Monthly Archives: December 2012

Evaluations can Kill or Give Life


Jeromie Jones is the director of ministries at the Avenue.  Here are his brilliant thoughts on year end evaluation!

At the end of the year most people spend some time reflecting on the past twelve months. In the work place there is usually a formalized version of this called a year end review, evaluation, etc. Personally I love this process but I’ve often seen it abused as well. Then when you added in the dynamic of working for a church you get a whole other host of issues that can cause problems with the evaluation process. One of the core beliefs I have is that churches should be better at this than anybody else. We more than anyone are supposed to understand grace, truth, and love. Yet I know so many people who thought they were doing a great job until all of a sudden they were let go. They leave the church bitter, angry, and feeling like they were betrayed by the very people who talk about love and grace the most.  So today I want to look at what year end evaluations are supposed to do, what they should look like, and what they shouldn’t.  Because when done correctly evaluations should energize people for the upcoming year and remind everyone why what they do is so important.

Common Problems with Evaluations

Before we get to the good I want to talk about the bad because most people I talk to seem to be in places where evaluations are done poorly. Here are the most common problems with evaluations.

The Only Evaluation is the Year End Evaluation

Imagine that you are married and once a year you sit down with your spouse to talk about how your relationship is going. Both of you mention some things that need to improve and some strong areas to the relationship. You agree on a few things and the conversation ends. Then you wait twelve months to sit down again and see how things are going. That sounds stupid and it is. But so often we work with a team of people and the only time we really check on how things are going is at the end of the year or when something major goes wrong. I am not suggesting that every week you have to do a written evaluation, but frequent conversations are a must.  It baffles me how often someone in charge will be frustrated with the way things are going but wait for weeks or months until it is “formal review time” to bring it up. Then the employee feels blindsided because the past three months they thought they were doing a good job and all of a sudden they are told that they are failing.  Reviews have to occur more than once a year, even for people doing a great job. Keeping a ship on course means checking the map more than once a year. Keeping employees moving on course means checking in with them more than once a year.

Managers/Bosses who hide behind the Evaluation

This is a derivative of the first problem. There are a lot of people in charge who hate having tough conversations. And so they let something go and go until it is time for the year end review. Then during the review the write down all of the things they were afraid to say weeks ago.  They try to justify their decision to terminate employment or change a situation behind platitudes and empty words when in reality they were simply afraid of having a tough conversation. The problem with this is that in many cases if the tough conversation were had much earlier things could have probably turned out different. Then when you add in the fact that at a church, things much bigger than simply company profits are at stake, this becomes an even worse situation. Letting someone fail for weeks or months not only damages them, it damages the kingdom. People whose lives could be positively affected aren’t because of the lack of courage by a leader.

Evaluations that don’t evaluate the right things

This is one of the most frustrating.  Imagine a person who is knocking out of the park as a youth pastor. Students are coming to Christ, kids are serving one another, parent & child relationships are healing, and the ministry is flourishing. But then the evaluation spends all of the time asking about office hour usage, budget adherence, and personal growth in 25 different categories. Now all of those things are important, very important even. But an evaluation has to actually evaluate what you hired a person for. So often evaluations ask a million questions and none of them relate to the actual job a person is doing. The main reason for this is that people often use cookie cutter evaluations pulled from someplace else that don’t actually address the specifics of the job. Even in the same church the evaluation for a youth pastor and a group’s pastor should look completely different because they do completely different jobs. Answering the same set of non specific questions is easy to create but not helpful to evaluate.

Lack of Clarity about what a Church is doing & How they are Doing It

This one is so common that everyone has a story about it. Every church has a mission statement or set of core values or a vision statement. But what often happens is that no one has ever decided what that looks like in the context of that particular church. Here is a true story that has been slightly changed to protect the innocent. Church X has a statement about reaching the lost. An outreach pastor gets hired in April. He decides that to reach the lost he will train 20 leaders to start a series of neighborhood barbeques and have those leaders start intentionally mingling their believing friends with the non-Christian neighbors. Then the evaluation time comes around and the new outreach pastor is told he isn’t doing a good job. The outreach pastor asks why. He is told that the leadership wanted him to hold an evangelism class on Sunday mornings and to do a big outreach event every spring on the church campus to reach the lost. Based on those criteria the outreach pastor has a bad evaluation. Now here is the problem. Both the methods of the outreach pastor and the leadership focused on fulfilling the mission of reaching the lost. But no one ever clarified from the beginning what that would look like. So once again we run into issues. If you are going to evaluate something at the end of the year make it clear at the beginning of the year. If you think ministry should be done a certain way let people know that up front.

