Reviews and Appraisals

Reviews & Appraisals

How can we get the balance right between supporting church workers and holding them accountable for what they do?

“I'd rather be hit by a snowball each month, then face an avalanche once a year!”

That person was talking about appraisals.

It’s an issue that surfaces when staff, including a sole pastor, work for the church. How can we get the balance right between supporting them and holding them accountable for what they do and how they behave?

Many churches do appraisals ‘tacitly’ in that nothing is spelt out, but it works informally or in an ad-hoc way. When there is a crisis or failure, some never-before-mentioned procedure kicks in reflecting a concoction of biblical verses (e.g. 1 Cor 5:1-7; 1 Tim 5:30; or even 1 Tim 1:20!).

It can all feel a bit botched.

Others have opted for reviews. But the language and intention can be confusing. In the world of secular work, an annual review or appraisal is an opportunity to measure a worker’s performance against a set of criteria. It may be about checking how the job they do relates to their job description. It may be to assess how well they perform against other workers or against measures of productivity.

But a review may also be used as part of a disciplinary procedure. As I have listened to people in the workplace, many feel an annual review isn't that helpful.In my experience, the church takes ideas from appraisals and reviews, but then adds a whole new dimension: namely the pastoral care and support for someone who is working ‘for the family firm’ - namely our church. In that context, people are confused about being direct about problems a worker may have caused. On top of that, who appraises whom? What are they appraising? How is it all to be done well?There is also the matter to resolve of how a worker raises difficult employment issues, and with whom? Do they tell their home group that the boss is causing them stress and request prayer? Most other workers may do this, but it is virtually impossible if your boss is the pastor and he leads your home group!

What is the forum for raising concerns - not only about the actual job, but plans for continuing professional development such as, ‘What does my long-term future look like?’ ‘Will I be gaining extra responsibilities?’ ‘Does the church reflect that in terms of its remuneration?’ These are the kinds of things an employee elsewhere legitimately might get opportunity to bring up in a work context.Somehow working for a church can feel so different. And in way it is.

Nearly all pastors up until recently were classified as ‘stipendiary’; that is, their pay wasn't remuneration for work done, but a resource to release them to serve. ‘The boss’ wasn't technically the church, or deacons, but they served the Lord directly, apportioning out their time to duties as their wisdom, conscience, and calling seemed to demand.The growth of churches with larger staff teams, changes in employment law, and a desire to model good practice have been a few of the factors that have meant that many churches have wanted to rethink good employment practice.Here are some structural ways a church might shape this. This isn't at all to play down informal discussions, or a drop in and chat between a supervisor and worker, but something about organising ourselves well.

1. Aim for Clarity

About terms and conditions, pay scales and holiday. It should be clear how this is to be monitored and clear how staff can claim legitimate expenses.

2. Structured Support

A worker needs to know who will be helping them to succeed. That is the main role of a boss, line manager, or supervisor. They should want to see the worker progress, achieve their goals and prove themselves (2 Tim 2:15; 1 Tim 4:15). This should be done:

a) Weekly

Workers and staff meet to pray, share and follow a generalised CARE plan. At Grace Community Church we look at one aspect of the plan each week. Touching base keeps us focused on the spiritual priorities God has given to us all as we serve the church.

b) Monthly

A meeting, no more than an hour, when worker and supervisor meet for ‘job talk’. It is slightly one way in its focus and has two main elements:

  1. How has the past month gone for you? What has gone well? What problems have you encountered? How have you tried to overcome them and what is still outstanding?
  2. What are your priorities and plans for the coming weeks and months? What are you prioritising? What does your diary look like? What are you hoping to achieve? The supervisor can compare the worker’s understanding of their priorities with a formal job description or the agreed understanding of what the worker should be doing.

These are the monthly ‘snowball’ meetings; if there are concerns they can be brought up here by both parties, but especially by the supervisor. If necessary, an action plan can be drawn up to help address specific issues of misunderstanding.

Addressing issues of actual practice are harder; coaching or mentoring involving others may be necessary, but this demands of a lot of time and needs to be done carefully. If the issues in the monthly meeting are very serious and can't be resolved, a structure will need developing so that direct conversations can be had to address weaknesses or confusion. Monthly meetings would be helped if there were a recorded list of action points that supervisor, worker and other related staff can see.

c) Annual: Type 1

A meeting involving the supervisor and another leader to give a worker opportunity to raise employment, training, and performance issues.

This annual meeting should help to encourage the worker, to reset vision, to report on progress, and to listen carefully to any matters frustrating them. A pro forma may be used with questions such as, ‘Are we supporting you as an employer? What are your main achievements?’, and ‘How can we help you further?’

One procedure we have sometimes used at Grace Church is a 360° review. We have asked 12-20 people to give anonymous and confidential feedback on the worker – peers, bosses, home group members, and general church members. The form they were asked to fill-in slanted towards the positive and appreciative, but also with an opportunity to respond to a question such as, ‘Are there any areas you feel X could improve in?’

I think these reviews are helpful, but time-consuming and they can be very difficult to follow-up.

d) Annual: Type 2

I would also suggest another kind of annual meeting with a more pastoral approach. This should be held without the immediate boss or other workers being involved. ‘Lay elders’ could take this forward very helpfully.

Questions about the worker’s personal life, family pressures, and general stresses are more appropriate here. The person’s general spiritual progress and growth in grace can be discussed, and support given. Questions about general church life fit best in this setting. I know it seems somewhat artificial to separate ‘my job’ from ‘my church and my spiritual involvement’, but it seems to me that it can help both worker and church raise and deal with a variety of problems, being fair to all.

Should annual meetings be totally confidential? I think Type 2 must be, but Type 1 can be written up and kept as part of a worker’s employment record.

A question we must address is whether or not a pastor should be supported in these ways?

I think that most pastors would really benefit if a couple of other leaders, not in direct employment, followed the monthly and Type 2* annual schedules with him. It would provide spiritual encouragement and some accountability. Some local pastors have gone AWOL because this was lacking.

Conclusion

None of these meetings need to be inquisitorial or framed in suspicious, cautious ways. All are ‘pastoral in essence’, but some explicitly deal with work related issues and others have a clearer intention of spiritual support without the person feeling they are being constantly assessed. The framework needn’t be wooden, but the structure seeks to be fair and caring for all concerned.

As with all pastoral meetings, others need to be informed of them taking place, and any male/female staff meetings need to be done with others in proximity.

*The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read, Christopher Ash (Good Book Co, 2019). It’s worth saying that this is an excellent book where Ash suggests really helpful ways you can support your pastor and other leaders in this way.

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