Are there more facets to a minister’s job than any other? Encourage growth, income, and staff; develop new programs; seize new opportunities; manage finances; reflect and dispense wisdom; lead in worship; know the Bible and appear to know its languages; manifest spirituality; interpret what’s happening in people’s lives and in the world; know past ages and your church; know your church’s family; visit the sick and the shut-in; serve the people; pray for the people; be sensitive to those “outside the circle”; be an interesting, instructive, and inspiring speaker who shares the gospel with volunteer audiences. Many of these challenges have biblical warrant.
And then there are the peripheral aspects to his job. Correct bathroom malfunctions; set up tables and chairs; give rides to folks in need; hear oft-repeated stories graciously; handle unexpected tensions and mini-crises with calm; and work toward keeping people challenged and growing. These are not part of any job description, but may gain the pastor credibility as a caring, involved person.
No pastor, no human being, can possibly fulfill all of these responsibilities, but the pastor gets frequent evaluations. Some opinions may be positive (“Our pastor is wonderful”), but many are harmful, even evil. Lunch conversations, casual talk, unsigned notes, gossip, rumors, direct comments, innuendo. This informal and subjective evaluation system offers little help of the pastor, but an annual formal evaluation of a pastor’s performance can produce benefit and blessing.
Ministry evaluations offer opportunities to enhance ministry, improve priorities, and encourage better communication and participation.
The Benefits of an Evaluation
You might oppose any formal evaluation of your pastor. It takes time and energy and seems to value quantity over quality. We know how companies do evaluations, but the church situation is different. The elders are willing, but really not qualified, by experience or knowledge, to initiate such a process. Some elders don’t know what a pastor does or should do, and it’s really intimidating to think about criticizing our pastor. Sheep don’t evaluate shepherds. But in skipping the formal evaluation, you may miss an opportunity to bless your church and your pastor.
Formal evaluations provide the opportunity to enhance ministry, improve priorities, encourage better communication and active participation. The process allows the church to grow toward mature service and caring fellowship, discover opportunities to implement better strategies, and strengthen the unity of spirit between the pastor and elders. The pastor may feel more respected and needed and will appreciate concern for his family’s well-being.
A pastor may regard a formal evaluation process as an unnecessary nuisance, perhaps even as totally inappropriate. For example, he may object to any effort to evaluate his work on the basis that he is “called by God” and therefore beyond evaluation, perhaps especially by others who have not experienced that call.
But the PCA Book of Church Order (BCO)16-1 confirms that this call ordinarily comes “through the inward testimony of a good conscience, the manifest approbation of God’s people, and the concurring judgment of a lawful court of the Church.” The call is based on one’s personal examination, confirmation by the church, and the judgment of an official church body. The person himself, the people, and the presbytery join in evaluating the candidate’s commitment, faith, and gifts, to conclude or deny that he is “called of God.” People may even feel that they have no right to be evaluating a pastor. But being “called of God” does not provide a sufficient pastoral exemption from being evaluated. In fact, that calling arises from evaluation.
Perhaps the pastor regards the various facets of his ministry as being well-done, so that evaluation by others or even by himself is not necessary. Would it not be a blessing to a church if a pastor’s areas of weakness or omission could be strengthened – through changes in him, the supportive leaders, the whole church – and areas of strength could bear even more fruit?
The pastor may simply feel threatened by the prospect of any kind of formal evaluation as resulting in criticism the pastor does not want to hear. A person being evaluated is in a vulnerable position; he may not feel safe. He may fear some hidden agenda: negative experience of his leadership, demeaning focus on his inadequacies, inappropriate increase in his responsibilities, lack of sensitivity regarding his work and life, effort to micromanage his ministry, extended recital of complaints, or even justification for ending his pastorate. These kinds of concerns are all the more reasonable if the evaluation process is not done in an atmosphere of shared loyalty to the head of the church and of caring sensitivity, mutual respect, and Christian compassion.
What are God’s Goals?
First, we need to recognize who owns the church. The owners of a for-profit corporation are usually the shareholders; the goal is to increase sales now and to improve prospects for future sales. In a non-profit agency, typically the owners are the board of directors. But Jesus is the head of the church. He purchased it at a high price. It is “His body.” Any evaluation should therefore ask, “What are His goals, His purposes, His standards?”
Understanding that we are members of Jesus’ family means that we treat each other with sensitivity, even in an evaluation process. And in any evaluation, we work to restrain pride and careless attitudes from preventing what may be good for God’s people and their pastor – all because we want His church to represent our Lord more faithfully.
