At the beginning of the year, I began working on a project in my shop. We needed some more storage space and decided that the need would be met if I built a cabinet and shelf unit similar to the china cabinet and hutch I built a few years ago. The new unit needed to be slightly smaller and a bit different in design but they would match in terms of basic design, wood selection and finish. We got really lucky when the knotty pine I planned on using was on sale at a nearby building supply store.

The project has been moving along. It hasn’t been as fast as I would like. I still have to work and that limits my time for woodworking. I can’t do sawing or sanding in the house, which means those particular jobs can only be done with it is nice enough outside. The requirements for free time and relatively comfortable outside weather in Nova Scotia in the winter happening at the same time mean that I don’t get at the project as often as I would like and the finishing date keeps getting shifted forward.

But the project is moving along. The basic structures are formed, a lot of the sanding is done and there are just a few more assembly steps necessary before I can finish the whole thing. Even though I don’t care much for the final sanding and varnishing process, I can see that I will get the work done. I can also see just how much progress I have made along the way—I have moved from a pile of boards on the basement floor to a pretty much finished project that will soon become a finished and functional part of our household.

There are times when I wish the success of my ministry was as easy to evaluate. But the reality I live with is that much of what I do for ministry isn’t all that easy to evaluate, especially if I am looking at and for long term results. Sure, I can relatively easily gage how well a sermon went over—I just have to count the number of people awake when I finish. Evaluating a Bible study session is relatively simple—I look at how far I got or didn’t get in my lesson plan.

But figuring out how that sermon fits into the long term health of the individuals and the church or seeing how that Bible study session affects the church three years from now—that is much more difficult. In fact, it actually might be pretty much impossible. When I cut a board in the workshop, I can pretty much tell immediately if it will work or not. But when I finish a sermon, who really knows what the effects will be?

Even the traditional measures of evaluating ministry really don’t give a lot of insight into the effectiveness of ministry. Traditionally, churches and leadership have used the numerical growth of the congregation and the increase in giving as measuring sticks—what some call the “nickels and noses” evaluation. But all that says in the end is that we have more or less people and money that when we started.

I believe in evaluation processes and have lots of measuring tools that I use in my ministry but I have realized that in the end, most of what I do will ultimately be evaluated by God, not me or the church or the denomination. Without sounding too whatever, I think that the real value of the ministry I do here and now will be evaluated by God himself. I base that partly on Paul’s comments in I Corinthians 2.10-15, where he suggests that only when God calls “time” will the final word on anyone’s ministry by spoken.

That doesn’t really bother me, all that much. While I can and do use all sorts of evaluation processes and tools to help make my ministry as effective as I can make it, I recognize that God has the final say and I am responsible for doing the best I can with the tools I have and the time I have—and am also responsible for making sure that I keep open to his leading because he knows where it all needs to go much better than I do.

It’s probably good that I like woodworking because that means there is at least some place where I can see clearly what I am accomplishing.

May the peace of God be with you.



One of my Christmas gifts every year for the past few years is a subscription to a science magazine.  I think it was a desperation gift when our son first gave it but it was and is a deeply appreciated part of my Christmas and the rest of the year.  And, because of the way magazines get published, I had the January issue in early December.

I look forward to that issue because it summarizes the top scientific stories and issues for the past year.  When I read through the issue, I am reminded of some things I knew of, I discover some things that I didn’t hear about and I end up feeling like I know something more than before I read the magazine.

And the magazine publishers are not alone–almost everyone does a year end review.  News programs review the top stories; various musical styles do their top 100 for the year; movies get rated  from best to worst–everyone seems to want to review the year.

So, I sometimes think I should review my year–but what should I include in the review?  What parts of my life do I want to look over and rate?  I suppose I could do a top ten sermons list–but truthfully, when I finish a sermon, I am pretty much done with it, except for the occasional discussion that it sparks at the following week’s Bible study.  Going back and re-reading them to rate them isn’t all that appealing to me.

