I arrive at the morning gathering of my writing group, feeling slightly unhinged, and not knowing why. Then with seven simple words, I fall apart:
“I have a personnel committee meeting tonight.”
It’s time for my annual evaluation, which never happens annually. In eight years of ministry, I’ve only had two of them. The last one was four years ago, at another church.
We met on a Wednesday afternoon, and I was excited. The congregation had been growing. We completed a capital campaign, with money to spare. The church was looking great, inside and out. There was new vitality, new vision, and lots of new children. We had worked really, really hard, and I was so proud of what the congregation had accomplished.
At the meeting, I shook hands with two wonderful members of my congregation who had never conducted a personnel review or read this book. Then, they gave me a bulleted list of fifty utterly confusing statements. It was hard to believe that all of those sentences were about the same person, much less about me. I was crushed.
Four years later, and I’m still coming undone.
Thank God I have three sympathetic women who help put me back together again. One woman says, “These committees have no idea what they do to us, do they?”
With these kind words, they gather up the arms and legs, place them back in the right sockets, tighten up the screws. Put some drops of 3-in-1 in the creaking joints. By the time I leave, I’m a well-oiled machine. Prepared to handle all the humiliation that would soon be speeding my way at my review.
At 6:30 p.m., the meeting begins. We look over my goals, accomplishments, and hopes.
At 7:30 p.m., it occurs to me, I’m going escape this meeting with some actual self-respect intact.
Then, the chair pulls out his folder and begins shuffling papers. Okay. This is it. I think as I brace myself. Here come the bullets.
He pulls out a list. My knuckles turn white.
Then he reads the goals that the committee has for the year–things like reevaluating the family leave policy, pastors’ salaries, and housing policy. He says, “We have two really great pastors, and we see our job as looking for ways to keep both of you. Do you have anything you want to add to the list?”
I sit up a little straighter. Feeling a slight bit of confidence, I add, “Um…I want to look into doctoral programs this year, and I really don’t want to go into more student loan debt. Would the church consider helping me out with that?”
“Aah, yes,” He scribbles something on his list. “Educational benefits.”
I willfully unfurl my aching fingers from the arms of my chair, as it occurs to me, So this is how Western keeps their pastors for 30 years.
The meeting ends early, and I am completely energized. My vision for the church is sharpened and renewed.
I haven’t stopped smiling since.
Photo by Jack of Nothing, uploaded from Flickr