A formal evaluation can be beneficial to the pastor. Whatever its specific observations, a formal evaluation ought to be supportive, affirming, and encouraging. It also can serve to remind the pastor of his responsibility and accountability, not only to God, but to his church and its leaders and members, to his family, and to the larger community. If aspects of his ministry need extra attention, he can correct the imbalance. If he is struggling with weak areas, he and the church leaders can develop solutions together.
A formal evaluation ought to be supportive, affirming, and encouraging.
A formal evaluation can also benefit the church. It offers an opportunity to praise the Lord for what he has done and is doing in his people through the pastor’s faithful ministry. Church leaders can consider the church’s mission and ministry, identify faithful service, and work toward improvement in all of the church’s opportunities. Differences between the pastor’s and the church’s expectations for his ministry may surface; identifying these discrepancies in advance can precent future harm to the body. And it helps to set goals and directions for the next year and into the future. The ministry of the pastor and the church can be greatly enhanced by an evaluation process that recognizes the place for sensitive, caring accountability and responsibility.
No biblical passage says, “Evaluate the pastor,” but some emphases are relevant. Each Christian should be open to wise counsel: “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” (Proverbs 19:20). We all belong to one another: “ … we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:50). Each of us is to use his or her gifts to the benefit of the body: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them … if service, in our serving … the one who leads, with zeal …” (Romans 12:6-8). Paul asked Barnabas to go on an evaluation visit: “And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are’” (Acts 15:36). An ultimate evaluation awaits the Lord’s people: “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
When, Why, and Who?
When should the evaluation be done? It should be a normal part of each year’s business. A call for an evaluation of the pastor because crises or problems have surfaced creates a negative playing field.
The evaluation should be an annual aspect of a continuing positive, supportive relationship among the leaders of the church and the pastor. The plan should be made clear at the beginning of the pastor’s ministry; otherwise the pastor and the elders should agree a year in advance regarding the plan. In the presence of unusual situations, the planned evaluation might be omitted.
Relationships are all-important in an evaluation. The Christian Reformed Church’s extensive study speaks of a “gracious, candid, ongoing conversation.” Achieving a balance between “gracious” and “candid” calls for Christian sensitivity. Honesty and openness become possible in an atmosphere of mutual trust, developed out of supportive relationships. Clear affirmation of what the pastor is doing well may make the journey into areas for improvement less rigorous. The goal is mutual support, accountability, and growth in shared ministry.
If regular and formal evaluation might contribute to the church’s vitality and ministry, then who should do it? In the PCA, each of the 4,761 teaching elders (minsters) is a member of one of its 85 presbyteries, usually the one in which he lives and works. [Most of these teaching elders serve in local churches as pastors, but many serve as long-term missionaries, military chaplains, or Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) campus ministers. Some are in church planting or labor “out-of-bounds” (either in regard to the nature or location of their work)].
The presbytery holds a position of significant authority over each of these 4,761 ministers and their work. The BCO distinguishes “spheres of action” in this matter: “The Session exercises jurisdiction over a single church, the Presbytery over what is common to the ministers, Sessions, and churches within a prescribed district … ” (11-4). Understand that each of the 4,761 ministers is a member of a presbytery but not of any local church.
The presbytery has power “to receive, dismiss, ordain, install, remove and judge ministers” (13-9a) and “to require ministers to devote themselves diligently to their sacred calling and to censure the delinquent” (13-9d). Charges against a minister are to be brought before presbytery as the court with proper authority (see 34-1: “Process against a minister shall be entered before the Presbytery of which he is a member”). In some cases, the presbytery can “without delay impose definite suspension or depose him from the ministry” (34-7).
Teaching elders who serve in ministries that are approved by the presbytery but which are not in PCA churches are required to “make a report to the Presbytery at least once each year” (8-4). The presbytery has authority to approve a call to an organization outside the jurisdiction of the PCA (8-7).
The relationship between a presbytery and its ministers requires the presbytery to make evaluations in situations where problems arise. But evaluations should be a regular experience, or their many potential benefits are lost.
It may be argued that presbytery has that responsibility. Some presbyteries have “employees” (including ministers), but most of the ministers who are its members serve in positions with some other board or agency having direct contact, perhaps even oversight, of each minister’s work. That agency should be responsible for a regular evaluation process. Each minister, whether he serves under a mission board, or a campus board, or a church planting temporary session could be asked to report to the presbytery each year that an evaluation did take place and briefly outline the process and general conclusions. In the case of ministers serving as pastors in local churches, that evaluating agency is the session.
By What Standard?
Evaluating anyone’s work requires some standard. Ideally the review process ought to be part of the minister’s call to serve the church. If a church does not have a formal job description for its pastor, any evaluation procedure needs to ask, “What criteria can we use?”
