For years now - certainly since I came into circuit ministry - the Methodist Church has had a scheme of appraisal for ministers. Until recently this was a system of 'Accompanied Self-Appraisal' (ASA) which paired the minister up with (usually) a lay person from another circuit who could help them to reflect on certain aspects of their ministry and identify possible areas for development, further training etc.
In some cases this worked well, but it was essentially self-driven, with the minister identifying the area of their ministry to examine, and therefore left itself open to lip-service or even abuse - only looking at those areas that one knew one was reasonably proficient at, therefore leaving any weak areas untested.
A few years ago a new scheme of 'Annual Development Review' (ADR) was proposed as a replacement for ASA, and a number of Districts - Sheffield being one of them - were chosen to pilot the scheme. This was a much more thorough review, with set questions for the minister and their churches to consider in looking back over and assessing the past year. Identifiable development goals were sought as a result of the review, which would themselves be reviewed the following year. The process was directed by an independent, specially trained facilitator from outside the circuit, and was conducted by reviewers acceptable to the minister concerned. This process worked well in the Sheffield District, despite being quite labour-intensive in terms of lay involvement, and most of those who took part in it found it to be hugely beneficial to their ministry.
Sadly this positive feeling about the new process was not shared across the Connexion, and in response to feedback received a revised scheme has been proposed. This, unfortunately, in its first draft, looked uncomfortably like a system of line management, with Superintendent ministers taking responsibility for assessing their circuit colleagues, Chairs assessing Supers, and the General Secretary assessing Chairs. Methodism is NOT an hierarchical church, despite appearances to the contrary: circuit superintendents and district chairs are office holders, not carriers of rank. The scheme as proposed would to my mind have seriously undermined that inherent egalitarianism. It also completely detatched the laity of the church from the process of review, other than as those giving feedback on the minister's 'performance'.
Certain changes have been made to that scheme, but not enough to my mind. A lay person has been introduced into the mix, and hopefully they will take the lead role in this new ADR process, but there is still that 'line-management' element present. Part of my concern is that, because (despite our ordination) all ministers are fallible human beings, there are occasions when relationships between Supers and their staff are far from ideal, and consequently it may not be easy (or possible in some cases) for a dispassionate review to take place. Where there is a difficult (or in some cases impossible) pastoral relationship, how can there be an impartial 'management' relationship?
My hope and prayer (despite my reservations about the process) is that this new scheme will still enable ministers in the Methodist Church to reflect meaningfully on their calling and its out-working, and to enhance that ministry through relevant further training. That way we can help to ensure that we are fit for purpose in today's world and today's church.