I received an email from a church leader recently. He wanted advice as to how his church should conduct a pastor evaluation exercise. The pastor’s term of service was coming to an end and they had to do this.
The church leader was a good man. He was fully aware that such evaluation exercises could do more harm than good. Indeed current management literature recognizes this and there is much debate among human resource experts as to how best to do personnel evaluation exercises.
My first reaction to this request was the recognition that it is so much harder to be a pastor these days. In the old days, if a pastor could preach reasonably well, did a lot of visitation, and conducted ceremonies adequately (Lord’s Supper, baptisms, weddings, funerals etc.), he had done his job. These days the pastor must be able to:
1. Preach well. 2. Be a learned theologian. 3. Help a church forge out a vision and mission statement. 4. Be a compassionate counsellor. 5. Do visitation. 6. Be a CEO of a multiple staff team. 7. Conduct church ceremonies. 8. Lead building programmes. 9. Be a spiritual director. 10. Speak prophetically to contemporary concerns in society. 11. Be a prayer warrior. 12. Be an effective equipper of the laity. 13. Walk on water.
Ok, point 13 is facetious but you might as well throw it in. Most churches these days expect their pastors to be multigifted. I question the theology behind this expectation. It has no basis in Scripture at all. The Bible talks about multigifted churches, not multigifted individuals. Indeed different members of the Body of Christ have different gifts so that there is a healthy interdependence between her members(see 1Corinthians 12) . The given here is that all Christians are ministers, not just the salaried pastor.
The expectation that the salaried pastor must be mutigifted leads to one very oppressive result. His strengths are often taken for granted. And evaluations focus on his weaknesses. No wonder many pastors dread their evaluations. In contrast, the Scriptures expects the pastor (and every member) to do what he/she is gifted to do well (Romans 12:4-8).
I am not surprised that most of our brightest and our best do not “feel called” to the pastorate. Intuitively they know it is an impossible job. Our brightest and our best usually end up as lay elders who end up evaluating and passing judgement on those foolish enough to go into the pastorate.
Unfortunately, sometimes it is the pastor who thinks that he is multigifted and insists on giving leadership in every role. This may be related to faulty theology or the fear that if the laity were to be allowed to minister, people will discover that there are laity who are more gifted than the pastor in some areas. So bad theology reinforces personal insecurities to perpetuate a dysfunctional situation.
I have a further concern about the theology behind pastoral evaluations. And that is the belief that the pastorate is a job. If the pastorate is a job than the inevitable given is that the church is a company. Just as any company employs staff to get the work done, a church hires a pastor to fulfil a job function.
I find absolutely no basis for this understanding of the church. Biblical motifs for the church include the human body where all members are equally important but have different functions. The pastorate then is a function within the body. It is not a paid job. But some may be set apart to receive financial care so that they can function full time without the need to set apart time to “make a living”.
The bible also sees the church as a family, a household(Galatians 6:10). Again, in a household, the various family members have different roles. But everyone is family. Would you do an annual evaluation exercise of your father? Or your aunt? I strongly believe that when a church invites someone to be their pastor, they are not inviting someone to take a job but to join the church family.
That is why there is wisdom in setting apart people to the pastorate from within the church family rather than inviting someone from outside. The giftedness and character of someone from within the church would already be a known quantity. It would be silly to set apart someone to be a pastor who was not already respected as a lay elder.
Does this mean I am against pastor evaluations? Well, it depends on what you mean. If the church sees herself as an employer and the salaried pastor is seen as an employee than yes, I am against such evaluations. Based on faulty theology, such exercises are often demoralizing. Maybe this is one reason why there is such a high turnover of pastors, especially in congregational churches where everyone is a boss.
If the desire is to give feedback so that the pastor can be affirmed and gets input to grow than by all means. This should happen in every family. I give feedback to my kids as to how they can maximize their potential. And increasingly, as they grow older, the kids tell dad how he can do a better job! But underlying all this is a deep bond of love reinforced through daily mutual care. Such exercises could also be opportunities to affirm a pastor’s giftedness and to lighten his load in areas that are not his strengths. And any pastor committed to the Lord and His work should welcome honest feedback to enable him to grow in the ministry.
Indeed if the point of the exercise is to help the pastor grow, then I would suggest that all key leaders in the church receive feedback as well. If a lay leader were to resist getting feedback because he sees himself as only a layleader and should answer to lower standards because he doesn’t receive a “salary”, I would strongly question both his theology and his commitment to the cause of Christ.
We need to be careful who we set apart as pastors. But we do the cause of Christ no favours by non-biblical understandings of the pastorate and pastoral evaluations.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan