Jazz gig tonight as I ponder this year's evaluation...

Tonight we play Patrick's Pub for the first Thursday of the month as we've been doing for over three years.  A guest vocalist will be joining the regulars - a blues man - so this gig will be a gas.  And while I'll be grooving to the tunes, my mind and heart will still be reflecting upon our evaluation of ministry meeting from last night. It was a healthy and satisfying discussion of what we've accomplished together in mission and ministry.  It began around the table of feasting in a relaxed and loving way.  One of the members who works in industry said, "Woah, this is really different... in most of the evaluations I do at work it is all about the bottom line and often ends with somebody in tears."
Small wonder so many clergy and staff fear and hate these evaluation sessions.  His comment gave me the opportunity to remind our leaders that we're operating with a very different set of rules and expectations. Our goals are set in collaboration.  Our hope is to embody something of the grace of God made flesh in Jesus.  And we do all of this as disciples of the one who came to lead by becoming a servant for all.

Too often these outings turn into bitch-fests where all the problems of ministry are laid at the pastors feet. Sometimes they become "gotcha" gatherings where the pastor is ambushed with issues she/he never knew existed.  And from time to time these so-called evaluations serve as an empty and wooden exercise that happens with no life or zest because somebody is making sure we jump through the required hoops of our by-laws.

Thanks be to God my leaders don't want to go down any of those dead ends.  Rather, we've developed a style of collaborative evaluation that reviews the previous year's accomplishments in light of our goals: we celebrate the blessings, share insights about the times we missed the mark and then create four or five clear goals for the coming year of ministry.  And all of it is done together.  Yes, we honor and celebrate those who have taken a key role in a project; and we are also clear with one another when we've dropped the ball or fallen and failed.  But my leadership understands that ministry is NOT about the minister ministering and the congregation congregating.  This is NOT a spectator sport - it is a shared called - for the whole body of Christ.
We met at 6 pm and shared bread, wine, chicken, salad and goodies and then spent two hours in prayerful conversation.  And what we came away with might be synthesized like this:

+ First, this was a year of strengthening and refining.  We have a great staff and leadership team in place all of whom have worked hard at 3 key goals:  a) creative and meaningful worship; b) loving and consistent acts of compassion for those in need within the body; and c) radical hospitality towards those in need in the wider Pittsfield community. This wasn't a year of profound innovation, but one of refining and strengthening what is good, true and beautiful.

+ Second, we recognized that now that we are working well and with affection, the time has come to redouble our effort at reaching out to the wider community so that they might experience a 21st century contemporary Christian church grounded in compassion.  I haven't been willing to push this until we had the infrastructure of love in place.  It has taken nearly 7 years to get here but now we're ready to go - and grow.

+ And third, we are ready to focus our limited resources in ways that get the biggest bang for the buck.  And this includes taking care of our aging but beautiful Sanctuary.  I suspect that as we build a new budget more and more will be devoted to mission and action rather than maintenance. What's more, we're going take the next step in getting creative with adult Christian formation this year, too.  Especially in preparation for my Sabbatical in 2015.  We have some big challenges, but there is precious little anxiety among us.
I used to take long drives out into the desert to clear my head and reflect on ministry.  Tonight I will get lost in the groove and let the music guide me.  This is a blessed moment.


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