Pastor's Pastor

On being evaluated

Pastoral evaluations

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

It happens every time we preach a sermon, every time we conduct a Bible study, even every time we tell a story to the cradle roll toddlers. We are being evaluated. All day long and everywhere we go, people who know we are spiritual leaders scrutinize everything we say and do. Their ongoing evaluation may be silent and informal, but it is real just the same. For example, right now you are evaluating whether this article is worth the time it will take to finish reading it.

Being the objects of incessant evaluation can intimidate us, especially if we are uncertain about the conclusions people are forming about our ministry. Unless we know they have confidence in us, we can't expect them to follow our leadership. How can pastors tell what verdict their members are reaching?

One indicator is church attendance. If members don't like their pastors, they vote with their feet and go else where. Or they just stay home. An other measurable clue of how members evaluate pastors is financial commitment to the church.

Yet another feedback indicator is the involvement of members in church activities. This is less tangible than some other evaluation criteria, since members can use excuses to mask their motives for withdrawal. A deacon might ask the nominating committee for a hiatus, explaining: "I'm just burned out." The invisible reason may be dissatisfaction with the church pro gram or the pastor. Burnout more often results from disappointed expectations than from physical exhaustion. The pastor is weighed in the balances of the member's mind and found wanting.

As if the continuous process of membership evaluation were not enough, Seventh-day Adventist pas tors are also scrutinized at the conference office. That's where the paycheck gets mailed from, and that's where decisions take place about ordination and transfers. Again, this evaluation often happens informally.

Formalizing evaluations

Evaluation is inevitable, but when it is only informal and spontaneous, our leadership is at risk: (1) we are uncertain of the criteria involved, and (2) the criteria may not be valid or equitable. For example, few would dis agree that baptisms are a fair basis for evaluating pastors. The question is How many should there be? In Ohio where I once worked, a large city pastor could get three or four baptisms for every one that a rural pastor brought to Christ. Thus the raw number of baptisms alone is not a fair basis for evaluation, even though baptisms themselves are a valid criterion.

Tithe income also is a fair basis for evaluation, but only after local data are factored in. Demographics affect church finances. When I pastored in one of the five fastest-growing counties in the country, I would have had to drive people away from the church to avoid a tithe gain! But in places where people are moving out faster than they are moving in, a pastor may be doing well just to maintain the giving level.

I think you see the need for establishing a formal evaluation system that factors in demographics and other circumstances that affect performance. Informal evaluation by itself leaves the door open to misunderstanding that can develop into paranoia. Pastors who don't know what members are thinking (and vice versa) tend to misinterpret motives. They may see themselves as victims, imagining that people around them are out to get them. The real problem is a lack of communication, specifically the lack of a recognized system of evaluation.

When the scrutiny that inevitably happens anyway becomes organized into a formal evaluation, those problems are solved. Both parties can agree upon the criteria and the method of evaluation. Everything is up front; nothing is left for the imagination to worry about. Evaluation becomes a constructive and encouraging force rather than something to dread.

One simple process in formalized evaluation is to ask three basic questions, requesting a minimum of five responses to each:

1. What should we preserve? (This starts the evaluation on a positive note, affirming the good things happening.)

2. What should we avoid? (This identifies problem areas and potential challenges that need remedial measures.)

3. What should we achieve? (This closes the evaluation on a positive note, pointing to the future and its dreams.)

The ultimate evaluator

Above any responsibility we have for fellow humans, we live our lives unto God. All our service is due Him (see Col. 3:23, 24), and He alone understands everything. "The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7, NKJV). Evaluation will happen whether we like it or not. Let's establish a proper system so that both we and the people we serve can sharpen our talents and grow in the Lord.

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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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