In a PCA ordination service a minister pledges faithfulness to the Scriptures and to the confessions and government of the denomination. In addition, he affirms a job description that is profound but difficult to define or quantify: “Do you engage to be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all your duties as a Christian and a minister of the Gospel, whether personal or relational, private or public; and to endeavor by the grace of God, to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your manner of life, and to walk with exemplary piety before the flock of God of which God shall make you overseer?” He then promises “to discharge to it [the church] the duties of a pastor” (BCO 21-5). If the pastor later begins service in another church, he affirms again willingness to “discharge all the duties of a pastor … agreeable to your ordination engagements” (BCO 21-9). But these “duties” are not defined.
No biblical passage says, “Evaluate the pastor.” But each Christian should, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” (Proverbs 19:20).
So then, where should we begin? An evaluation ought to be based on previously-agreed-upon priorities. Ideally the beginning point for an evaluation is last year’s evaluation which should have developed from the original understanding between the pastor and the church regarding his work. A year ago, various topics might have been considered and discussed. Affirmation of the pastor’s ministry efforts was emphasized. Areas for potential improvement were identified, with goals set for the year now completed. A year ago, the evaluation process itself was evaluated, perhaps improved. Topics and goals from a year ago form the basis for this year’s discussion. Quite possibly, however, it can’t happen that way, at least not this year, because it did not happen last year.
Let’s start at “ground zero.” How can we develop appropriate topics? In his book Biblical Eldership, Alexander Strauch lists some of the responsibilities of church leaders emphasized in the New Testament. They are to lead (1 Timothy 5:17, Titus 1:7, 1 Peter 5:1-2), to teach and preach the Word (1 Timothy 3:2, 2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 1:9), to protect the church from false teachers (Acts 20:17, 28-31), to exhort in sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:13-17, Titus 1:9), to visit and pray for the sick (James 5:14, Acts 6:4), and to judge in doctrinal matters (Acts 15:6). Strauch concludes, “In biblical terminology, elders shepherd, oversee, lead and care for the local church.” No one should ignore these vital biblical categories. But applying them to a 21st-century church may require further reflection.
Where to Begin?
How then can a church initiate an evaluation process? Begin with the pastor. Hopefully he will see its potential benefits and take initiative in its formulation, giving the greatest promise of a good outcome. Ask the pastor to list the priorities (in descending order of importance) he sees in his ministry and to “evaluate” how well he is fulfilling them in practice (use A, B, C, F, as they are easily understood). Also ask him to add plans for improvement or change in at least two areas of the church’s and his experience during the next year.
Self-evaluation can be a helpful exercise, especially if a pastor might feel threatened by admitting areas of weakness. Tim Keller and David Powlison, each highly regarded in the practice of ministry, produced a Pastor’s Self-Evaluation Questionnaire, published in The Journal of Biblical Counseling (fall 1993), but still available online.
While today we may be overwhelmed by technological advances, 25 years ago Keller and Powlison gave thorough attention to “qualifications” that are the permanent challenge. Recall this wisdom from Paul: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves … ” (2 Corinthians 13:5). A self-evaluation form for the pastor, prepared by the National Capital Presbytery (Presbyterian Church USA) raises these kinds of issues: accomplishments, concerns, job expectations, objectives, plans to change priorities, professional development, and the need for additional resources (monetary or spiritual).
The session members should work from the same template: List the priorities in the pastor’s ministry, as they understand them. Consider how well these are being fulfilled at the present time and assign the same grading system. Add two areas for potential improvement in the pastor’s (and the church’s) ministry during the next year, together with specific suggestions for change. Meet with the pastor to consider any differences between his and the session’s evaluation. Recognize that, because of his training and experiences, the pastor may have better insight into the need for giving some emphases higher priority. Carefully consider the pastor’s family and his professional growth. Seek to move into the next year with unity of commitment and spirit.
An evaluation of the session can also be helpful. Perhaps the pastor can initiate this process and suggest the procedure. “Our Congregational Effectiveness,” produced by Healthy Moravian Congregations, encourages congregational involvement. Sample forms for pastor, board, and congregational introspection and interaction have been produced by the Synod of MidAmerica (RCA). These possibilities are here reserved for further reflection.
From its inception, the process should be marked by prayerful concern that it be a caring and supportive experience. Except in situations calling for decisive action, the pastor should feel supported and eager to make more fulfilling use of his gifts and his time. The pastor and the church leaders may find unity in spirit and commitment with regard to the Lord’s priorities for ministry among His people and in the community.
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).