The Advantage: Reinforce Clarity, Part 3 (Reviews)

We’re working our way through Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.

Lencioni consults with businesses, nonprofits, and churches, and he frequently explains how the lessons apply especially to churches, because the work churches do is so much more important than the work done by anyone else.


Elders hate doing annual reviews. Why? Well, because —

* Elders are conflict averse. They don’t like saying negative things to ministers, and reviews often involve saying negative things.

* Elders are typically relational people, and they fear that a tough review can harm their relationship with ministers they need to work side-by-side with.

* Elders are busy. Most are part-time volunteers, and doing a review right is very time consuming.

* Elders often don’t have the information base from which to do a review. They hire a children’s minister but don’t volunteer in the children’s ministry. Their kids are too old for that program. All the information they have is second hand, and likely mainly complaints
— which may not be representative or fair.

It’s a tough job. And turning it over to the pulpit minister — who is also busy, uninvolved in the children’s ministry, conflict averse, and relational — doesn’t solve many of these problems.

What’s the solution?

Healthy organizations believe that performance management is almost exclusively about eliminating confusion. They realize that most of their employees want to succeed, and that the best way to allow them to do that is to give them clear direction, regular information about how they’re doing, and access to the coaching they need.

First, the goal of the review isn’t to lay groundwork for an inevitable firing. The goal is to provide feedback from leaders who want to see the minister do even better. It’s one of many tools available to coach the minister.

Second, a review should be two-way. The minister should have the opportunity to ask questions and receive feedback. It should be a conversation, not a list of ultimatums (unless, of course, you really are planning to fire him).

Third, the review should be as much about good things as bad. Good decisions and work by the minister should be mentioned and praised — and not just as a means of moving on to the “more important” criticisms. In reality, affirming what he is doing right may be far more beneficial then critiquing mistakes.

Fourth, the elders have to take the time to be factually accurate. Reviewing based on a few hallway complaints by disgruntled members is reactive and lazy. Rather, do what Charles Siburt taught me — a 360-degree review. Love the minister enough to find out how he’s really doing.

In a 360-degree review, the elders talk to people about the minister’s work from all sides of his ministry — below him, above him, and beside him. The elders interview his supervisor, his team members, the members he ministers to — to gain a full, true perspective on his ministry.

To assure the minister that the elders aren’t limiting themselves to a few unhappy members, ask the minister to name some members the elders should speak to — so that they are sure to hear from some of his supporters and allies. It’s only fair.

This means the elders may have to speak with 6 or more people before reviewing the minister — and that’s a lot of trouble and very time consuming. And some of the interviews may be tough as the elders learn things they never imagined might be true.

Once the interviews are done, the elders compare notes and decide among themselves how to conduct the review. They have to be united as to the desired outcome. You can’t have one elder complaining about something and another elder praising the minister for the very same thing. (Yes, it can happen!)

The elders need to be prepared to stand behind what they say. If they tell the minister to stay the course, they need to stand behind him when he does exactly that. If they tell the minister to change X, they need to make sure he changes X. Ministers must submit to their elders, and elders must insist that their instructions be followed.

But then, remember, the review is to be a conversation. Therefore, the minister needs to be able to defend himself, and if he does, the elders need to be able to change course. If they realize that he’s been unfairly judged by his volunteers, they may decide that an intended instruction shouldn’t be given. And so the elders conducting the review have to be empowered to make changes on the fly — and the others elders have to support them.

Now, this all very, very hard to do. I hate the personnel side of eldering myself — but so long as we hire ministers, there’s going to be a personnel side of leadership. In a very large church, it’s delegable. You can turn some of it over to the pulpit minister (if he’s rarely talented as both a preacher and an HR director) or an executive minister hired for just that purpose. But for churches with less than 1,000 members or so, it’s the elders.

The Baptists might turn the task over to a personnel committee, which might be filled with members who are HR directors or business people. But that’s a mistake, I think. After all, the purpose of the review is to coach the ministers into better honoring the church’s vision and values. And the elders are the keepers and defenders of those things.

The fact that a church member is an expert in human resources hardly makes him able to coach a minister in congregation’s culture and vision. You see, if the pulpit minister answers to the HR director of the local bank, then the HR director is effectively an elder because he’ll have effective control of the vision and direction of the congregation to the extent influenced by the preacher — which is a lot of influence for a non-elder to have.

One of the critical points Lencioni makes is that the leaders of an organization cannot turn the review process entirely over to others. The review process is so much a part of leading the staff that to turn the review process over to others is to turn leadership over to others.

You can and should certainly involve and consult with others on the review process. But you can’t abdicate your role as shepherd — and it’s the shepherds who determine whether the sheep are on the right path.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to The Advantage: Reinforce Clarity, Part 3 (Reviews)

  1. The review must be predicated on clearly established expectations, as well as a good picture of the preacher’s job performance. Clearly written job descriptions, not mission statements of vague and generic themes, are the only fair way to judge performance.

    No ministry leader (hired or volunteer) should lack a direct elder supervisor. ONE direct supervisor. That is, unless we have truly surrendered shepherding and devolved into a board of directors with only indirect input on operations, leaving the operations to the CEO, Or have created a spiderweb of dotted line reports which creates more issues than it solves. Perhaps no elder can supervise the staff, but surely one can have a direct supervisory relationship with one staffer. That elder can share his experience and observations with the other elders. This places the supervising elder in a spot where he is both responsible for overseeing the department AND responsible to the mission and vision the eldership has received. These responsibilities should probably rotate annually. This makes for effective joint supervision, keeps the eldership joined at the hip to the operation, and holds the elders accountable at more than a 30,000 foot level.

  2. One thing that puzzles me is that by the time a person becomes an Elder, they would have experienced all these management, supervision, etc. things in their personal lives. Do we select Elders who lived their entire life in the Magic Kingdom at Disneyworld? Surely there are people in the church who have lived these situations for years.

    Why aren’t those people doing these reviews and other things you have mentioned in this series of posts?

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