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Thursday, November 01, 2012

Ask the Matriarch: Personnel Committees

A huge thank you to revhoney for her years of service as one of the editors of this weekly column; last week was her last post. Thank you so much for your good work, revhoney! We will be welcoming a new co-editor in January.

Here is our question this week:
What do you believe to be "best practices" for churches regarding personnel committees? Do you have a separate personnel committee and Pastor Relations Committee, or does one committee work with both pastoral staff and the rest of the staff? What is the personnel committee's role regarding personnel reviews and compensation recommendations? What is the personnel committee's relationships with other structures within your church, and how are members of the committee selected? 

Terri offers:

When I have worked in large "Corporate" or "resources" sized congregations we have had a process for reviewing staff and dealing with personnel issues. In one parish I was a clergy employee and in another I was the Rector HoS. The process was established by the "Vestry" (the congregation based governing board in the Episcopal Church) with policies and practices published in an employee manual. Some of the employee policies did not apply to clergy, who also have a "Letter of Agreement." The Rector was charged with reviewing employees, giving feedback, and determining direction for each employee. If there were problems the Rector might include the Wardens (two appointed or elected parishioners who, along with the Rector, form the "upper" tier of leadership in an Episcopal Church, at least according to the Canons). 

Working in smaller parishes I have found a gross lack of policy, process, guidelines, established practice, or any sense of how to deal with employee matters. In part this is probably a left over from years of practice where the Rector/priest was "Father Knows Best" - Father was in charge and did every thing. As a female priest this is more complicated. Personnel issues can quickly be labeled as "personality" conflicts. Having clear job descriptions, goals, practices, and policies is crucial. There is some excellent Alban Institute material to help with this. I once took a workshop by Susan Beaumont that helped me understand how to created and live into a more effective form of leadership. Essentially she said: 

1. Each member of the leadership team (or employee) needs a job description
2. Each person needs clear goals which can be used for evaluation. One cannot evaluate an employee that has not been given goals because without goals one has no idea what one is supposed to be doing.
3. The evaluations needs to be done by a team of three people (Head of Staff and two lay folk in primary leadership positions). 
4. Written evaluations enable clarity for future evaluations and help track progress of problems or improvement. 

That is one way to do this. I am currently working on a Mutual Ministry Review. This process teaches each member of the leadership team to become "reflective" practitioners. In other words, each person in leadership/employee learns how to examine for ones self what is going well and why, what is a challenge and why, what needs improvement and why. 

This process is clearly laid out with job descriptions and goals that focus the employee/leader on the Mission of the congregation. 

The purpose of the mutual ministry review is to enable each member of the leadership team an opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of her or his leadership role in advancing the mission and ministries of the parish.
The process for the review requires the individual to think back through the year past and consider that which went well and that which was a challenge in the area of ministry for which the person is engaged. In order to offer a deeper reflection the person will also consider what went well or what was challenging in the life of the congregation as a whole and, to the extent that it impacted the person’s ministry, the challenges and joys in one’s personal life.
Determining what went well or what was a challenge is based on the following:
1.       The Mission and Vision of the Parish
2.       The goals established by the team for advancing the Mission and Vision for the year or longer
3.       The specific goals for the team leader which enable him or her to participate in advancing the Mission and Vision of the parish
Goals are set by the leadership team in the prior year’s Mutual Ministry Review process.

In practice - each member of the team - lay leadership, clergy, and employees gather and take turns sharing their reflection on their ministry using the above process. It helps to write everything out beginning with a brief overview of the year: what went well and why, etc. Then address the specific goals and what went well or not and why. It helps to include, as relevant issues one may have encountered in one's personal life, as they impacted one's ministry (death in the family, a birth, etc). 

After presenting one's ministry review the other members of the team have the opportunity to respond. This is not meant to be a criticism of the person. It is a reflective process:" I heard you say this about your ministry"..."I think you also did this"...or "perhaps as you move forward this may help" (offering ideas). 

Building a Mutual Ministry Review Process is an effective leadership tool. It also needs to be done over a couple of years and requires significant time to create and establish the process. I have engage Jim Gettel at MiddleVoice to help with this. He uses an organic model based on assessing what needs to be "planted" what needs to "lay fallow" and so on.

Mutual Ministry Review is excellent for everyday ministry and leadership building. But when one has a personnel issue that may require firing someone, a more specific policy and process needs to be in place. It helps to clearly define what that process is and have it published in written form taking into consideration the state laws that guide employee practices in your area. In other words, one probably needs to consult an attorney in setting these policies and practices. 

Obviously, I find this a complicated question with many different responses one can engage. I hope you find a process that fits your context. I do know that having one in place eases the minds of the leadership team and helps to establish more efficient and effective overall leadership.


Martha Spong writes:

In my experience the configuration varies depending on the size of the church. Larger churches might have the person power to provide both a pastoral relations committee and a personnel committee, but smaller ones usually do not. I've had a PRC in all the churches I've served, usually formed from some portion of the membership of the search committee, with those folks rotating off eventually. Personnel committees have been subcommittees of either a church Governing Board or Board of Trustees. In the case where a church has both, there's a clear delineation between the two. Personnel evaluates the pastor and makes fiduciary recommendations (raises/benefits), the latter applying to all employees. In one of those large churches, the Senior Pastor actually wrote the evaluations for other staff members; in the other Personnel evaluated all staff, sometimes with input from the congregation. (And sometimes not so much.)

In my current smaller congregation (150 members), where no one had *ever* evaluated the pastor or staff, we had the Council appoint an ad hoc evaluation committee for the pastor, with a representative from Council, one from Diaconate and one from Trustees. They solicited congregational feedback and provided me with a written evaluation that included a narrative, a list of things I do well, and a few growing edges. It was very useful, but hard for them, since it was such unfamiliar territory. I am in the midst of evaluating other staff now, along the same lines. 

Thank you both so much for your thorough and thoughtful responses! This is very helpful stuff. Both of these matriarchs point to how size affects this issue, which is a good point to remember (the original question didn't mention church size, but the questioner's church is on the border between "Pastoral" and "Program" size). 

What thoughts do the rest of you have about personnel committees best practices? Have any of you worked to create new practices in a congregational context, and, if so, what did you learn from that process? Please join our conversation in the comments section!

Our question queue is empty, so if you have a question for the matriarchs to discuss, please drop us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

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