PCA Teaching Elder Dr. George Fuller Asks, "Is Your Pastor Worth Evaluating?"

August 20, 2018
Dr. George Fuller

[Note: The item below reflects the position of the person named and does not necessarily represent the position of the World Reformed Fellowship.]

Is Your Pastor Worth Evaluating?
by
PCA Minister, Dr. George C. Fuller
fullergj@verizon.net

(A similar article was published online by ByFaith, a PCA publication, August 2018)

Are there more facets to a minister’s job than any other? Encourage growth, income (Development Officer). Supervise staff (Manager). Develop new programs (Entrepreneur). Seize new opportunities (Visionary). Manage finances (Accountant). Reflect, dispense wisdom (Counselor). Lead in worship (Liturgist). Know the Bible (Scholar). Know its languages (Linguist). Manifest spirituality (Priest). Interpret what’s happening in people’s lives, in the world (Prophet). Know past ages and your church (Historian). Know your church’s family (Friend). Visit the sick, the shut-in (Comforter). Serve the people (Pastor). Pray for the people (Intercessor).  Be sensitive to those “outside the circle” (Observer). Be an interesting speaker, to volunteer audiences (Performer). Be an instructive speaker (Teacher). Be an inspiring speaker (Preacher). Share Good News (Evangelist). Many of these challenges have Biblical warrant. 

Correct bathroom malfunctions (Plumber). Set up tables and chairs (Unskilled Laborer). Give rides to folks in need (Chauffeur). Hear oft-repeated stories graciously (Patient Listener). Handle unexpected tensions and mini-crises with calm (Contortionist). Work toward keeping people challenged, but growing (Magician). These “peripheral” things a pastor may do – not part of any job description – may gain credibility for him as a caring, involved person.

No pastor, no human being, can possibly fulfill all of these challenges. But evaluations of pastors may be, probably are, happening frequently. Some opinions may be positive (“Our pastor is wonderful”), but much may be harmful, even evil. Lunch conversations, casual talk, unsigned notes, gossip, rumors, direct comments, innuendo. Good is not likely to come out of this system of informal and often very subjective evaluation. But an annual formal evaluation of a pastor’s “performance” can produce benefit and blessing. Someone needs to pay attention to what may be missing.

You might oppose any formal evaluation of your pastor. You might say, “It would require considerable time and energy. In a layman’s business world, ‘quantity’ (production, sales, measureable factors) is prominent, but ‘quality’ (for example, ‘ministry’) is hard, even impossible, to measure. We know how companies do evaluations, but the church situation is different. The elders are willing, but really not qualified by experience or knowledge (for example, of the complexity of a pastor’s job), to initiate such a process. Some of us 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.” And you may miss an opportunity of blessing for your church and its people, including the pastor.

The potential benefits of a formal evaluation are many. Ministry by the pastor and the church members can be enhanced. Priorities can be improved, as circumstances may have changed. Better communication may encourage more active participation. The church’s growth toward mature service may result in caring fellowship. The need for specific strategy and its implementation may become evident. The pastor and the church leaders may find unity of spirit in how to become more effective together. The pastor may feel all the more respected and needed in the lives of the congregation. And he 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. He may make clear that he is not better educated or skilled or gifted, though he may be all of these things; what makes him unique, perhaps above evaluation, is that he is “called of God.” It may be difficult to evaluate the experience of anyone who has had a “Damascus Road” encounter, with God directly calling him into service. But the PCA’s Book of Church Order (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 (“What are my gifts, skills?” “What do I like or want to do?” “Why?”), 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. It may be, for example, that most pastors regard their preaching as “average,” “somewhat above average,” or even “well above average.”  Can’t be true. Statistical anomaly. One-half are below average. One-half of all neurosurgeons or presidents are below average, whatever standard is applied.  However a pastor’s work is measured, one-half of them are performing “below average.” 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 or the supportive leaders or 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. Evaluation by others may result 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.

