It's Time to Talk About Performance and Evaluations

Rev. Toni G. Boehm, Ph.D.

For this months article I came across wise words from ministry consultant, John Wimberly His words rang so true to me that I decided to share them verbatim. Wimberly is discussing performance and evaluation and how the effect teams and the ministry as a whole. I hope you enjoy his wisdom, as much as I did.

John Wimberly shares, “When I told the pastor that I wanted to use some of my time at his staff retreat to discuss performance, he responded (with a smile), “Performance is a word we don’t use in our denomination.” With a similar smile, I replied, “Not to worry, we don’t use it in my denomination either.” While we were joking, we were also serious. Performance is a subject that is avoided in too many congregations.

Why is discussion of performance not a major topic in congregations? It certainly is a major topic in most non-profit and for-profit organizations. Indeed, for successful organizations, a drive to perform effectively and efficiently is at the heart of their vision. To change the world, we need to be performing at peak efficiency. For example, books written about Dr. King’s civil rights work reveal one of the highest performing organizations in our nation’s history.

Whether it be the performance of the congregational system as whole, parts of the system such as committees or teams, or individual staff members, performance is not a topic we embrace in most congregations. Yes, many congregations have a system of annual performance reviews. However, even many of those tend to be seemingly unrelated to performance. Following a performance review, under–performing staffers continue to be employed; high performing staffers aren’t rewarded (monetary reward is probably the least important of the rewards a congregation can give an excellent staff person); average performers aren’t coached to improve. What is our aversion to focusing on performance...?

I think some of it has to do with bad theology... [we seem to] take Jesus’ words about “judge not lest you be judged” and let under-performing staffers, volunteers or committees continue to under-perform, unwilling to “judge” them. In contrast to such fear of judging, Jesus had no problem questioning the performance of his team. Numerous times, he called out the disciples for misunderstanding or not doing what he expected of them. A corollary is found in Moses who repeatedly questioned the performance of his congregation as he led them to the Promised Land.

Second, another part of our aversion to performance has to do with fear of conflict. We want our congregations to be warm, loving, safe places. There is nothing wrong with that sentiment. However when a love of harmony produces a fear of raising performance issues, it becomes unhealthy. Isn’t performance a factor in a loving family? In a healthy family, don’t we have expectations of what we will do and how we will relate to each other? My parents were certainly very clear about my performance when it was less than what they expected! There is nothing wrong with performance standards in a family. “If you don’t perform, you’ll get attention. If you do perform, we’ll ignore you.” One reason to focus on performance is to celebrate the accomplishments of high performing staff members, committees and teams.

Fourth, as someone who analyzes the behavior of congregations as systems...Think instead of the larger system. Is it performing? If not, why not? The underperformance of a system is usually not caused by one individual part. It is something, well, more systemic. How many congregations have we seen futilely change pastors, rabbis, educators or music directors in search of improved congregational performance? While it may very well be that a congregation needs a new staff person in some area, it is just as likely, perhaps more likely, that the congregation has systemic issues that are undermining its performance. We can replace parts of the system all day and all night. But if it is a systems issue, a new part will not be any more effective than the old part in creating a solution.

As a ministry consultant myself (TGB) I do believe that believe that the key to strong performance is accountability. In Unity board modules for leadership development, we speak into the role of accountability in ministry and in our lives. We ask in our trainings; “Are you willing, as leaders to hold yourself and others accountable for doing what they said they would do? No, means that are willing to leave the bar low and let people show up as they choose. Yet, how does that call them into higher levels of spiritual and emotional maturity?”

Spiritual work is not about status quo, it is about how can we as ministers keep raising the bar, so that those in the community keep growing spiritually? To do this, we must additionally ask: “Are we willing to hold ourselves and others in our congregations accountable for our/their performance? Are we willing to have the tough conversations that are required to improve performance? Can we celebrate our accomplishments when we perform at high levels?

With all this talk of performance and accountability, one might think that annual performance reviews and evaluations are “the cats’ meow.” Not necessarily true, what really is being suggested is ongoing attention to performance and continual appraisal and appreciation.

The key, to true and lasting increased and improved performance of a team or staff occurs when the minister and boards are willing to mentor, guide, coach, tutor, mentor, be role models, hold accountability as a level of excellence, and do whatever is required to assist in successful performance. And, this may mean asking someone to step down. It has been said that “we improve performance on the go.” Does this sound like the biblical story of Moses leading the Israelites across the desert or Jesus leading his disciples?

If we can create a consciousness of performance and evaluation, as a level of excellence and not of punishment within our spiritual communities; considering it as part of a whole systems approach to ministry and as a driving agenda rather than as a “bad” word, and if as leaders we can learn how to give effective feedback, much of what hinders our effectiveness will disappear.

Rev. Toni G. Boehm, Ph.D. is the Unity South Central Ministry Consultant. Boehm is contracted by the USCR Board to support ministries in ever-evolving vibrant and excellent experience of spiritual maturity and ministry dynamics.

Available are 3 levels of board training, Vision/Mission/Core Value creation, various support workshops, and much more.

She can be contacted at 816-304-3044 or revtboehm@aol.com

Note: elements of this article were adapted and those not are in italics