We are usually unconscious of the fact that we are asking the question. We may feel it a sign of weakness even to confess that we have it. However, the fact is that the most secure among us are deeply concerned about the question How am I doing?
The answer to this question always has a potent influence for good or ill upon our morale as ministers. The question is especially prominent in the lives of those humans, such as clergy, who more often than the general population are up front, where human frailty and faultiness tends to be more dramatically evident. The truth is that we are afraid of asking this question out loud except in the safest of environments. We are all at least a little apprehensive about the answers we might get.
We know ourselves to be highly subject to internal subterfuge and self-deception when it comes to self-evaluation. If we turn to a friend or spouse for honest estimates of our performance, we may suspect them of trying a little too hard to preserve our feelings, or being a little too candid for our fragile ego. Yet it is critical to us, to the quality of God's work and ours, to have a safe yet honest place to go when we are searching for answers to questions about how we as pastors are doing.
An outline of the plan
There are many potential solutions to this dilemma, but I'd like to suggest that the pastor, at his or her own discretion, enter into an open, trusting relationship with a small, handpicked group of mature people in the congregation. The role of this group of five to seven people (perhaps as few as three in some settings) would be to become a liaison between the pastor and the congregation. Their specific function would be to be highly supportive of the pastor while at the same time having the permission and encouragement of the pastor to be honest and straightforward with him or her concerning relevant issues in the pastor's relationship and performance within the congregation or any part of it. The group would be a sensitive monitor of the congregation's and the pastor's pulse, with candid, wisely conceived reports and input to the pastor.
The pastor should enter into a contract with the group that specifically outlines (preferably in writing) the role and relationship that he or she and the group feels will be most profitable to the pastor, the group, and the church. Complete confidentiality should be guaranteed within the group. It is critical that the members of this advisory council be chosen because of their Christian maturity, wisdom, discernment, respect in the congregation, and ability to be candid but noncontentious. Although the group would be pointless with a gathering of "yes" men or women, it is crucial that the pastor have a reliable and even tried base of trust with each person in the group. If a pastor is new in his or her church it would probably be wise not to move too quickly in choosing the members of this advisory council. It would also be wise to bring the advisory concept and the names of the group to the church board for formal approval. Although some pastors use their elders in this role, a more focused role is outlined here than is usually expected of elders. The use of some elders in this group is definitely encouraged.
Issues the group could consider:
1. A renegotiation of the pastor's job description realistic and unrealistic expectations of the congregation and the pastor as they relate to the present development of the congregation.
2. How the pastor is being received as a preacher and worship leader, and what could be improved.
3. How the pastor might improve his or her general leadership of the congregation.
4. How the outreach and evangelistic aspects of the congregation could be enhanced.
5. How the local congregation could serve the needs of the pastor more responsively.
6. What the strengths and weaknesses of the pastor are, and what can be done to strengthen the pastor.
Expanding the role of the group
Besides these few suggestions, a host of further possibilities suggest them selves. As the pastor's confidence in the group develops and as the group's own self-understanding matures, still more can be expected of it. As long as the group remains committed to the support and development of the pastor and of the congregation, there is no limit to its usefulness.
Although there are possible draw backs to this strategy, and some churches may not be the best place in which to try such a plan, it presents for the pastor a regular forum for the objective evaluation of his or her progress in the most significant aspects of ministry and relationship. It provides the congregation with a way of constructively "talking" to the pastor, and it offers the pastor an excellent growth resource. All things being equal, the formation of such a support-advisory-evaluative group should lead the pastor to a higher degree of spiritual, professional, and personal fulfillment, and the congregation to the benefits of a better minister and ministry.
Give it a try. My experience with a Pastor's Advisory Council was a distinct highlight during my tenure in my last church.