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 pay a larger dividend) and to improve prospects for future sales (and increase share value). 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 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 His 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 for their pastor. All because we want His church to represent our Lord more faithfully.

A formal evaluation can have benefits to the pastor. Whatever its specific observations, it ought to be supportive, affirming and encouraging. It also can serve to remind the pastor helpfully of his responsibility and accountability, not only to God, but to his church, to its leaders and members, to his family and to the larger community. If it is thought that aspects of his ministry need more attention, imbalance may be corrected. If weaknesses are discovered, solutions may be developed (in the minister himself or in other leaders or among the church members). He may claim to work 70 hours a week, but perhaps at an “efficiency ratio of 40% “, meaning that his work is effective at a level of 28 hours each week; those kinds of numbers should be improved, for his and perhaps his family’s good.

A formal evaluation can also be beneficial for the church. The recognition of faithful ministry by the pastor (and church leaders and members) offers an opportunity to praise the Lord for what He has done and is doing among His people. Appreciation for one another can be encouraged. It is certainly helpful to consider the church’s mission and ministry and to identify faithful service but also to 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. Problems, even crises, may be avoided; identifying these before they arise may prevent future harm to the body. And it can be very helpful 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 helpful roles of sensitive and 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” (Ec. 12:14).

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 potentially negative playing field. The actual evaluation should be an annual aspect of a continuing positive and 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” may call 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 Presbyterian Church in America, each of the 4,761 ministers (“Teaching Elders”) is a member of one of its 85 presbyteries, usually the one in which he lives and works. The presbytery has power “to receive, dismiss, ordain, install, remove and judge ministers” (Book of Church Order, 13-9a) and “to require ministers to devote themselves diligently to their sacred calling and to censure the delinquent” (BOCO, 13-9d).

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.

Evaluating anyone’s work requires some standard. The CEO of a large for-profit corporation or of a small non-profit agency may begin employment with a detailed outline of what is expected of him or her. A performance evaluation uses that outline as a basis for evaluation.

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 the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) at his ordination 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” (BOCO, 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” (21:9). But these “duties” are not defined.

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?  Alexander Strauch (“Biblical Eldership”) lists some of the responsibilities of church leaders emphasized in the New Testament. They are to lead (1 Tim. 5:17, Titus 1:7, 1 Peter 5:1-2), to teach and preach the word (1 Tim 3:2, 2 Tim. 4:2, Titus 1:9), to protect the church from false teachers (Acts 20:17, 28-31), to exhort in sound doctrine (1 Tim. 4:13, 2 Tim. 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 twenty-first century church may require further reflection.

Extensive forms with varied major topics, often supported with detailed and thought-provoking subdivisions are readily available on-line (see, for example, the United Methodist Church of Greater New Jersey, National Capital Presbytery, Healthy Moravian Congregations, Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church, gomission.ca, Vision-Ministries.org., and especially the highly recommended “Evaluation Essentials for Congregational Leaders” (CRC)). Some of these forms suggest (1) scales for grades (for example, from “5 to 1”, from ”Exceeds Expectations” to “Needs Improvement”) and (2) “weighting” subjects (that is, giving more “weight” (importance) to matters of greater importance or urgency). A glance at these materials may offer suggestions, but the easy application of one of them, or a combination of several of them, may not be appropriate for your church.

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; that gives the greatest promise of a good outcome. The pastor can be asked to list the priorities (in descending order of importance) he sees in his ministry and to “evaluate” how well they are being fulfilled in practice (use A, B, C, F, as they are easily understood). He can also be asked 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 it might be threatening, revealing areas of weakness. Recall this wisdom from Paul: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves…” (2 Cor. 13:5). 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 on-line. A self-evaluation form for the pastor, prepared by the National Capital Presbytery (PCUSA) 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 work from the same template. They 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 in many cases the pastor may have better insight into the need for giving some emphases higher priority, because of his professional training or his experience in ministry. Careful consideration must be given to the pastor’s family and his professional growth.

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).

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).