This week's question covers a topic that might make some pastors shudder: the pastor evaluation.
My question is about evaluations of pastors.On Ash Wednesday I had a visit from a member of the congregation (not council) who informed me that there would be a formal evaluation of my work beginning soon which would involve talking to the various groups and key members for feedback about how I am doing as a pastor and what their expectations for a pastor are. I was assured this would be conducted by the council but this whole idea comes not from the council but from a group of crabby people who all of a sudden have started to demand a formal evaluation of the pastor. I know they are a common practice in many congregations and can be a very helpful process balancing affirmation with redirection of time and energy but ...well I don't think that is what they had in mind. I have no problem with a fair and helpful evaluation but what I will not tolerate is an evaluation which is really just a game of pin all the troubles in the congregation on pastor. So I would like to hear about the kinds of evaluation tools, forms, resources you use. Who does the evaluation? Who doesn't? Who sees the finalized evaluation? How do you take a situation where the whole thing is a set up by crabby people and make it fruitful?
My (earthchick's) response:
Do you have a Pastor Relations Committee? I know - that is always my first response to questions like these! But I think they are so valuable. If you don't have one, this might be a good time to start talking to your council about forming one. If you don't have a PRC, then substitute "council" everywhere I have written "PRC" below.
Here would be my ideal: an annual evaluation of the pastor, done at the routine initiation of the Pastor Relations Committee, not triggered by any kind of event or dissatisfaction. The PRC should gather feedback in the form of some sort of written response form, sent to the entire congregation. The form needs to include all areas of the pastor's responsibilities, with questions about what the pastor is doing best, what the pastor might improve, and what the members think the priorities should be.
Members of the congregation must sign their name to any form they turn in. Members would be assured that the pastor would not know who has written what. Only members of the PRC would see the forms. The PRC would then compile the results to present to the pastor. If there are specific concerns brought up by an individual, the PRC has his/her name and can ask for further information. This can have the effect of forcing honest and clear feedback. Anything that turns out to be dishonest or malicious would be excluded from the actual review. The lack of anonymity makes it more difficult for members to make sweeping negative statements (or if they do so, there will be direct followup by the PRC and the PRC can filter such ugliness).
The PRC then offers feedback to the pastor, who is given opportunity to respond. All of this should be conducted in a nonconfrontational way, and you, the pastor, should approach the evaluation in a nonanxious way. Do not be defensive. Be open-minded. Talk through points of criticism in a way that shows you are open to learning and growing. Ask the PRC for advice on these areas. Then work with the PRC to set ministry priorities for the coming year. This part should be instructive for the PRC - they, and the wider congregation, need to know that not everything can be a priority. So if people indicate on their forms that preaching and worship should be your number one priority, but then they complain elsewhere that you aren't making 5 home visits a week, the PRC needs to help the congregation understand how priority-setting works.
You don't indicate your denomination, but most denominations ought to offer resources for the pastoral evaluation. If yours doesn't, then look at the websites for other denominations to see what forms and processes they use. Though you are the person being evaluated, you don't have to be passive in the process - if your congregation hasn't done this before, and especially if some seem to be agitating for it out of negativity, then you need to take some firm leadership in helping the council see how this needs to be done.
And Ruth, who blogs at Sunday's Coming, writes:
In my denomination we have something called ‘Ministerial Accompanied Self Appraisal’ (you could probably Google that to find out about it) but that is more of a one-to-one with a minister rather than involving the congregation.
Evaluation of our work is good – but as you rightly say there needs to be clarity of understanding about who does the review, how it is done, how it is reported and to whom, plus your own input into what’s said. Is there a job description, which would be an obvious starting point for reflection? Is there somewhere people can ‘park’ the concerns which are about the whole life of the church and NOT about you as the pastor?
If the process is handled well, then I think letting people in the church say what they have to say can be enormously helpful, but I would stress that who holds the rung is really important. Sounds like you need a wise person at the helm of this, to help steer the ‘crabbies’ through the process without mangling you. Is there someone on the council who can take on this chairing role – can you go to them & say ‘I want to be part of a helpful and positive process and I need your help to help make this happen?’; or is there someone outside the local church who can take on this role?, who has no axe to grind? I have found that people with a Human Resources background outside the church (if you have anyone like that in your membership) have such a lot of wisdom to share.
And St. Casserole adds:
Well...how special to send the bulldog in ON ASH WEDNESDAY to alert you about an evaluation during LENT. If you have denominational leaders (presbytery executive, district supervisor, etc.), call them and ask how evaluation procedure works in your denomination. Ask for help as you've asked us for format, examples and stories of using the evaluation time as a good event. It may be that a non-Council member may not initiate the process nor even be involved. Before letting panic set in, corral your friends and talk this out with them. Again, the timing here makes me want to come in the Texas TownCar of Justice and slap church members.
What about the rest of you? What has been your experience? What resources or advice would you offer?
Thank you so much to those of you who have sent questions recently! We have a very full queue and will be responding to your questions in the coming weeks. As always, if you have a question for the matriarchs, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org