By Tim Spivey, lead planter of New Vintage Church (San Diego)
Staff reviews are thought by some to be intrinsically miserable and somewhat useless. They really don’t have to be. They can actually be a time staff looks forward to. I was reviewed for nearly 15 years in a way similar to what I describe below by elders or supervisors at the churches I served. I never received a poor review, and only once did I ever feel any elder tried to use a review punitively. Thankfully, he was outnumbered by others who saw the job I was doing differently. I say this because I want you to know what I’m laying out below isn’t rooted in nightmarish review scenarios of my own. However, those of some of my colleagues have impacted how I think about reviews.
Not counting interns, I’ve done somewhere around 150 pastoral staff reviews. I review every minister and every support staff person. As I’ve gone along, I’ve tried to I add certain components I felt were missing from my own reviews. I also took away things I believe created unnecessary anxiety in staff. I’ve never “outsourced” staff reviews to someone else. One year, that meant doing nearly 30 of them myself over a 3-week period. It was somewhat exhausting and obviously a sacrifice of time — but soooo worthwhile. Staff reviews are an extremely valuable ministry tool for the reasons I described in my last post.
I know there are some better ways out there. Here’s how I do it.
1. Choose the right setting. I used to do reviews in my office. The upside was it was professional and clarified our respective roles on staff. However, I also found it to be an emotionally sterile environment. People would listen to me, but not talk. Now, I nearly always do them over a meal at a restaurant the staff member likes. It starts things off on the right foot and sets the table for 2-way conversation. It’s just harder to argue or be defensive over chips and salsa. Plus, the free lunch is a gift unto itself.
2. Make sure you have enough time, but not too much time. If you have a staff of under 10 people, 2 hours is about right. If you have too little, you may cut important conversations short. If you go too long, you’ll waste an entire month on reviews, and it means someone is probably dominating the conversation. Because of the desire to break bread with staff as we talk, I typically choose a long lunch hour.
3.Have a clear purpose. The three purposes of our staff reviews are: 1) for them to leave knowing how the church feels about the job they’re doing, 2) For me to hear from them what they need to go to the next level, and 3) For us to go away closer to one another and more dedicated to our ministry than when we sat down. The flow of the meeting typically goes in that order.
4.Have a good tool. Don’t just sit and have a chat. Put some serious thought into the finer points of how they’re doing and write it out. I use a written evaluation tool I’ve attached to this post. You can click the link at the bottom. I’m adapting this tool some for use at NVC. However, since most of my readers serve in established churches rather than church planters, I’ve included an older edition from my days in established churches. I “grade” the staff member in all thirty areas on a 1-to-5 scale, and I use whole numbers (no decimals). Fives are off the charts, and anything under a three must be addressed by March 1 of the next year or further action will be taken. The base is taken from a tool given to me my mentor and professor, the late Dr. Charles Siburt. I’ve changed some of the wording, etc. He would have no problem with me giving this out, as he gave it out freely to hundreds of churches all over the country. I hope you find it helpful. The language of “Character, Competency, Chemistry” is taken from Bill Hybels’ terrific book, Courageous Leadership. The scores in the sample I provide are for a fictitious person doing an outstanding job. After the thirty areas of evaluation, there are three short write-in sections. One to tell them what they are excelling at. One to give them “next level” recommendations. One to summarize and affirm again. We will begin using the adapted version of this tool in the coming year.
5. Be specific. Don’t just say, “You’re doing a great job,” or “We need you to work on your relationships with your teammates.” Tell them how…exactly. I go through the aforementioned 30-points quickly, highlighting any fives or threes, and noting which of the three categories they are excelling in (Character, Competency, Chemistry). But, wherever I comment, I try to be specific and ask for their perspective too. “Do you feel like your relationship with Meagan is getting better or worse?” Wait for their answer and really listen. Then, respond with your own, specific observation.
6. Give them the Mic regularly throughout the conversation. Ask questions throughout, and especially the three below.
7. Do not surprise them. Whether praise or correction, a review should never be the first time you’ve told them.
8. Ask these three questions and really listen to the answers (this is the most important part of the entire review – the listening): 1) Is there anything you want or need to take your ministry to the next level? 2) How can I be a better ministry partner to you? 3) What one thing can I do to make your ministry more fun or fulfilling? I’ve had staff members give me stuff that was absolutely priceless in this section. One asked for financial help getting marriage counseling (I had no idea their marriage was struggling). Another confessed she was hurt when she didn’t get Thanksgiving off because her late husband died on Thanksgiving Day (I had no idea as a brand new minister). I’ve had people apologize for the job they did over the year and give genuine (non-fabricated or high-drama) explanations that reshaped how I saw them as a worker.
9. Be Generous. If we are able to give raises, I like to give raises at review time. This is for two reasons: 1) It’s Christmas time and they can plan better financially knowing how their pay is going to look going forward. 2) I want them to know we’re glad they serve the Lord at our church. Ministers are always hesitant to ask for raises. So, do it for them. When we can’t give raises or one isn’t merited, I still want to have something to give them—a gift card for a night away with their spouse, etc. Evernote pays to have all of their employees houses cleaned twice. Some churches think the humbug approach is better — give the 1% raise every five years if you have to. Bleh. That’s a recipe for low morale and high turnover. I understand if the church can’t do it, they can’t do it. I’ve been there. However, if you can do it, you should do it for those who deserve it. Come January, you’re going to be a lot better off with motivated, high-morale ministers not worrying about money.
10. End with the heartfelt and positive. Don’t leave them with, “We appreciate the job you’ve done this year.” Leave them with something that lets them know your really believe in them, trust them, and are glad you have the blessing of working with them individually.
11. Be sure to pay the check.
There you have it. I’m sure there are better processes, and I’d love to hear yours.
Click on the link for the minister evaluation form. Minister Evaluation Form
***Note: This post adapted from a previous post from 2012.
Tim Spivey is lead planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, CA. Tim is also an adjunct professor of religion at Pepperdine University and purveyor of New Vintage Leadership, a blog offering cutting-edge insights on leadership and theology. He is the author of numerous articles and the book: Jesus, the Powerful Servant.