How about asking a second question, just as real and powerful as how to get rid of a pastor: “Are there ways we could help our pastors grow and flourish in their places of ministry?”
In the Pastor-Church Relations office we regularly get requests from councils for evaluation tools—preferably ones that are simple, straight-forward assessments of how well a pastor is functioning and which might also identify growth areas. There is a great variety of evaluative tools and our office has samples of some. But while it is good to pay attention to the type of tool being used, and the focus it lends to an evaluation, the more important need is to pay attention to evaluation as a process. When it comes to doing evaluations, it’s important to distinguish between an evaluative event—a measurable moment in time—and an evaluative process which occurs over a period of time and attends to the many variables of any and every context.
In conjunction with the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program, our office produced a training tool in 2010 called “Evaluation Essentials for Congregational Leaders.” Its subtitle—Setting the Table for Healthy Conversation—points in a healthy direction. Evaluations are not so much “events” in which a tool is used, with results tabulated—as it is a process which requires gracious, candid, ongoing conversation. Evaluations take place over time and in the context of relationships between leaders, congregations, and those to whom leaders are accountable.
The point is that relationships are fluid. Congregations change, as do circumstances, and even leaders themselves. And while certain skills and practices are always essential, the need to focus more attention now here, and now there—in this way or in that-- requires some nimbleness on the part of leaders. Evaluation is a facet of a relationship which seeks at its core to desire the wellbeing and flourishing of all. What can I do, and what can we do, so that together, our ministry blesses both God and our community? How can we be good stewards of our gifts and wise about what is needed?
The words “gracious” and “candid” are intended to call to mind the words the apostle John used to describe Jesus: “full of grace and truth.” The amazing and lovely thing about Jesus is that he was both. Simultaneously. And consistently. If we are to have these kinds of helpful conversations, there is another word we may need to add to the mix: humility. Evaluations can easily deteriorate into occasions for defensiveness and blaming. That’s why attending to the “who” of the evaluation process, as well as the “when, where, what, why and how” are all important steps which require thoughtfulness.
Evaluations should never be undertaken after relationships have already become strained. The process will be skewed from the start. Ideally, evaluation processes are built-in as facets of a healthy and respectful relationship. In this way, evaluation becomes a familiar and helpful conversation through which we work together at serving well. And if it means engaging some change in terms of focus or M.O. –why not allow the evaluation process to be as fluid as life and relationships themselves?
Moments of evaluation, or specific evaluation ventures—should always be viewed as part of a larger, longer and wider (ongoing) story with respect to congregational leaders and to congregations. It’s messier, but more gracious and more truthful.
Any stories out there about evaluation as a helpful facet of a healthy relationship between pastor and congregation? Any stories about how an evaluation process led to growth and flourishing?