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How to be the best!

October 18, 2013

I have been reflecting upon a Christian response to appraisals and performance related pay. I have spoken to many people in recent weeks who have either been appraising work colleagues or being appraised. I am about to undergo an appraisal as a minister and so have I been thinking how differently appraisals should be within a Christian community. Yesterday, I was also listening on the radio about the issue of performance related pay that has caused teachers to go out on strike.

So what is a Christian response. It is not to avoid challenging people about being and doing the best. Two parables of Jesus come to mind – the parable of the sower, where the implication is that we are called to produce a crop ‘thirty, sixty, one hundred fold’ what was sown and the parable of the talents where the implication is again that we have to ‘put to work’ what we have. In our Christian lives, as the apostle Paul, exhorts us we are to exhibit a desire to be better for Christ  ‘one thing I do, forgetting what is behind, I press on towards the goal, to win the prize.’ We could give further examples but there is a challenge to live the Christian life in such a way that we are moving forward, bearing more fruit and working for more talents. Perhaps in our churches where we have imbibed a consumeristic approach to church this message is difficult to convey, perhaps we should be appraising one another!

However it has to be noted that in the examples given, and the clear teaching throughout scripture, Jesus is not expecting people to overcome their human weaknesses by self effort or determination. Jesus is saying the gospel that He has planted in us, needs to be allowed to do its work within us and as we do not hinder but give opportunity the ‘natural order’ of things will mean that the gospel will produce a change. The power is not in us but in the gospel. Therefore the consequence is that the gospel will make us better employers and employees. It will allow us to go through our human appraisals confident that however we are ‘appraised’ we can make a difference in our work places as the gospel is allowed to change us. It will mean that we will do our best, for Jesus, whether we are being appraised or not.

Therefore, this does not speak clearly into a Christian response to appraisals and performance related pay. I think we need to take another gospel approach – that it is love that changes people. We are told that when Jesus came he would not put out a smouldering wick or break a bruised reed. When he came he said he came for the sick and not the healthy. Therefore I think appraisals can be used by Christian employers/appraisers to demonstrate that same love for all. Those excelling in their work situations and those struggling and to offer to reach out in love to enable them to be all that they can. Therefore I do not believe performance related pay will achieve this but loving appraisals can – this is not saying we do not have difficult conversations and challenge people, but we do so in love as we seek the best for that person. It does not mean that we do not take difficult decisions – but love is the motive.

As I reflected about this I came across an article by Kevin Davies reflecting on the state of English football and he included this story

“A group of educational experts, including psychologists, were called in to do a study at a problem school. There were 300 kids in the school who were all underachieving and discipline was a real problem, but from among them the experts identified six geniuses who they predicted would end up with the best exam results.

The teachers’ ears pricked up when they were told their names and at the end of the year, sure enough, the six kids finished top of their classes. They called the experts back to discover how they had spotted them and, to their surprise, were told the six were selected at random.

I found this both interesting and worrying. The implication was clear: the teachers obviously worked a lot more closely with the so-called geniuses over the school year and they improved drastically in consequence. But what about the other 294 students?

I think you can compare this with the academy system in football. Bolton’s scouting system has focused all its attention on 11 ‘geniuses’ in the under-10 age group, hand-picked from around the North West.

But what about the 850 other players playing in 77 teams in the under-10s Bolton and Bury League alone? I know Bolton – and other academies – run satellite training sessions in their areas but surely it would be in the best interests of a club to work on developing more than one team?………

This has been my experience in work – in my first employment as a teacher I excelled, in my first year my exam classes achieved well above expectations, even earning me a written commendation from the Headmaster. Was this because I was a great teacher, no but because my department supported me fantastically – we had a lab tech who was overqualified and a professional scientist and she decided to take me under her wings and made me succeed. In my first church we saw significant growth, was this because I was a great Pastor, no but because the leadership team allowed this inexperienced minister to change everything and they ignored my failures, put up with my hobbyhorses and celebrated our successes. They made me look like a great Pastor. I have always had people around me who have invested in me and made me look better than I am – particularly my wife! Love of others is what makes you the best – it is God’s love of us that has made us free and complete and now let us love others and invest in them!

To conclude I am not against appraisals (but I think I am against performance related pay) but the motive needs to be love. Where people are struggling, underperforming, low morale – start loving, caring, supporting and see how it will change your department, your office, your company and yes even your church. So my hopes as I am appraised – if I’m honest I already know my weaknesses, but I also know that the love of the church, even when they struggle with my leadership, will make me a better Pastor and us a more fruitful church. My hope is that I allow the gospel to continue to work in me, I will be a better Pastor (and Father, and Husband, and neighbour…) I am sure many of you involved in business will want to challenge some of my conclusions, please do but as we allow the seed of the gospel into our workplaces and society I believe we will bring transformation – so let’s discuss what it looks like?

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