EVALUATING THE SMALL CHURCH PASTOR 1

When I worked with the Army Cadet program, with a seminary and overseas, I took part in yearly job evaluations. These evaluations looked at my ability to carry out the job I was doing, made suggestions for areas that could be improved and indicated where I was doing well. I always found the process helpful and valuable.

But I have discovered that many pastors resist and even fear any kind of evaluation process that focuses on them and their work. It may be because many congregations and pastors view the pastor as occupying a special, privileged position that puts him/her beyond the demands of normal life or it may be that some pastors are too insecure to enter into an evaluation process–but for whatever reason, many, perhaps the majority of pastors are never evaluated on their ability to do the job they have been called to do.

This is a mistake–and given the frequency of pastoral failures that I see and hear about, it is a mistake that congregations should seriously consider fixing. Certainly, a good ministry review such as we have been looking at will provide some information on how well the pastor is or is not doing the job but what is really needed is a focused evaluation of the pastor’s ability to do the job they are being paid for.

There are some who suggest that the nature of the pastoral role makes evaluation impossible or ill advised. Pastors are, after all, people who are called by God and set aside to do a special task in the life of the congregation. To evaluate them as if they were produce managers in a grocery store takes away from the sacred nature of their calling. Sometimes, this reluctance is given a sort of Biblical basis with the statement “Touch not the Lord’s anointed”, a reference to the story in I Samuel 26 where David refuses to kill King Saul when it is within his power to do so.

As well, pastors generally have special training and qualifications for their calling, training and qualifications that most in the congregation don’t have and many not fully understand. To have the trained and qualified pastor evaluated by untrained and unqualified individuals is not a fair process and will allow personal vendettas to affect the process.

That sounds very spiritual–but it is based on very poor theology. To start with, the passage in I Samuel refers to a king, who was anointed. Pastors are not anointed–they are called. But then again, every believer is called as well. Not all are called to pastoral ministry but the New Testament doesn’t give pastors any special place as opposed to those called to other roles in the church or society. Pastors are seen as servants–or slaves–of the congregation, not spiritual overlords who cannot be questioned or evaluated.

Most pastors do have special training and qualifications. But they are called to use these for the benefit of the congregation. While the congregation doesn’t generally have the training and qualifications that the pastor does, the members are very qualified to evaluate how effectively the pastor is using the training and qualifications on behalf of the congregation. As members, they know how they and the rest of the congregation are doing and feeling as a result of the ministry of the pastor–and that makes them perfectly qualified to do an evaluation.

Personal vendettas might be present and might affect the evaluation–but if the vendettas exist, the pastor should know about them and be seeking to deal with them even before the evaluation process.

The purpose of a job evaluation is not to find problems and create tension. Rather, the purpose is to help the individual do the best job possible. Since all pastors are human, none of us is perfect–and that imperfection affects our ability to pastor the church. An evaluation process can be a big help to both pastor and congregation as they look at the ministry they do together. It can not only show what is going well so that it can be strengthened but also it can shed light on issues and problems before they become big enough to seriously harm the congregation and its ministry.

How do we do a good and effective evaluation? We will look at that beginning tomorrow.

May the peace of God be with you.

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