Asking for honest feedback but not wanting it

Every evaluation has some section about feedback from the employee. Many leaders really don’t want it. They say they do but then get hyper defensive when it is received. I am not referring here is someone who writes vulgar, rude, or sarcastic comments. Or a person who says in public what should be said in private. Obviously an employee doing that has larger issues.  I’m talking about when an employee honestly and respectfully points out something that needs to be addressed in a proper setting and then the leadership punishes them for it. When this happens it is only a matter of time before all the great employees start to leave and most of the momentum of the organization stops. Turnover starts to increase and the only people who stay are those who are simply happy to have a job. Leaders who like to evaluate everyone but themselves leave a wake of destruction in their path.

What a Year End Evaluation Process Should Look Like

The main purpose of an evaluation should be to make sure that everyone is aligned and in agreement on what should be happening and what they are pursuing. The conversation around an evaluation should be about gaining clarity for both parties not checking off boxes. Evaluations should be relatively simple process that answering two basic questions. “Are we doing the things we said we would do?” & “Are those things working?”  Almost everything in the evaluation process should connect directly to those questions. A very good evaluation can simply be a one page sheet that says at the top, “What did you do in the past year to advance the mission of values of our organization?” “What will you do next year to advance the mission and values of our organization?” Once the leader and the employee agree on a set of goals, spend the next year measuring progress and course correcting as necessary. This way there are no surprises and feelings of being blindsided.

I’m sure someone is thinking right now, “But what about….” Yes you are correct this leaves a lot of things out. That is on purpose. See evaluations are not supposed to try and cover every scenario. Most things on an evaluation are put there because someone doesn’t want to have a tough conversation so they put it instead on the evaluation.  Frequent conversations trump a lengthy evaluation every single time.

Healthy Ways to Evaluate

  • Evaluate Often Don’t let large amounts of time pass between evaluations
  • Focus on the Mission Make sure that the conversations are about making forward progress. Evaluations that measure anything other than that
  • Focus on the Person Remember that an evaluation is supposed to help a person develop not beat them up. You want your people to succeed and do well. Evaluations that leave people feeling dejected and defeated aren’t helpful to them or to the organization. As church leaders we have to model caring for employees as people not just workers to the rest of the world.
  • Be Clear in What is Expected If you are going to hold them accountable for it, they need to know it.
  • Build Momentum Employees should walk out of evaluations excited and ready to go for another season of ministry. Use an evaluation to reinforce the mission and discuss the values that drive what you do. Most people working for a church could probably make more money doing something else. They chose this for a reason other than income. So harness that during an evaluation and use it to generate new ideas and plans for the next ministry season.
  • Celebrate the Victories If you are a very driven person your tendency might be to simply move on to the next thing. But let people know when they are doing a great job and celebrate. Jesus used the image of feasts and parties often when describing the kingdom. I don’t think that was accidental. Celebrate with your team and enjoy what God is doing.

Buechner on Christmas 2 – Emmanuel

Fredrick Buechner, has always been one of my favorite writers.  I find that there are pastors who are writers, and then there are a small few writers, who are pastors!  Buechner is a brilliant writer who happens to be a pastor.  If you are looking for inspired writing in the midst of the Christmas season his works are a great place to start!

Here is a simple story that has helped frame my message for this Sunday:

He says, “The birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it”

Here is what he has to say about Emmanuel!

The claim that Christianity makes for Christmas is that at a particular time and place “the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity” came to be with us himself. When Quirinius was governor of Syria, in a town called Bethlehem, a child was born who, beyond the power of anyone to account for, was the high and lofty One made low and helpless. The One whom none can look upon and live is delivered in a stable under the soft, indifferent gaze of cattle. The Father of all mercies puts himself at our mercy. Year after year the ancient tale of what happened is told raw, preposterous, holy and year after year the world in some measure stops to listen.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. A dream as old as time. If it is true, it is the chief of all truths. If it is not true, it is of all truths the one that people would most have be true if they could make it so.

