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The Methodist Self-Appraisal Scheme

By Harvey Richardson.


At the 1993 Methodist Conference meeting in Derby, a scheme of 'Accompanied Self-Appraisal' was approved, and the necessary training and preparation began in the Connexion, and in each of Methodism's 29 Districts. At the end of last year (1996), 20% of all ministers, deacons and deaconesses were already fully engaged in the process, and it is anticipated that all of British Methodism's ministers [I] will be participating in annual self-appraisal activity by the year 2000. Richard Baxter's insightful words in 'The Reformed Pastor: 'All churches either rise or fan as the ministry doth rise or fan -not in riches or worldly grandeur, but in knowledge, zeal, and ability for their work' are captured well by this Self-Appraisal initiative, since the aims of this new Methodist development are clearly and distinctly concerned with enhancing, strengthening, affirming and encouraging the work of ministers and their ministry for the building-up of the whole church.

Key Features

The Key Features of this scheme gather around three distinct areas:

1) Its universal application

2) Its emphasis upon self-appraisal, and

3) Its involvement of 'accompanists'.

1) The Universal Application

From the outset, it has been considered that all ministers in 'active work' should be expected to participate in this process of Self-Appraisal ('Active Work' here means all those who are not supernumerary ministers). In a manner which reflects Methodism's emphasis upon the universal nature of God's love, all ministers without distinction are encouraged to participate in self-appraisal, a process which can itself be perceived as a gift to the ordained ministry. The Methodist Conference has made it clear that Self-Appraisal is not an option for those who have a penchant for such things, but it forms part of the vital discipline and practice which unite all ministers who are in Full Connexion with the Church. This, of course, marks out the scheme as being distinct and different from other church Appraisal practices, as for example, the Church of England, where there is a wide-ranging pattern, varying from diocese to diocese. It also means that the Methodist practice requires a practical and well co-ordinated structure which needs to function easily throughout the whole Connexion.

In each of the Districts this structure has appropriate officers elected by their District Synods, who thereby become members of a District Appraisal Group. Each DAG has a District Appraisal Officer (DAO), at least one District Appraisal Trainer (DAT), and other appointed people (ordained and lay) who are together responsible for the smooth running of the process throughout the District. In most cases, the Chairman of the District plays an active role in the DAG, but rarely chairs its meetings. All DAO's and DAT's undergo a full training programme, which has been designed by an independent professional team, and regular reviews and consultations take place on a regional basis. With this central Connexional principle firmly established, it means that all ministers are able to sustain their annual self-appraisal even when they move from one circuit to another, and especially when they move out of one District into another. In such a case, the DAO simply informs the DAO of the new District that minister A" has completed x number of self-appraisals.

A universal approach is good in principle, but in practice there are some difficulties which need ironing out. Experience is beginning to show that not all ministers are 'straining at the leash' to get involved. Even after careful explanation that the process is self-appraisal with no-one appraising or assessing anyone else, apart from him or herself, there are still strong elements of reluctance and even firm opposition. it is tempting to try to explain this by assuming that some ministers still regard their ordination solely in terms of their personal and individual relationship with God -so much so that they feel that anything to do with appraisal is interference into their private spirituality; 'What 1 do with my time is between God and me alone'! Or, perhaps ministers genuinely feel that they do not have time for such a thing; they are busy enough already. Or, perhaps they may even be afraid of what might emerge if they examine their life and work too closely. But however strong the reluctance may be, the Methodist Church is still committed to encouraging all ministers to participate in this process.

As self-appraisal develops, we shall probably find that enabling this universal participation to happen without opposition will require some skilful pastoral handling.

2) Emphasis upon Self-Appraisal

When Methodism first expressed the view that appraisal should not be perceived in hierarchical terms, it took the bold and important step of recommending the over-riding principle of self-appraisal for the whole process. Many professional people in the churches with experience of appraisal have found this difficult to embrace, the commonly-held view of appraisal being in terms of assessment and evaluation of people by others.

The self-appraisal programme has been deliberately established in order that there is no room for any judgmental attitude or comment from others -if judgements are to be made, they will be arrived at by the minister him/herself. "

As you can imagine, this is not easy to achieve, and yet it is at the heart of the whole enterprise. The people who travel with the minister on self-appraisal fall into two categories - 1) the accompanist, and 2) those who provide feedback. The work and role of the accompanist will be covered in detail in the next section, but the significance of feedback needs to be drawn out at this point.