I do have to do something of a work review for the churchs’ annual meetings but that tends to be a statistical report with some ideas and suggestions and is sometimes hard to do because a lot of what I do in the church is in process and can’t really be measured or evaluated on a chronological basis.

I could do some personal review but that sometimes takes on a negative slant:  the weight I didn’t lose, the bike rides I didn’t  take; the people I didn’t get to spend time with; the books that are still waiting to be read.  The things I accomplished, well, sometimes they don’t seem all that significant–the naps I really needed to take or the coffee I really wanted to drink or the hour of YouTube that I couldn’t pass up.

I decided a while ago that my life and my work don’t actually lend themselves to an annual evaluation.   I believe in and practice self and professional evaluation but have realized that the process works a lot better if I allow the evaluation to fit into the natural and intrinsic patterns and cycles of whatever I am evaluating.

My personal life doesn’t cycle around the January date.  My professional life doesn’t fit the New Year evaluation pattern.  Trying to do a year end review or a best of the year process ends up being frustrating and somewhat pointless.   My professional cycle, for example, actually runs from September to May, with a short and needed break at the end of December.  It makes much more sense to do work evaluations in June or July than it does in December.

Likewise, my personal life follows a cycle that is intertwined with my professional life, the seasons and when the next Star Wars or Star Trek movie will come out.  Most of those cycles don’t lend themselves well to a December 31 evaluation process.  They can be evaluated and some of them need to be evaluated but evaluating them based on the cycles they follow is better and more effective.

So, I am going to anticipate and enjoy the science magazine’s year in review.  I might listen to some of the top 100 music of the past year.  I will summarize the past year for the church annual report.  I will try to avoid looking too closely at the bathroom scales report on my after Christmas personal expansion.  But I won’t do a year end review and best of report.  I won’t make resolutions to do things better next year.

I will evaluate and plan and make changes as they are appropriate and necessary and fit in the patterns and cycles of my life because that works better for me than using an artificial and arbitrary date as a reason for evaluation and review.

May the peace of God be with you.


In the October 12 blog post, I wrote “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.” This must be always in the forefront during the pastoral evaluation. The goal is not to “catch” the pastor, not to cover over real problems, not to find fault or excessively praise. It is to enhance the ministry the pastor does so that the congregation will be stronger.

The overall evaluation is best done by a small, official group who represent the whole congregation. It can be a group already in place, such as the Board of Deacons. The congregation can also choose to elect a special committee to do the pastoral review. However they are chose, this group has the responsibility for working through the process with the pastor.

Using the job description as a base, the pastor and committee discuss the pastor’s activity. He/she can be asked to prepare a report on the work that has been done, including an evaluation showing how the activity fulfilled the requirements of the job description. The report can include recommendations for changing the job description as well.

Each member of the committee should also go through a similar process, writing an evaluation based on their perspective. It is very important here that the individual committee members provide their own personal evaluation. It is not helpful for committee members to report on what “they” said. Second and third hand reports channeled through the committee do not help the process because there is no way to determine the validity of such comments. As well, committee members need to refrain from commenting on things they may not be fully able to evaluate.

For example, the committee member may only have had one visit from the pastor–but that does not mean the pastor isn’t visiting others. The committee can state they have been visited once and during the discussion can ask the pastor how much visitation he/she has done. As mentioned, the committee member also cannot say that “they” say “they” are not being visited enough.

The committee can and should get input from the congregation. The best way to do this is through a questionnaire or interview process where people are given the opportunity to share their own personal thoughts and feelings. It is important that the instructions explain that the committee is looking for only the responses of the individual.

If the committee opts to use a questionnaire, make sure the questions are clear, have an answering system that is easy to understand and score and will give results that can be easily shared. When using a questionnaire in a small congregation, have pencils available and encourage the congregation to fill it out right then–questionnaires taken home rarely get filled out and even more rarely get returned.