Maybe it is that longing to have it be true that is at the bottom even of the whole vast Christmas industry the tons of cards and presents and fancy food, the plastic figures kneeling on the floodlit lawns of poorly attended churches. The world speaks of holy things in the only language it knows, which is a worldly language.

Emmanuel. We all must decide for ourselves whether it is true. Certainly the grounds on which to dismiss it are not hard to find. Christmas is commercialism. It is a pain in the neck. It is sentimentality.

It is wishful thinking. The shepherds. The star. The three wise men. Make believe.

Yet it is never as easy to get rid of as all this makes it sound. To dismiss Christmas is for most of us to dismiss part of ourselves. It is to dismiss one of the most fragile yet enduring visions of our own childhood and of the child that continues to exist in all of us. The sense of mystery and wonderment. The sense that on this one day each year two plus two adds up not to four but to a million.

What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us.

Emmanuel. Emmanuel.

– Fredrick Buechner

Christmas by Buechner

Fredrick Buechner, has always been one of my favorite writers.  I find that there are pastors who are writers, and then there are a small few writers, who are pastors!  Buechner is a brilliant writer who happens to be a pastor.  If you are looking for inspired writing in the midst of the Christmas season his works are a great place to start!

Here is a simple story that has helped frame my message for this Sunday:

He says, “The birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it” 

Here is the text:

The lovely old carols played and replayed till their effect is like a dentist’s drill or a jack hammer, the bathetic banalities of the pulpit and the chilling commercialism of almost everything else, people spending money they can’t afford on presents you neither need nor want, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the plastic tree, the cornball creche, the Hallmark Virgin. Yet for all our efforts, we’ve never quite managed to ruin it. That in itself is part of the miracle, a part you can see. Most of the miracle you can’t see, or don’t.

The young clergyman and his wife do all the things you do on Christmas Eve. They string the lights and hang the ornaments. They supervise the hanging of the stockings. They tuck in the children. They lug the presents down out of hiding and pile them under the tree. Just as they’re about to fall exhausted into bed, the husband remembers his neighbor’s sheep. The man asked him to feed them for him while he was away, and in the press of other matters that night he forgot all about them. So down the hill he goes through knee-deep snow. He gets two bales of hay from the barn and carries them out to the shed. There’s a forty-watt bulb hanging by its cord from the low roof, and he lights it. The sheep huddle in a corner watching as he snaps the baling twine, shakes the squares of hay apart and starts scattering it. Then they come bumbling and shoving to get at it with their foolish, mild faces, the puffs of their breath showing in the air. He is reaching to turn off the bulb and leave when suddenly he realizes where he is. The winter darkness. The glimmer of light. The smell of the hay and the sound of the animals eating. Where he is, of course, is the manger.

He only just saw it. He whose business it is above everything else to have an eye for such things is all but blind in that eye. He who on his best days believes that everything that is most precious anywhere comes from that manger might easily have gone home to bed never knowing that he had himself just been in the manger. The world is the manger. It is only by grace that he happens to see this other part of the miracle.

Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed – as a matter of cold, hard fact – all it’s cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.

The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space, time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God… who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”

Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.”

— Frederick Buechner

Death by Church Leadership

Cemetary 23

I was 26 years old and I had been given far more than I ever should have been given.  I had a corner office, a team of around 10 people, I was leading, a huge group of volunteer leaders, a large students ministry, a huge budget and ridiculous amounts of freedom with very little measures of accountability.  I had some success teaching, and I was really good on stage.  I was really bad behind closed doors, I was not a good leader, I was not very disciplined in my work ethic, my home was a mess and I had no idea how to disciple and lead the leaders around me.  But each year I was given more opportunity, more responsibility, more resources to manage and more freedom to lead.  Looking back it is only by the grace of God that I survived and that the ministry I lead survived.  I was a leader who had low character and high competency.

This is a story I hear and see far too often, every time we see a young leader with some measure of competency we hand them the keys to the kingdom before they are ready.  We lament over the lack of development of our young leaders and the failure of seminaries & bible colleges to train up the next generation of pastoral leaders.  We rarely however,  look at our own teams and ask ourselves the tough questions about how we are training, discipling & raising up the next generation of young leaders.

