue about the direct report’s effectiveness. A ministry evaluation is the time to reintroduce important themes and to mutually establish the game plan for addressing them.

Look for patterns. In evaluating people, a wise supervisor will probe for patterns, not the “one-offs.” It is important to identify the actions and attitudes that are CONSISTENTLY reflected in a person’s life and ministry. Those are the ones worthy of deliberation.

Now, let me add a couple of thoughts —

* Give the praise last. If you praise first and then criticize, it sounds like you’re praising to soften the blow of what really matters, the ending criticism. It’s normally better for the minister to hear the praise after the criticism, so he knows he’s appreciated despite his imperfections.

* No one has all the gifts. If a minister is weak in an area, consider whether you can better support him by letting him focus on what he’s good at and providing a volunteer or another staff member who can fill in where he’s lacking. Obviously, some job skills are essential, but time may be better spent helping in further develop his strengths than in tending to weak areas where he simply doesn’t have the gift.

Thus, if a minister is great with people and relationships but terrible with the budget, and if repeated efforts to train him in budgeting have failed, rather than firing him, perhaps you move the financial side of the ministry to a volunteer gifted in handling money. Who knows? You may save a minister from firing and avoid replacing him with a man who can do books but doesn’t get along with people.


One Response

  1. I don’t disagree with anything in your post but I do have a question. Who reviews elders? Don’t they need a check up too?


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