When all the reports and questionnaires have been submitted, read and correlated by the committee, the committee and pastor can meet together. They seek to affirm the positive discoveries, make plans to develop the weak areas that show up and make recommendations to change the job description as necessary to further enable ministry.

One further issue that needs to be carefully considered is who gets to know what about the final report. Some parts of the report need to be open to everyone. For example, if the congregation is asked to fill out a questionnaire, they have a right to see the results of the questionnaire. Depending on the instructions to the pastor, they may have a right to see the report the pastor prepares for the committee. Reports by individual committee members should probably be shared only with the committee.

The final report should be available to the whole congregation, unless there are things in it which are of a confidential nature. The pastor may request that certain parts remain confidential–for example, he/she may reveal plans to retire within a year or so but not want that released to the whole congregation until a later date.

All involved need to remember that the goal of the process is the same as the goal of the ministry review–to produce better and more effective ministry. Rather than fear the process and the report, all involved should see it as an opportunity to enhance the overall ministry of the congregation.

May the peace of God be with you.


In every job where I have had regular performance reviews or job evaluations, I had a clear job description that was used as the basis of the review process. That makes sense–it is hard to evaluate something if those involved aren’t really clear on what is being evaluated. But this leads to one of the major problems with doing an evaluation of the pastor–generally, there is no clear job description.

When I began ministry in the early 1970s, congregations and pastors didn’t worry about job descriptions. But the reality was that church culture of the time provided both pastor and congregation with a pretty clear unwritten job description. The pastor was expected to do things like visit the people, preach good sermons, lead Bible study, do the appropriate life stage ceremonies, be available for emergencies and other tasks depending on the specific context and pastoral abilities.

There were always some pastors and some congregations who took exception to parts of the unwritten description and no pastor ever did it all perfectly–but then again, congregations didn’t expect the pastor to do it all and do it perfectly. There were complaints, generally focusing on the lack of visitation or poor preaching but on the whole, there was a generally accepted, unwritten pastoral job description that formed the basis of the pastor-congregation connection.

In the intervening years, there have been dramatic changes in that area. The congregational view of the job description hasn’t changed much in most smaller churches but the pastoral view of the job has undergone some dramatic changes. For a variety of reasons, many pastors see their job in a very different way.

A few years after I began ministry, I began to hear pastors complain about how much of their time was wasted on pastoral visitation. Others began to suggest that a regular Bible study was not really a pastoral responsibility. Some with young families began talking about the need to set limits on congregational demands on the pastor’s time–I know a few who even forbade phone calls to the pastor’s home.

At the same time, North American culture began to make leadership more attractive than pastoring and pastors were being encouraged to see themselves as leaders and visionaries whose task was to move the creaky, staid and stuck church into the 20th (or 21st now) century, whether the church really wanted to move or not.

The end result has been a serious divergence in the way pastors and congregations view the pastor’s job. The problem lies in this divergence. Neither the congregation’s traditional job description nor the pastor’s contemporary job description are actually wrong–what is wrong is that neither really knows the other’s thinking and they end up puling in different directions. A lot of the tensions that I see between congregations and their pastors seem to come from a deep divergence on the understanding of the pastor’s job.

It is probably well past time for congregations to discover the need for a clear job description that they use when searching for a pastor. This job description provides the basis for an effective pastoral search–the congregation knows what they are looking for and potential pastors know what will be expected of them. The potential pastor can also have a better idea about their ability to deliver what the congregation is looking for.

It is probably also a very wise thing for churches that currently have a pastor to spend some time discussing and developing a mutually acceptable job description. This process is a bit harder because it has to take into consideration not just the congregation but also the incumbent pastor but it can be done and will likely prove very helpful to both congregation and pastor.

The next post will look at a process for developing a job description in a congregation that is between pastors, which is probably the easiest time to develop such a description. Eventually, we will get to using the description as the basis for a pastoral job evaluation.

May the peace of God be with you.


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.