If a minister is to make progress in a realistic and wholesome way, it will be necessary for her/him to gather feedback on aspects of her/him work and ministry from members of the local church and congregation. All ministers and those offering feedback are given guidance in this delicate exercise so that the very issue of non-judgement is fully taken care of. It has been helpfully stated, on some occasions, that those giving feedback could be described as 'commentators', and perhaps this' is a better term all round. Commentary (or feedback) is to be regarded essentially as a tool for the minister, so that an accurate self-appraisal can be undertaken. It could be said that the acquiring of commentaries is the most precarious aspect of the whole self-appraisal process. How tempting it can be for a minister to approach only those who s/he knows will pay compliments and 'stroke the ego'! 'The more masochistically-minded may wish to approach only those who will castigate! However, the minister is entrusted. to find the most appropriate way of seeking commentaries from as many or as few commentators as s/he wishes, in group responses, in one-to-one, in writing or verbally. It is stressed that the minister has full control of the commentating (feedback) procedure, and anything which is written down becomes the property of the minister alone. Throughout the training period, the trainers are at great pains to ensure that ministers are in full control of the self- appraisal programme, from start to finish, in order to guarantee this fundamental principle of self-appraisal.

Another constituent part of the concept of self'-appraisal is the crucial matter of confidentiality. This impinges on two specific areas: first, the content of discussions with the accompanist and commentators; second, the identity of the accompanists with their respective self-appraisers.

On the first, it is most important that all that goes on between the self-appraiser and his/her accompanist be kept clearly within the bounds of confidentiality. This means that nothing whatever is passed anywhere after the completion of each self--appraisal. All that is required is a message to be conveyed to the DAO that the self-appraisal has taken place.

On the rare occasions when, for example, the accompanist becomes aware that a breach of the law has taken place or of something which may be a danger to him/herself or others, the accompanist would first inform the self-appraiser that the matter needs to be reported.

On the second matter, only two people -the DAO and the DAG secretary -have knowledge of the identity of the self -appraiser and his/her accompanist. [2]

3) The involvement of Accompanists

Some words have the habit of taking on specific meanings and associations -especially in the life of the churches. Readers of this article will have already recognised the distinctive terminology of Methodist sub-culture with words like District, Circuit, Connexion. Methodism is now adding the word 'Accompanist' to its particular vocabulary, and, we believe bringing with it an invaluable resource to the pastoral and prophetic well-being of its ministers and communities.

In the world of musical performance, an accompanist has a vital and distinctive role in the formation and presentation of a musical work. He or she must be highly skilled, not so much in musical technique, but more in the qualities of sympathy, acute listening ability, anticipation, following the tempo (or beat), encouragement, and allowing the performer(s) to do well, indeed, to 'excel themselves'. There will be times of practice and preparation, support and interpretation -but at every turn, the accompanist is fully aware of his/her place, accompanying, walking alongside, never intruding and yet essential for meaningful performance.

Such an illustration serves well the particular role of our District Appraisal Accompanists, DAA's. They are essential participants in the programme, and it is with their encouragement that the ministers perform their ministry well and with potential to 'excel themselves' in their work. 1 believe we must not be too hesitant in recognising that the Gospel is to be performed to the world. I am not here referring to the populist idea of 'putting on a performance'- such an approach to the Church's work, and especially its worship, is wholly out of place and in deed abhorrent -but to the importance of 'putting forth' or 'pre-senting' the Gospel as something that lies at the heart of the calling and exercise of the ordained ministry .In fact it is at the heart of missionary imperative given to the Church by our Lord. If we look at ministry in this way, it is surely to the benefit of the whole Church that its ministers are supported in their Gospel-performances, and equally that they are weaned away from any temptation to be solo performers or prima donnas!

Of course, such requirements as these are relatively easy to recognise and describe, but it is another thing to discern them as gifts within the lives of others; so it is vital that the people who come forward for training as Accompanists have the appropriate gifts and graces for the work. The Church has set up clear procedures for the selection of DAA's. Initially, Circuit Superintendent ministers and Circuit Stewards are encouraged to identify potential accompanists from among the members of the churches in their Circuits. At any time they can nominate such people to the District Appraisal ('Group, whose members then consider the names and recommend them for training as appropriate [3].

