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Create Helpful Ministry Reviews Without a Firing Squad

I asked a fellow pastor, “What’s the review process like in your church?” He said,"It's a firing squad."

Performance Reviews That Don’t Damage

Ministry review processes take a lot of time, involve the wrong people, and in the end aren’t very helpful. A few days ago I asked a fellow pastor, “What’s the review process like in your church?” Listen to my friend’s experience:

“It’s a firing squad,” he said. “My board all fill out surveys ahead of time. Then we gather in a room. They all sit on one side of the table and each take turns telling me what they think I need to improve. They also mention one or two things that I do well, but they’re hard to hear among the list of faults. It’s awful. I feel depressed for days. The worst part is knowing that I could never possibly correct everything. Next year the list will be completely different.”

The Firing Squad

Who wants to go through that? Yet this is an all-too-common scene in many churches. Well-meaning church boards are trying to help their pastor improve, but they are only making things worse. It’s amazing that pastors even stay after something like that.

A Better Way

Daniel Goleman, author of Working with Emotional Intelligence, offers a better way. “In general, the ideal evaluation relies not on any one source but on multiple perspectives. These may include self-reports as well as peer, boss, and subordinate feedback. The ‘360-degree’ evaluation method offers feedback from all these sources and can be a powerful source of data targeting the competencies that need to be improved.” However, even 360-degree reviews can be destructive if done wrong.

Caution: Danger Ahead!

Jezir Vegafria, of the Vanderbloemen Search Group, warns that 360-degree reviews only have moderate value.  This is often due to a lack of careful thought about how the process is conducted.

When giving people 360-degree feedback, Daniel Goleman says “empathy, sensitivity, and delicacy are essential. One common mistake is focusing on people’s weaknesses and failing to note their strong points. This can be demoralizing rather than motivating.”

A good review will:

  • Focus on encouragement rather than judgment.
  • Have the feel of moving positively into the future rather than heaping on shame for the past.
  • Reinforce the person’s strengths, help them focus on what they do well, and minimize their weaknesses.
  • Include constructive steps to help the person improve.
  • Recognize that motivation for change must come from within the person as an expression of their loving relationship with God.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 

– Romans 14:4

Who should conduct the review?

A good 360-degree review will be conducted by an objective third party who is trusted by the person being reviewed. Without this trust relationship, the review is doomed from the start. This person will gather feedback, eliminate the hurtful comments, and compile the helpful statements into a single report. The only people who see this report are the person conducting the review and the person being reviewed. Goleman says that 360-degree feedback results should be “delivered strictly in confidence, one-on-one. No one else sees their results and they never have to share them with anyone.” Don’t even keep a copy of the responses when done with them. This should be a development tool, not a manipulation hammer.

Who should be part of the review process?

360-degree reviews involve getting feedback from a variety of sources, but should include no more than 8-10 people.

  • Members from the elders
  • Staff members or volunteer leaders
  • People who know and love the person being reviewed
  • People from the congregation
  • The person being reviewed

Who should NOT be part of the review process?

  • The whole elder board (or church board)
  • Critical people
  • Angry people
  • People with an agenda or pet issue
  • People who have had a recent conflict with the person being reviewed

A Simple Process Is Best

Charles Stone offers a simple 360-degree review process.  He asks three questions for people to answer within five days.

  • What’s going well under [name’s] leadership (or ministry)?
  • Are there things not going well under [name’s] leadership (or ministry)?
  • What’s missing under [name’s] leadership (or ministry)?

A complicated process will be overwhelming for all involved and runs the risk of damaging rather than helping. The goal of a review process should be to come up with several positive reinforcements of the person and one or two things for the person to work on (chosen by the person being reviewed).

Application

The final step in the review is for the person being reviewed to write out an application of what they have learned. This will include the positive comments to hang on to and a step-by-step process for addressing the weakness they’ve chosen to work on.

This process should be:

  1. Personal – Pick something that only this person can do.
  2. Possible – Pick something that can be done by the person. Don’t pick things that only God can do.
  3. Probable – Pick the things that they are likely to work on. Picking low-hanging fruit will lead to long-term improvement. If the task is too big, failure will be demoralizing.
  4. Provable – Include benchmarks or ways that they can prove when the work is done.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll cover how to do a detailed, self-directed review.

Takeaways:

For Churches

  • What is the emotional effect of your review process? How would you feel if you were subjected to this process?
  • When was the last time your ministry was reviewed? How could you benefit from this process?
  • How does your review process line up with how Scripture says a church should treat its leaders? (See Galatians 6:6-10; 1 Corinthians 9:3-14; Romans 14:1-4; Hebrews 3:7 & 17; Acts 6:4; 1 Timothy 5:17-22.)

For Pastors and Their Families

  • How can you receive reviews from your church with Christ-like humility while maintaining your primary responsibility to God?
  • Do you avoid reviews? Why? Is there shame that needs to be brought to light?
  • How do you make sure you are following what Scripture says you should be for your church? (See Ephesians 4; 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; 1 Peter 5; and James 3.)

Please, leave a comment below. I personally read all the comments and I try to respond within a day. Or we can interact on Twitter (@PastorsSoul) or on our Facebook page.

© Sean Nemecek, 2018. All rights reserved. Request permission.

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