Here’s how we got here:

1) – The Disparity Between Intellect & Character

In 1986, the president of Harvard University, Derek Bok saw the writing on the wall.  In his yearly “presidents report” he challenged all learning institutions to reconsider whether they are raising leaders who can give the right answers or detect ethical problems & make the world a better place.  He tells the story of a student who received the highest marks in his applied ethics class, who also was the student he found in dean’s office repeatedly for breaking nearly every moral code on the campus.  He says, the task of teaching students the value of character over competency seems “daunting.”  This was written over 25 years ago i don’t believe things have improved.

I spoke to a pastor recently who, when speaking of his worship leader said, “he’s young, he’s really gifted, people love him, the problem is I can’t trust him to be who he says he is.”  I asked what steps he was taking and it was as if he felt handcuffed & unable to act.  He said, “as long as he does a great job on Sunday’s I can overlook all of his character issues.”  REALLY!

This is where we are as a church?  When did the ability to preach or the ability to lead worship become so important that it has become more significant than who we are?

Here is the reality, bible colleges, seminaries, and churches nearly always reward competency & overlook character.  Until this changes we will develop leaders & not disciples.  We will look great on the outside & terrible on the inside & we will create great spiritual goods & services for our people to consume without ever seeing them change!  Leaders must go first, but leaders can only lead their people to places they have been to themselves.  When we excuse character flaws we are certain to repeat the cycle of developing business leaders to lead organizations & not Godly men to lead people.

2. We have Microwaved Leadership

When I was a student minister I visited a monstrosity of a church, their student ministry had over 2000 students attending, they had the most amazing student building I had ever seen, the band was amazing, the speaker engaging.  After watching a night of incredible worship service I asked the leader of the ministry how they discipled their students.  He proudly said, “discipleship is so hard, we tried to find the easiest way to do it.”  So what they did was video 6 of their “talks” & when students “wanted” to be discipled they sent them home with the DVD’s.  He said in 6 weeks they are discipled.

I wish this was a joke but it’s not, I think the modern American church is looking for the easiest way to the most difficult thing – discipleship!  We have become so accustomed to listening to the gifted teacher that we have abandoned the power of everyday discipleship.  We don’t want to do the hard work of discipleship with our people & our staff teams.

3. Valuing Results over People

When our 2nd son was born our family was in a terrible place.  My wife was suffering from an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, I was working ridiculous hours and although we had been at the church for years we had never developed any deep and meaningful relationships.  Its was the loneliest season of ministry I had ever experienced, my family was a mess and I didn’t know how to fix them, I knew I was over my head with my ministry responsibilities, I had no one in my corner rooting for me, coaching me or challenging me but the wheels of the machine kept on turning.  There was always another message to write, another leader to meet with, another problem to solve, another hill to conquer.

Finally, the bottom fell out & my wife simply told me I needed to be home.  I had to choose between family & ministry & I chose family.    I missed an important event that I was required to speak at and although I called my bosses & explained my situation I was told to get some counseling which they paid for.  I was told repeatedly, that they expected my performance at work to not be effected by my troubles at home.  I was told to compartmentalize my life with work on one side and family on the other.  I never heard another word about it.  No calls checking in, no lunches to talk it through, no prayer times or stopping by the house.  In fact in the entire span of my ministry I had one meal with my boss & never once entered into his home.

Here’s the problem, they weren’t bad people, they weren’t even bad leaders, they were just busy people, they wanted results but they were so wrapped up in attaining results in their own area that they failed to realize that God brings results. We just walk in his ways and follow His path.  They didn’t understand that leadership can’t be microwaved into a monthly staff training or a yearly retreat.  It can’t be microwaved at all, if you want to raise up leaders, then you have to know them!  You have to take the time to hear their hearts to know their families, to care about them beyond results & to challenge not only their competency but their character.  You have to value your young leaders as your family not as an employee who you need results from.