The recommended accompanists are then required to attend the appropriate training sessions led by the District Appraisal Trainer(s) using course material designed by the Connexional Appraisal Steering Group. During the training period potential accompanists can discern for themselves if they have the required listening- and empathy-skills needed. Experience has shown that some nominees go through a process of self-deselection. Long-established bad appraisal habits may be corrected. After the training period, the names of those nominated are put forward to the District Policy Committee for authorisation, and the Policy Committee is empowered by the District Synod to make the appropriate authorisations.

At this stage we enter into the world of 'pairing' ministers with accompanists. In order to maintain confidentiality, the pairing process is undertaken by the District Appraisal Officer alone [4].

After the initial stages of the programme, it was agreed that it would be much more practical, and indeed more suitable, for a single name to be offered to each minister [5]. It can also be argued that an element of trust in the DAO's ability to suggest workable pairings is good and healthy. All ministers are given the option to reject an offer of a particular accompanist in which case s/he informs the DAO that the pairing is not appropriate and requests another suggestion.

In all this it is important to stress that the details of pairing arrangements are kept confidential to the DAO alone [6].

When the details of pairing have been accepted by both minister and accompanist, the usual practice is for the minister to make initial contact with his/her respective accompanist. In this way, ministers are encouraged to see that the Self'-Appraisal process is in their hands alone at all times. It is the minister who invites the paired accompanist to begin sharing in the work.

The Minister and Accompanist then work through five stages:

Stage 1. The minister provides the accompanist with a few facts about him/herself -age, years in ministry, current responsibilities, previous circuit appointments or employment etc., on a 'Fact Sheet'. The minister is given, within a Handbook entitled 'Information and Skills for the Self'-Appraiser', an 'Aid to Reflection' which is designed to help her/him reflect on her/his ministry so far, and later to reflect on the feedback process.

Stage 2. The first meeting of Self-Appraiser and Accompanist takes place, at which the minister is encouraged to identify the specific areas of ministry to be covered in this Appraisal (it is impossible to look at the whole range of work in just one appraisal period).

Stage 3. The minister seeks commentary (feedback) from people of her/his choice.

Stage 4. The minister and accompanist come together again for further meeting(s), in order that the feedback commentaries can be owned, assimilated and assessed by the minister. This stage usually includes the setting of goals for the forthcoming year, identification of vocational and personal commitments and any personal development needs. It is anticipated that some ministers will recognise a need for further training in specific areas of ministry. When this happens, the accompanist encourages the minister to explore such possibilities with the District Further Training Officer, the DAO or the District Chairman.

Stage 5. The minister and accompanist discuss the process and how it has worked out. The accompanist establishes with the minister if it would be appropriate to report to the District Appraisal Officer that the Self-Appraisal has been completed for this year. It is, of course, possible that the process may default, for any number of reasons. When this happens, the accompanist reports to the DAO that the self -appraisal has not been completed. .No reasons are given.

In many Districts, provision is made for the accompanists to have a brief review meeting at the end of each appraisal year. This is designed to supply on-going support for the accompanists and to consider any adjustments or improvements thought to be necessary. For reasons of confidentiality, individual details about specific meetings are not expressed or shared. Similarly, ministers are given an opportunity to evaluate the process -in one District this is done through an anonymous questionnaire. In this way we are seeking to grow into the whole appraisal process as it evolves and develops over the years.

So much for the Practice, but what about the Theory?

In some areas of the Church Universal, Methodism has been criticised for not having a fully worked-out theology -Methodists tend to be doers and pragmatists, not great thinkers or theologians! Of course, you would never expect me to agree with such a view, and I would be quick to point out that the way Methodists do their theology may simply be different from the way many other critics do theirs.

But Accompanied Self-Appraisal is supported and fed by a particular approach to Biblical Theology, and the minister who has promoted the whole Self -Appraisal enterprise in Methodism, the Revd Dr John Simmonds, has put forward a most helpful narrative theology in a recent edition of the Epworth Review journal [7]. Here, Dr Simmonds introduces two vital poles of the doctrine of God - attentiveness and interdependence -and relates them to the activity of Self-Appraisal. 'God's first act of creation was to pay attention', says Dr Simmonds, and with numerous biblical references he shows how, from the beginning until now, God is attentiveness. With regard to the matter of Interdependence, a denial of community and its associated privatisation of religion, is a belittling of the very nature of God, who is the one who desires everyone to participate in the 'dance of the Trinity'. In this way, the ground rules are set - self -appraising ministers are enabled to recognise the importance of Attentiveness within their ministry and to be reminded of their sense of Interdependence, otherwise there is the risk of 'burning up'. As Jethro said to Moses: 'The task is too heavy for you, you cannot do it alone. Moses listened to his father-in-law' (Exodus 18:24). It is of the greatest importance to emphasise how the appraisal scheme needs to reflect God being/or us and not against us. What has to be offered to ministers is an experience of 'being attended to', being held within a framework of loving knowledge and patient encounter -in just the way we experience the grace of God in Christ.

