“Evaluation.” I cringe when I hear the word. Even though I am a STRONG believer in evaluating. I do it every day, every week, every month, every year: I’m constantly evaluating something. Personally, relationally, professionally – constantly watching for hints of where I can be better. So why do I hate preacher evaluations.” It’s got to be past experience. My experience tells me that most every action/requirement/weird thing a leadership does in it’s dealings with ministers is a reaction to something in the past. i.e. Office hours, had a guy who slept in all the time or didn’t prepare well. And as painful as they might be – I also believe we need honest encouragement to improve from those who love us.
A few things upfront: I have been blessed at every congregation I have worked with but there is no such thing as perfect on this earth. So don’t believe either that I am whining or bellyaching or throwing anyone under the bus OR that I have it perfect and you’ll never have the honor of working this a great church. Dad taught us years ago that to a large degree working with a local church is what we make of it – you can see and feel how you choose to about any specific situation. Now, let’s go.
In my first full time work was a doozie! I loved them and they loved me. But they had this thing. Since they didn’t have elders and ran things through a men’s business meeting, every six months they had the most unusual of meetings. They would convene the meeting with whoever happened to be chair that month reading a statement: “We are going to fire the preacher…why shouldn’t we?” And then what happened happened and at the end of the hour or two hour or eternal meeting – I (who was to be sequestered in my office) would have two men who would come and tell me if I still had a job or what i needed to adjust to keep my job. On a side note – there normally would be 10-15 men in the men’s meeting but when that one came up 20-30 would show up! And one good guy had 3 sons who were baptized believers and so he would make sure they made that meeting – hence he had 4 votes – you better bet I tried to keep him happy :).
In another work the evaluation was a 15 page document, yep 15 pages, in which the seven elders evaluated me on every nuance and nuisance imaginable. I would be judged on a 1-10 scale on everything from the length of my sermons to the style of my attire (yeah). The low point of that came when they reviewed the results with me and of the 150+ items I got a composite score on 9.8 but in one area I got a 9.5 and they were “concerned” about my performance in that area. Really? My low score was a 95 and they were afraid I needed work there. Good thing they didn’t grade me on anger management!
In 2006 I moved to Spring Hill and began my work here. Shortly after helping ordain elders they said I would have an annual review. I thought: “Here we go again.” But I was wrong. We’ve learned together how to do encouraging reviews that have helped me learn and grow and not kicked me in the shin!
I want to share with you how to do a review – because these guys know how to do one:
1. We need to remember that we are on the same team. The Lord’s church “wins” when the elders and it’s minister’s work together. Preacher’s my experience says that if you get in a fight with your eldership, somewhere around 10 out of 10 times the elders will win that war. Regardless of who wins the turf struggle for power the Work of Christ is most ofter seriously setback.
2. Make a mutually agreed upon document: – Write your initial agreement down. As a human I forget things. And sometimes there is a change in leadership. Things written down help with that. – A written document also helps to clarify expectations and mutual responsibilities. – This is to be a “living document.” Discuss what changes need to be made to this document each year.
3. Talk together: – Express genuine love! If you can’t you probably need to go separate ways as soon as possible. – Don’t just gripe! Actually try to find ways to help him improve! – Let your minister know what is big and what is little! There are things I need to improve on and there are things it is essential that I improve on. As leaders you need to know you will never have a perfect preacher – so determine that there are some deficiencies you can live with.
4. Do not let one elder speak for the elders unless he is in fact speaking for the eldership: When doing a review/evaluation if one elder is only speaking for himself and the others do not agree that is really an unfair position to put the preacher in. Also watch for elders who try to speak at any time for the eldership without authorization. That’s a spiritual issue. I know of one young man who was “grilled” by an elder to the point of tears. When we talked I advised him to find out if the bully elder was speaking for himself or the whole eldership as he was representing he spoke for all. Well, he wasn’t and shortly the renegade elder shortly resigned. We preacher types take the authority of elderships seriously – so one man speaking as if for the whole group is shaking at least.
5. Be creative. What follows is personal but with all the above as a backdrop here are some of the ways my shepherds have guided me to be better over the past 10 years: – One year they said about 2 weeks before the meeting: “When you started here we were ___ (size) and now we are ____. What do you need to do different as a minister to a church of ____?” It made me think about my own growth, opportunities and limitations. – We end up discussing scheduling often: I came with an agreement that I could be gone 6 Sundays plus any time we had a guest speaker in. Scheduling away time has always been a source of “discussion” between us. Their approach to it makes me feel valued instead of complained at. “We want/need you here more because our people love your preaching” is better than “You’re gone to much. We pay you to be here.” – It’s always a challenge to hear things about your preaching that need to change. BUT you know you are not perfect and that you need to be better. Why not listen to the people who hear you every week? And if you know they love you and you want to be with them longterm invite this as a discussion. One year they told me that I put too much into my lessons and it makes me rush. I knew they were right but hearing it was powerful as they said: “We need you to prepare less.” About a year after dad died they talked to me about grieving and helped me move forward with that. They were tender and compassionate and it made a real difference to have them pray for me and love me through a challenging time. A while back we’d had a rough 18 months as a congregation. I was continually trying to evaluate if I was “the problem” and it might be time for me to move on. That year they said: “We need you to stop preaching to the people who left. Preach to and minister to the many who want to be here.” – They did me a big favor one year in our annual evaluation: They just handed me a check and said “We are thankful for the work you do and want to say it in a tangible way.” They didn’t have to do that. I am already paid. And I’m sure there were/are still things I need to improve on that they could have discussed with me. The amount of the check didn’t matter – just the fact of it’s existence and what it communicated did.
6. Offer solutions: This is bigger than you can imagine if you are an elder. You just see a need for improvement. BUT why not do something novel – actually become a participant in helping him improve! Pay for him to go to a seminar that will help him get BETTER (sorry, I couldn’t help it :)). Be specific with him as to what about his preaching needs to improve. Invite him to go hear some people who are excellent in their presenting. Give him a week away to prepare ahead with no other responsibilities ministerially during those times. Ask guys who do what you need him to do better for a book list. Or ask them to take your guy to lunch and spend time with him helping him. Be open and honest but become a team to improve.
7. Give fair and specific time frames to check for improvement and updates of progress.
8. If there is nothing to discuss don’t make something just ‘cause “nobody deserve a 10” – really? I had an elder once say “I never give a 10 on anything because no one is perfect.” So immediately I was downgraded in my evaluation. If I can’t get a 10 why have a 10 on the scale? If the guy is doing a great job tell him he’s doing a great job. Don’t nit-pick. Don’t complain that he “doesn’t wear a long-sleeved white shirt every week” if he is delivering solid, faith-building, challenging, biblical sermons.
It’s my desire not to brag or to complain in this but for this little post to get you thinking and to encourage healthier relations between elders and preachers.