It’s That Time of Year: Annual Performance Reviews!

ScorecardsMy annual review has been scheduled for October 30 and I’m honestly looking forward to it. It’s so important to get feedback but – for too many pastors – this is the usual feedback she/he gets:

  • I liked your sermon.
  • That was a nice sermon.
  • (No comment.)

In the first year in my second parish, I announced every Sunday during worship announcements that “you can find the Friendship Folios under the pews beneath you” before someone told me that actually, they are located sitting on the pews along the center aisle. (My previous church had had shelves under the pews.) It. Took. A. Year. Before. Someone. Corrected. Me.

People don’t want to hurt our feelings (unless they do.) But we cannot get better at what we do without feedback. Constructive criticism is essential. Positive comments are also really helpful – especially if they are concrete and related to spiritual transformation rather than fashion. Example: “That sermon you preached on money had a real impact on my giving this year.

Not as helpful: “When you wear brown shoes in the pulpit, it really distracts me.

So, this article was published in the New York Times last week about the difference between the performance reviews of women and the performance reviews of men. I shared a few posts ago that I once received this line in an annual review report: “Jan is a good mother.” For the record, I have also received these verbal comments during reviews over the course of 30 years in professional ministry:

  • You don’t look that good in corduroy.”
  • Have you thought about wearing eye makeup so that we can see your eyes from the pulpit?

Not kidding. I chalk it up to the fact that I looked very young when I was a new clergywoman and people considered me their daughter as much as their pastor. Women my mother and grandmother’s ages felt like it was okay to give motherly/grandmotherly fashion and grooming advice (although it was a man who commented on the corduroy.)

Beyond the fashion/grooming/personal life comments that some of us have received in annual performance reviews, Tara Mohr’s article in the NYT notes that women receive more comments about their personalities. We know the drill: strong women are often characterized as “abrasive” or “strident.” Strong men are often characterized as “solid leaders.”

Mohr suggests that “if a woman wants to do substantive work of any kind, she’s going to be criticized — with comments not just about her work but also about herself. She must develop a way of experiencing criticism that allows her to persevere in the face of it.” Amen, sister.

We women have been raised to be “nice” and – historically – women have not had the physical,financial and political power that men have had, so women have assessed ourselves in terms of what other people think of us. Mohr: “Disapproval, criticism and the withdrawal of others’ approval can feel so petrifying for us at times — life-threatening even — because for millenniums, it was.

So, both women and men: let’s prepare well for Annual Review Season. Here are some basics:

  • Actually have a review. There are congregations that have rarely – if ever – conducted personnel reviews for their pastor and other staff members. For the love of God, please conduct annual reviews. Yes, it’s awkward to review your pastor. And honestly, you have no idea what she does most of the time because parish ministry is like no other. But start here. And ask professionals for help.
  • Consider how your pastor is equipping other leaders. (Ephesians 4:11-12) Biggest two problems in pastoral leadership: pastors who do everything themselves and pastors who send out lay leaders to do ministry but have not trained them.
  • Discuss how the congregation and the community are being transformed. This is a group effort led by the pastor but not achieved solely by the pastor. Is the congregation growing in faith, as seen in their behaviors, perspectives, attitudes? Is the neighborhood being transformed to the point that they would miss the congregation if the congregation suddenly disappeared? Are glimpses of Jesus on the rise?

I love annual performance reviews. I love them.

While I’m a big fan on ongoing coaching throughout the year (e.g. don’t wait a year to share with the church musician that he needs to liven it up) the annual review is a valuable opportunity to share openly, respectfully, and enthusiastically what’s been going well and what could be tweaked. This is how we grow. This is how the reign of God expands.

And if you remember nothing else, remember this: It’s not about you and me. It’s about making disciples and loving God and neighbor.

2 responses to “It’s That Time of Year: Annual Performance Reviews!

  1. We used Jill Hudson’s “When better isn’t enough” format this year. It was challenging and yet well received in a system that has not done pastor or any evaluations for a while. Reaffirmed my sense of areas that we can make helpful progress in the next year. And perhaps most importantly reminded leaders that evaluating the church’s ministry is not just all about the pastor.


  2. I’d be interested in thinking through how to help congregations do these evaluations themselves on a yearly basis too. It is important for staff, but the congregation is a whole system, and do for it to engage these evaluation techniques too, to take a good look at itself and ministry expansion yearly….


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