It’s Still About: “What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?” (OR: How to Do an Excellent Personnel Evaluation)

I love everything about this post by Casey Thompson. 

Evaluation is not just a way to gauge the effectiveness of a ministry so that it might be tweaked toward perfection. Evaluation actually subverts the forms of our ministry. It actually returns us to the theological question at the heart of vocation, a question so fundamental that we start asking first graders so they’ll have enough practice answering it by the time it becomes pressing for them: “What do you want to do when you grow up?” How do you want to spend your time?

I remember sharing the following answers when asked as a child, a teenager, and an adult  “What I Did I Want to Be When I Grew Up?“:

  • An explorer
  • A writer
  • An architect
  • An athletic director
  • A tour guide
  • A hospital chaplain (because I was too scared to say “a pastor”)

The extraordinary thing is that I’ve done all those things in one way or another. (Hello professional ministry.)

In my professional life, I’ve both administered personnel reviews and been reviewed by others.  Among the worst personnel reviews I’ve observed or heard in over 30 years of professional ministry have included these general perspectives:

  1. You don’t do things like I do them, so you are incompetent.
  2. You don’t read my mind.  Why not?
  3. I just don’t like you.  Please go away.
  4. You are threatening me.  Please go away.
  5. I could do your job much better than you can.
  6. I need you to take the fall for that.
  7. We can’t afford our current staff, so plan to do your job and those other jobs, but we won’t be paying you any more salary.
  8. Things aren’t going well.  It must be your fault.
  9. We don’t exactly know what you do, but we assume you are not doing it.
  10. Because that one (powerful /cranky/scary) person is not happy with you, none of us are happy with you.

What I love about Casey Thompson’s post is the ingenious proposition that “evaluation actually subverts the forms of our ministry.”  Instead of grading by traditional metrics (Hmm.  Financial giving is down? Clearly you are not doing your job)  there is conversation about whether or not this is what you wanted to do when you grew up, if this is how you are called to spend your time.

It’s a variation on the question:  Did Jesus die for this?

  • Healing broken people, pointing out life’s awesomeness, plotting resurrection, connecting with the Holy:  yes.
  • Picking paint colors, arguing about money, keeping an institution alive:  no.

Here are some great questions to consider in the next personnel evaluation you are doing/receiving:

  • What gives you life about your work?
  • What keeps you from doing your best, most positive work?
  • How do you partner with others?  (Consider this with each person on our staff.)
  • How does this work play to your strengths?
  • What is soul-sucking/playing to your weaknesses?
  • How are we supporting you and what could we do to support you more fully?
  • How is your work bolstering trust and hope in our organization?

I would love to be asked these questions.

As I look to my own future, I am pondering what God is calling me to do next professionally.  It’s common for the Moderator (or Co-Moderator) of my denomination’s General Assembly to move on to a new call after the Moderatorial term ends and I’m starting now.  Things I still hope to do when I grow up?

  • Explore – what is God doing around here?
  • Write – process what God might be doing in ways that might resonate with others
  • Design structures – consider adaptive, transitional, healthy, safe structures to serve as tools for future ministries
  • Direct athletics – oversee the games and call them when necessary
  • Be a tour guide – point out cool features that some don’t notice right away; tell stories
  • Sit alongside broken people – because others have sat with me in mine.

I covet your prayers as I discern what’s next.  But in the meantime, let’s be more intentional in how we help others discern what they will do as they grow up too.

Image from the Jobs Page of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.  The art is Pleasure is Freedom by Favianna Rodriguez (2016)

4 responses to “It’s Still About: “What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?” (OR: How to Do an Excellent Personnel Evaluation)

  1. And I seem to love everything about this post!


  2. Will join you in your prayers for discernment, Jan. Peace be with you.


  3. I can’t tell which of you wrote this piece – not that it matters. It is simply quite good and helpful. And blessings on what’s next in 2018!


  4. Christine B Vogel

    Thanks for posting this Jan. Lots of food for thought as we put down roots in a new city and contemplate what the shape of our new ministries will be!


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