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Ministerial evaluation: pitfalls and opportunities

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Archives / 1996 / August

 

 

Ministerial evaluation: pitfalls and opportunities

Leslie N. Pollard , Prudence L. Pollard

Leslie N. Pollard, PhD, DMin, MBA, is vice-chancellor of Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California, United States, and executive director of the Institute for Leadership Development.

Prudence L. Pollard, PhD, MPH, PHR, is professor of Management in the La Sierra University School of Business, Riverside, California, United States.

 

Evaluation is the process of judging the worth and value of a worker's performance through precise, appropriate, viable, and essential information. For years now the process has been applied in business, industry, management, education, and other activities. In recent years, as calls for accountability increased in every line of work, even clergy have not been spared. Needless to say, evaluation can be beneficial to ministers and the church. However, if the evaluation process is improperly conceived and inappropriately implemented, it can be detrimental to ministry.

This article will present the characteristics of responsible evaluation, survey its growth, apply traditional evaluation approaches and instruments to ministerial evaluation, expose evaluation dangers and opportunities, and suggest further applications to pastoral evaluation situations.

Responsible evaluation

Evaluation should be understood as an expression of the equipping ministry of the church. The purpose of ministerial evaluation will not be to indict, neither will it be to punish a worker, but it will be utilized as part of a comprehensive program intended to develop ministerial workers. In order to be effective, we submit that ministerial evaluation should conform to the S. A. V. E. principle. Ministerial evaluation should be:

Specific. Specificity is concerned with the exactness and clarity of the questions used to seek information. Evaluation items should elicit and convey accurate information about the ability and the activity of the ministerial worker. For instance, the response item "The pastor preaches good sermons" is nonspecific since the statement necessitates another clarifying question, namely "What is a good sermon?" A specific item is "The pastor's preaching supports the teachings of the SDA Church." Specificity in evaluation minimizes the possibility of misunderstanding and maximizes the likelihood of receiving accurate feedback.

Appropriate. Appropriateness is one step beyond specificity, because a question may be specific and still be inappropriate. Appropriateness guarantees the match of the response item used on an evaluation instrument with the job functions expected of a pastoral worker. Appropriateness also presupposes the existence of an established set of job expectations. It is concerned with the question of relevance. For instance, "The pastor is handsome" is clear but not appropriate, since it is difficult to see how this item relates to the function of a pastor.

Viable. Viability is concerned not with the instrument, but with its administration. Viability moves the evaluator beyond the instrument because it is a process concern. It deals with two issues: 1. Are sufficient financial and personnel resources mobilized to administer this evaluation from start to finish (duplication, distribution, collection, tabulation, review of results, mapping strategies for improvement, etc.)? 2. Will there be sufficient time, leadership, and incentive to secure a broad-based population sample to complete the questionnaire? For instance, if only the minister's supporters feel motivated to complete the instrument, then clearly the results will be skewed in one direction. This skewing of results would make it difficult to form an accurate summary conclusion regarding the pastor's performance.

Ethical. Ethics in ministerial evaluation addresses the integrity of the process and the use of the results of evaluation. Integrity of process protects the confidentiality rights of the person evaluated. In a litigious climate, ethical, moral, and legal principles must be respected. Evaluation should be developed and conducted with due regard for the welfare of the individual worker and the corporate church. Clear decisions must be made to limit access to worker evaluation result. Such limitations should not only be implemented with the evaluating administration in mind, but should also consider future administrations. For instance, who will have access to a worker's file? How many persons must see the results of workers' evaluations? How will the results be stored? How will they be utilized? These are important questions that must be answered. Further, the announced purpose of the evaluation must be followed through. Developmental evaluation should not be used in the decision to promote or terminate a worker. That is the role fulfilled by Personnel evaluation (see Table).

Growth of evaluation

The management activities of planning and delegation were recognized and codified long before the evaluation process became a practice in organizations. As a management science, evaluation is about 30 years old. Traditionally organizations have viewed evaluation as an activity done among employees by the human resources department of a given company, or in a school environment by the academic dean's office. With evaluation systems becoming more finely tuned, two objectives have become prominent: accountability and development. As organizations have matured, evaluation has become the necessary feedback mechanism for learning and development for both individuals and organizations. Today evaluation is the organization's tool for demonstrating that worker performance meets or even exceeds the predetermined standards.

As a church Seventh-day Adventists have generally focused on accountability alone. During the 1970s pastoral evaluation forms were introduced (supplementing the traditional "Worker's Report") so that ministerial secretaries and conference administrators could have some idea of what ministers were doing in the field. These forms had little to do with learning and development. "Management by objectives" was the trend. Ministers were encouraged to write their goals and objectives for the year, review them with their supervisor, evaluate their ability to perform their tasks, and review that information with their supervising pastor or ministerial secretary.

Traditional ministerial evaluation approaches

Although ministerial evaluation is a recent practice, unofficial evaluation has existed in several forms.

Self-evaluation. Historically the church has employed self-evaluation, partly because of the encouragement found in the New Testament (see 1 Cor. 11:28). Self-examination was also perceived as less risky to the pastor's psyche and reputation. It assumed that pastors have the ability to analyze their own ministerial practice and individually answer the question How am I doing? Under this self-evaluation procedure, pastors generally gauged their performance by looking at completed building projects, numbers of baptisms, financial figures, church assignment, the "feel" within the local church or district, spousal feedback, and similar sources of reaction.

Congregational evaluation. Until recently congregational evaluation was not recommended as highly as self-examination. It was believed that the congregation was subject to bias, both positive and negative. The Ministerial Association now recommends congregational evaluation.