But alongside these two great words of Attentiveness and Interdependence, there must be the whole issue of Accountability. The scriptures are clear that those whom God calls are accountable for their calling. As well as Ezekiel's tirade against the shepherds of Israel (Ezekie1 34), there are many references in the New Testament which clearly show that those who are given freedom and dignity are also expected to give freedom and dignity to others (e.g. Matthew 25, Romans 12:3). Ministers are accountable for their ministry and life, in a threefold way: 1) in her/his own vocation, 2) to the Methodist Connexion, and 3) to the people in her/his ministry and mission context. There is, of course, nothing new about this, but the Self-Appraisal process highlights it and encourages ministers to recognise that being accountable to their 'call to ministry' must also take account of the desires, gifts and opinions of others.

It is important to note that the concept of 'accompaniment' holds the key to a system which is committed to holding together Attentiveness, Interdependence and Accountability. As Dr Simmonds asks: 'How could a minister, deacon or deaconess be engaged in a process of appraisal which would both enhance their dignity and freedom in the gospel and constrain them to be accountable to the God who blesses them, the Church which ordains them and the people alongside whom they exercise their ministry?' The key is the idea of Accompaniment. In view of some comments made above, it is interesting to note that many orders of Catholic sisters have been using Accompanist to describe a person who facilitates a sister's vocational exploration. When asked about her accompanist one sister said: 'She and I make music together, though I call the tune!'

Perhaps the most significant biblical and theological injection into the Self-Appraisal scheme can be found in the letter to the Ephesians. In the fourth chapter we are reminded of the central place of loving growth in the Christian faith (4:15). Here the idea of movement in growth is unmistakable; it is also an unshakeable aspect of John Wesley's emphasis upon the Christian life as a journey towards Christian perfection. Although many of us have inherited a fixed view of ordination -thinking in terms of pedestals, being ikons of God, maintaining a directive style of leadership, always having the right word for every situation, etc, - such views need to be seriously challenged if we are truly committed to spiritual growth for ourselves and for the church. Inevitably it is difficult for our people initially to offer feedback to their ministers, if only because they have never (until now) had permission to give it openly, but the whole pilgrimage of growing into Christ lies at the heart of our faith, and such processes can only be an enhancement of faith. And so the Self-Appraisal process is a vital part of the whole exciting and challenging faith enterprise.


It is interesting to notice how the introduction of something new and additional into the disciplined life of the ministry often creates a rear-guard action. When the idea of sabbaticals for all ministers was first mooted, there was a considerable outcry from ministers and lay people alike, and yet today it has become fully integrated into our life to enormous advantage. Similarly there is no doubt that Accompanied Self-Appraisal will become a valued tool for developing the twinned aspects of Attentiveness and Interdependence within ministry. Also, our way of life, as Christ's people, lay and ordained, will demonstrate an increase in the way people value each other and give dignity to one another -perhaps we may even learn to accompany one another more, just as we are already accompanied by the Lord himself

Notes:[1] Whenever the word 'minister(s)' is used in this essay, please read 'minister(s),deacon(s) and deaconess(es)'

[2] From the writer's experience within his District, the pairing is confidential information known to and shared by the DAO and the Secretary of the DAG.

[3] It is still possible at this stage for a nominated accompanist to proceed no further, if the DAG members are unhappy.

[4] The DAG Secretary is also involved, in the writer's experience -see note [2]above.

[5] This, again, is in the writer's experience within his District. Details may vary from District to District

[6] See notes [2] and [4] above.[7] Published every four months by the Methodist Publishing House.

The Revd Harvey Richardson is a Methodist minister.


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You are reading The Methodist Self-Appraisal Scheme by Harvey Richardson, part of Issue 12 of Ministry Today, published in February 1998.

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