Category Archives: Guest blog

Evaluations can Kill or Give Life

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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.
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This Means War

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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.

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People Can’t Imitate Your Intentions

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This is a guest blog from my friend Ben Sternke – His blog is my favorite on the the entire world wide web!

One of the most important lessons we’ve learned through being involved with 3DM is that imitation is a vital component of discipleship. It’s not enough to give people the right information and then send them straight out from there to try to implement it. There is a necessary experience of imitation in an apprenticeship environment that must take place.

When I first heard this, I instantly realized I was really good at giving people the information, but I was not very consistent in providing people with an example to imitate. I realized that people couldn’t imitate my intentions, they can only imitate my actions, which meant I had to lead by example or I was never going to make a disciple.

So we’ve slowly been developing new rhythms in our life that we can invite others into, so they can “imitate us as we imitate Christ.” My friend Jason Smith asked me awhile ago about what these rhythms looked like, and I promised him a blog post on it! Here we go.

The rule of life we follow shapes our lives and our community around three relational priorities:

  • UP – with God, expressed in passionate spirituality.
  • IN – with the church, expressed in radical community.
  • OUT – with others, expressed in missional zeal.

I’ve organized the specific rhythms under these three categories. These rhythms are flexible, and obviously some have changed temporarily to aid the process of grafting together with another church in our city, but this gives you a general picture of what we’ve been doing for the past year or so in our Missional Community.

Passionate Spirituality (UP)

  • Family prayer, morning and evening. Not too many people join us for this one, of course, but simply having a time of prayer with our family twice a day provides tons of fresh stories to tell others about how Deb and I are seeking to disciple our children. And sometimes people do get to join us, which is always lots of fun. Sometimes it goes well, other times it’s a struggle, but the fruit comes from the consistency of the discipline over time.

  • Community worship and prayer, Sundays. Every Sunday we gather with our Missional Community for a time of worship, Scripture and prayer together. Sometimes we gather in a worship celebration with other MCs in our network, other times we gather as a MC in a home or around a fire, but once a week we are intentionally engaging in communal worship, Scripture reading, and prayer for one another.

  • Prayer furnace, once a month. Once a month we gather on a Friday evening to spend an extended time in worship and prayer together, allowing our faith to rise from the needs within our MC to the needs of our city. We pray kingdom-oriented prayer for our city and region, inviting anyone in who wants to join us. Sometimes we have 5 people, other times 50, but again it’s about the consistency of the discipline over time.

Radical Community (IN)

  • Eating with others, at least once a week. We try to have someone over to eat with us at least once a week. Some weeks we eat with others a lot more, but we try to make sure it happens at least once a week.

  • Intentional proximity. This is more of a long-term thing, but it is something we take seriously. One of the families from our community recently moved into our neighborhood, and we’ve found an exponential increase in our ability to really be in community with them, simply because of their geographical proximity. It’s worth prioritizing when thinking of where to live.

  • Economic sharing when possible. We had some friends move in down the street from us, and we’ve been trying to be intentional about sharing resources together. For example, we share a lawn mower. We are looking forward to more of this kind of sharing in the future.

  • Parties, once a month or so. We try to make sure there is some kind of “fun” happening once a month that we can invite others into. Sometimes it’s a bonfire, sometimes it’s movie night, sometimes it’s guys’ night out, sometimes it’s girls’ night out, etc. Informal time for people to connect.

Missional Zeal (OUT)

  • Intentional mission, once a month. Our MC plans at least one explicitly mission-oriented activity per month. Sometimes it’s a prayer walk, other times it’s a game night at a homeless shelter for women and children, other times it’s kickball in the park to invite neighbors to… the important thing is keeping a foot on the “mission gas pedal” because our overwhelming tendency is to turn inward.

  • OUT focus at MC gatherings. We try to constantly bring our focus back to an outward posture in our MC gatherings, whether it’s by training people practically in evangelism or recognizing “people of peace,” or by going for a quick prayer walk around the neighborhood, or by simply having a brief time of explicitly outward-focused prayer, or by having people share stories of breakthrough in evangelism or loving their neighbors.

Those are the basic rhythms it seems we’ve attempted to create. I’d love to hear from you, though:

What are the rhythms that you have sought to implement in your disciple making?

Ben + Deb Sternke live in Fort Wayne, Indiana with their kids Ethan, Raina, Ella, and Sydney. The Sternkes direct spiritual formation and discipleship efforts at a church called Grace Gathering, which is beginning to function as a network of mid-sized missional communities in the Fort Wayne area. They also coach church leaders from all over the U.S. through 3DM, and have a background in church planting and worship ministry.

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Study Less – Do More


My background is a teacher. I was trained as a teacher and loved teaching. So the following statement needs to be understood as someone who is all for education and knowledge.

Here is the statement: Christians, as a whole, need to study less.

Like I said I’m a teacher so let me explain.

When I was in college there was a big push to train teachers to not simply cover material but to make sure the students were mastering the material. An example of this was not only knowing how to spell a word but making sure a student knew what the word meant and how to use it correctly when speaking or writing. Until the student could use the word naturally, they hadn’t mastered the word. Spelling it correctly was simply a small piece of a bigger task.

In the same way, many Christians can take studying the Bible and do the same thing. They can recite some of the facts about a topic such as loving their neighbor, but they haven’t actually gained mastery of it.

They haven’t put it into practice.

They don’t know what it looks like when they see it. They’re not sure how it applies in their lives.  But they do know a verse or two.

Many of us stop well short of mastery. Why? Because it is hard. It is easier to pass a spelling test then to use new words correctly in everyday conversation. It is harder to love a neighbor that is annoying or simply different than it is to recite a memory verse.

But here is the thing I keep coming back to. Jesus asked us to follow him, not to study him. Do we need to do a little studying? Sure but that is only a small part of a bigger change that needs to happen.

This makes sense when you think about for a second. Who do you want to spend time with, someone  who knows a lot about the facts and theory of forgiveness or someone who actually forgives? Someone who knows a lot about the verses on kindness or someone who is actually kind?

So back to the original statement. Christians, as a whole, need to study less.

What if over this summer you decided to simply let God transform you with what you already know?

Most of us already know more than we ever put into use already.
If you’re wondering how to get started with this, and you are in the Louisville area, let me suggest our Mobilize Monday’s this summer. We’re not going to look at new and undiscovered ideas. Instead we’re going to look at how we can live out in our everyday lives so many of the things we already know but don’t really do.

For details about Mobilize Monday’s go here http://avechurch.com/mobilize-monday/ Our hope is that by the end of the summer we not only study Jesus but we’re following him more as well.

The following is a guest blog from –  Jeromie Jones – Pastor of Missional Communities at the Avenue Church