3) Information without Experience

I spent a few days recently on some Christian college campuses.  I asked one simple question, “as you leave school do you feel like you know how to do ministry or do you feel like you have information about doing ministry?”  95% of the students said they have information about it but don’t feel prepared.  Our teaching is so information based that students have knowledge without experience.  We teach a leadership template but we don’t teach, prayer.  We teach ministry answers but we don’t teach how to follow the Spirit.  We teach leaders to give answers but not how to ask questions.  We teach them how to preach and organize a service but never train them how to have a healthy family at home.  We must move to a more experiential learning experience for the next generation.

So what else do you see in church leadership that is killing the next generation of leaders?

I hate it when bloggers just define the problem without offering solutions so next week I will offer some solutions to this problem.

What are some of the solutions you see to these problems we face?

This Means War


This is a great guest blog from Doug Foltz – Doug’s blog can be found here.

Depending on your denominational flavor you may or may not have a good understanding of spiritual attack.  In our culture it’s not exactly something you talk about freely if you want to be thought of as sane.  Spiritual attack conjures up images of horror movies and psych wards.  A quick Google search revealed that while 70% of Americans believe Satan exists only 60% of Christians do.  Hopefully those studies are wrong.  My experience has been that many who believe in Satan haven’t felt spiritual attack and minimize the work of Satan.  Regardless your theological perspective, I often tell church planters that the one universal of church planting is that you will be under spiritual attack.  This is why one of the first milestones I have church planters work on is developing a prayer team.  Spiritual attack is real and if you are planting a church, you are a target.

Here are a few quick ways I’ve seen this manifest:

  1. Depression.  I’ve seen the strongest must upbeat church planters go through spells of depression.  It is usually marked by self-doubt, fear, and obstacles to planting the church.  While most climb out of the depression, I have seen it paralyze people as well.
  2. Family.  When Satan can’t get after you, he will go after family.  One planters parents divorced shortly after he moved to start the church.  Another’s mom died.  Another had marital troubles shortly after declaring he would plant.  Others have had sick family members, unsupportive family members, etc.
  3. Divisiveness in the Body.  Satan loves a church that is not united.  Maybe this is why Jesus prayed so fervently for it in John 17.  I’ve seen sponsoring churches withdraw support over small issues, staff members quit just before launch, affairs between staff families, embezzlement, arguments over “territory.”  It’s sad to me when the church does the work of Satan for him.
  4. Temptation.  I’ve talked with planters who have confessed having temptations they never had before.  This is a confusing and scary experience.

There’s no doubt about it.  Planting a church is hard.  You will face spiritual attack.  Here are some practical ways to combat it.

  1. Spend time in the Word.  Scripture is an amazing weapon against spiritual attack.  Don’t get so busy that you forget to meditate on God’s Word.
  2. Talk about it.  Don’t hide what you are going through.  Find a group of people to talk with about your experiences.
  3. Prepare for it.  You know spiritual attack is coming so get prepared.  Take seriously the task of building a prayer team.  Don’t build the team as a way to conveniently ask for money.  Get them praying.  Have a smaller group of people that you can call in the dark times to pray for you.
  4. Be accountable.  Live your life as an open book and give people access to you.  This is the best way to be accountable.  I’d also say listen to your spouse.  Ask them to be open and honest with you.  They will often notice before you when things are awry.

There are many great Scriptures about the victory we have in Jesus and the struggle we face as Christians.  Here’s one that I read on Sunday and had the opportunity to share with a planter facing spiritual attack on Monday.

“Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself.  For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.  We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.”  Philippians 1:28-30 NLT

Though it is counter-intuitive it is a privilege to suffer for Christ.  Remember that you do not struggle alone and that we know that Jesus Christ has already won the war.  The power of the Holy Spirit that rose Jesus from the dead is the same Spirit that lives in you.

Doug Foltz, helps church planters clarify and implement their vision.  He stands alongside church planters leveraging my 15+ years of church planting experience with over 40 new churches to chart out a path toward realizing the God sized dream of making disciples through church planting.  Church planting is scary, intimidating and the thrilling ride of a lifetime.  I see myself as an experienced traveler willing to go on the ride with brave church planters.  My contribution is maximized through the intersection of my experience and my passion to see healthy new churches started.  I am a church planting junkie.  I live and breathe it and don’t plan to ever do anything else but be involved in church planting.