"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Recruiting Adult Leaders


Dr. Mark Senter

At first Jeff rejected the idea.

"It seems so contrary to my ideas about human nature," he told Rita at breakfast. "I'm not even sure people will feel comfortable enough to respond positively if they're evaluated on their teaching performance."
"Maybe you need to give people more credit," Rita suggested. "Evaluation is appreciated by teachers who are doing a good job. It's a form of recognition."

As Jeff drove to the church for a meeting with the middler teaching team, the concept appeared to be a real option. What Rita said made sense. "Perhaps," thought Jeff, "if I'm extremely sensitive about how I approach the process, I can turn evaluation sessions into a recruitment tool-at least a method of retaining an increasing number of quality teachers. That way I might not have to recruit as many new volunteers each year."

Nearly a year before at a meeting of the Christian Education Committee, Jeff had raised the idea of evaluating the teaching teams. "I believe if our primary focus is on discovering the strengths of the various teachers and helping them refine and enhance their skills, teacher evaluation could be a productive addition to the program," he had said. After several months of discussion, the committee adopted the plan that he had submitted, and the evaluation process was introduced to the teaching staff at the fall workers conference.

The initial flack had been predictable. "Do you mean to suggest," fired Ford Collins, fourth-grade boys' Sunday School teacher, "that someone, perhaps with no teaching experience, can come into my classroom for a single session and get an accurate picture of how well I'm teaching week-in and week, out?" Sandra Swanson felt especially angered by the process. "After all," she argued, "I've been teaching children in this church for seventeen years, and if people haven't liked what I've been doing, they would have told me long before now!"

Others expressed similar, though not as defensive, responses at the conference. More concern was expressed to Ernie Larson, chairman of the CE Committee, in the days that followed. But to each person the response was the same: "Pastor Jeff is an easy person to work with. Let's give the process a try, and if it makes your whole team uncomfortable, then we'll reevaluate it - teachers included."

Jeff s role was the key to the idea, and he knew it. He was dealing with volunteers who sincerely wanted to serve the Lord, many of whom felt nervous over having a seminary graduate "peering over their shoulders" in class on Sunday morning. In recognition of their feelings, guidelines were set which, it was hoped, would minimize the teachers' concerns.

1. Teacher teams would be notified two weeks before an evaluation took place to allow teachers to feel adequately prepared for the pastor's visit.

2. The evaluation would take place over three consecutive weeks in order to obtain a balanced view of what happens in the various CE departments.

3. The CE pastor would be in the classroom from fifteen minutes before the scheduled starting time of the session until after the last activity was completed (when the children were turned over to either parents or the church-time leaders).

4. The CE pastor would remain in the department to talk with teachers after each teaching session for as long as they wished to talk. The main discussion, however, would wait until the three weeks were completed.

5. The CE pastor would use an evaluation form with which the teaching team was acquainted to reduce the fear of being critiqued in aspects of the teaching art in which the teachers were not trained.

6. The CE pastor would remain as inconspicuous as possible in the room while doing the evaluation.

7. The CE pastor would meet with the teaching teams as a group within two weeks of the in-class evaluation to share his observations.

Sandra Swanson's kindergarten was the first teaching team Jeff visited. It was not that he had anything against the kindergarten department. He'd just spent so much time on the phone with Sandra explaining things and smoothing ruffled feathers that he thought it would be wise to get the process out of the way quickly. Allowing the evaluation to hang over the veteran teacher's head for months could trigger a buildup of tension and resentment.

The kindergarten evaluation, to Sandra's surprise, was a very positive experience for everyone involved. Though Sandra was not a perfect department leader, she had a number of strengths. Jeff focused on these, suggesting some innovative ways in which these abilities could be channeled to make the teaching experience even more effective. Finally, after nearly an hour and a half of creative affirmation, brainstorming, and instruction, Sandra blurted out the question Jeff hoped someone would ask.
"Nobody's perfect, Pastor Jeff!" the veteran admitted. "What were we doing wrong? Where do we need to improve?"

Jeff was prepared to answer such questions, but he felt reluctant to do so. The meeting had gone so well and so much valuable teacher training had taken place, that he simply didn't want to jeopardize the impact by the negative reaction which even mild criticism could stimulate.

"Come on, Jeff," Sandra chided. "We really want your evaluation on where we could improve."
For the next twenty minutes, Jeff shared helpful observations with the now eager volunteer teachers, offering training re-sources and practical tips that could strengthen the learning process in the kindergarten department. To his immense relief, it was gracefully received.

Months passed. The third evaluation since the kindergarten teaching team visit had been completed. As Jeff reflected back on the evaluations of the primary and middler departments as well as his time with Sandra Swanson's staff, one fact was obvious: These were dedicated, sincere and, in most cases, gifted
people who needed the affirmation, encouragement, and instruction of a person whom they loved and respected. The time and sensitivity he'd invested in the process expanded into a stronger bond of loyalty by teachers toward the church and toward Jeff. There was a new confidence that they were doing a commend-able job in their teaching ministry.

In the years that followed, Jeff's idea of using the evaluation process as a tool for recruiting volunteer workers proved to be valid in two respects. Just as he'd hoped, fewer people had to be recruited because department turnover was lower. Second, Jeff noticed that people who felt affirmed, supported, and assisted at the points of their needs would attract other people to volunteer for teaching. The evaluated people became key influences in the recruitment process.

Despite all the positive aspects of this approach to evaluation, the pastor of Christian education found that the process was simply too time-consuming to be practical. After all, it was nearly a luxury to be isolated in one department for an hour and a half, three weeks in a row. Other people needed to see the church's foremost educational resource person during this time. The solution was to train others to do the evaluations.

The next two evaluations gave Jeff the opportunity to teach his age-group coordinators how to assist the teaching teams through the evaluation process. The coordinators were briefed on how to use evaluation as a positive tool, then were given classroom observation assignments.

After each teaching session, Jeff met with the coordinators to discuss the evaluation process. He provided feedback on their comments and observations, the effectiveness of their evaluations, and what should be looked for in the next session. The response of the coordinators was excellent, for they were upgrading their own skills while building better relationships with their teaching teams and upgrading the quality of the teaching/learning process. It was an "everybody wins" proposition.

In the years that followed, the age-group coordinators remained the primary evaluators of the various departments. But Jeff found himself reentering the process for one of two reasons: to train new age-group coordinators as staff changes occurred and to keep in touch with the grass-roots level of what was happening in the educational ministry of Walnut Heights.


Mark H. Senter III is chair of the Department of Educational Ministries and associate professor of educational ministries at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He has been at Trinity since 1982. Prior to that, Senter served as youth pastor for 11 years and as pastor of Christian education at Wheaton Bible Church for 7 years.

Senter's areas of expertise include youth ministry, volunteerism, administration, and continuing education. He is a member of the North American Professors of Christian Education. He is a consultant for churches and parachurch agencies in periods of transition.

Senter's publications include Reaching a Generation for Christ (co-edited with Richard Dunn) (Moody 1997), The Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry (Victor 1992), Recruiting Volunteers in the Church (Victor 1990), and The Complete Book of Youth Ministry (co-edited with Warren Benson) (Moody 1987). He contributed to More Than Conquerors and his numerous articles have been published in periodicals such as Youthworker, Moody, Christianity Today, Leadership, and Christian Education Journal. Senter has also written chapters for other volumes on youth ministry.


This article was originally chapter eleven of Recruiting Volunteers in the Church, by Mark Senter III, Victor Books, copyright 1990 by SP Publications. Currently out of print. Used by permission of Mark Senter.