Peer evaluation. Pastors have used peer evaluations to gather feedback from colleagues. This kind of evaluation generally takes place among friends and can be quite helpful when openly received by the inquiring pastor.

Organizational evaluation. Organizational evaluation begins almost with the ordination review process. Traditionally a conference administrator or the ministerial secretary reviews with the pastor his or her professional performance. Sometimes the only time a pastor receives organizational evaluation is when a crisis threatens the local congregation. This is especially true when a pastor's actions, behavior, or decisions are viewed as a precipitating factor in the crisis.

The difference between traditional approaches to evaluation and the current moves toward evaluation is that conferences are moving toward making evaluation a formal part of their administrative function. Thus conferences are codifying and making official the process of pastoral evaluation. Some are attempting to develop their own evaluation systems, while others are relying on pre-prepared forms from various denominations and/or ministerial departments.

Types of evaluation instruments

Generally these evaluation instruments fall into four categories:

1. Numerical. These rate performance numerically. They average the scores. The scores are then compared with the scores of future evaluations.

2. Statistical reports. Some conferences use baptismal and tithe figures as a primary evaluation tool to measure the success of one's ministry.

3. Service records. Pay increase based on ordination and years of service is a form of evaluation that the church uses.

4. Open- and closed-ended questionnaires. The closed-ended questions lead to quantification, while the openended questions are less quantifiable. Open-minded feedback gathering is more difficult to process, but is generally more helpful to a pastor than numerical data, because it tends to describe specific leadership behaviors.

Evaluation dangers and opportunities

The intimation "You're going to be evaluated" produces more negative than positive feelings in an employee. Some ministers feel insecure and frightened over what the conference is "doing to them," while observing that conference officials generally are not undergoing the evaluation experience.

Some ministers may cringe at the mention of evaluation. They perceive a glint in the eyes of the conference committee and feel that evaluation is nothing more than an attempt to gather information that could be used against them at some point. There is a similar perception of church members who gleefully welcome ministerial evaluations as a way to get at the pastor. Ministers may become resentful and possibly even manipulative in their attempts to secure a "good" evaluation, or in one way or another to avoid a meaningful application of the process.

Given the natural anxiety and fear that evaluation arouses, thoughtful ministerial secretaries seek to employ the least intimidating evaluation instruments and set the right atmosphere in hopes of implementing meaningful evaluation without alienating pastors.

On the positive side, evaluation is an opportunity for pastors, leaders, and organizations to learn. Evaluation is at the core of all learning organizations. Learning leaders and organizations continually engage in activities to determine their abilities and assess their limitations. Successful leaders operate within their strengths and work to develop and compensate for their limitations. The learning leader or organization does not focus on evaluation as the goal, but instead focuses on measuring both the effectiveness and efficiency of the mission. By focusing on the mission, the standards necessary to reach that mission can be identified. Those standards then can become the performance standards that form the core components of yet more effective evaluation systems.

Increasing the effectiveness of pastoral evaluation

Evaluation of pastoral work has come to stay. It need not create insecurity. It could be turned into a positive instrument for learning and achieving the mission of the ministry as exercised by the pastor, the local church, and the corporate church. Here are seven suggestions to make evaluation a more helpful tool.

1. Evaluate across-the-board in the local church. By limiting the evaluation process only to pastors, we send the wrong signal to local churches. The church as the corporate body of Christ is entrusted with the responsibility of evangelizing the world (Matt. 28:18,19; 1 Peter 2:9). Pastors, as members of that body, play a special role by leading, equipping, and shepherding the flock (Eph. 4:8-11). Biblically, pastors are responsible for the oversight of the ministry of the church and should be evaluated in order to know whether their leadership is effective and how it can be improved. However, the church by its very nature is endowed with a collective ministry that goes beyond the specific work of the local pastor.

The local church elects officers and others to oversee various branches of the work. No pastor has unilateral authority to handpick his or her own officer group. The role of these elected persons is as vital to the success of the ministry of the local congregation as is the work of the pastor. Clearly the very nature of the nominating committee process implies that the church is not a one-person show. Annually or biannually we come together in nominating committee for the purpose of distributing responsibility for the work of the church. Therefore, any suggestion that we evaluate only the pastor reflects a faulty ecclesiology, implying that the pastor is more responsible, or is solely responsible, for the success of the ministry of the church, while any of the other officers of the local church are not.

Evaluation, therefore, must survey the work of not only the pastor but also the officers of the local congregation. The elected leaders also need to know how the congregation perceives their leadership. Further, evaluation of all the leaders in a local congregation creates a sympathetic, supportive climate that can benefit pastors when their evaluation results come in. It also carries with it the benefits of effective evaluation applied in any situation---that of improving the performance of local church officers.

2. Let evaluation be a top-down process in which conference, union, division, and General Conference personnel participate. The tasks of pastoral leadership are so broad, subjective, and personal that the thought of being called into account for specific aspects of ministry can be overwhelming to pastors. Pastors need someone to help them through the process. They will listen with much more receptivity to someone who has gone through a similar process and can share personal experiences from their own evaluation results. If leaders are serious about evaluation they will lead by example.

3. Choose evaluators who have training and experience in the process. Those who evaluate should understand the impact that evaluation can have upon an employee. The greatest danger in evaluation as it is presently conducted is that no one knows who is responsible for the development of the pastor when the results come in. Neither is anyone trained in the administration of evaluation. Church leaders serious about evaluation should provide training in evaluation usage and management for all involved. The instruments used to gather information should conform to the PAVE principle that is, they should be precise, accurate, viable, and essential. This means that even the construction of instruments used to gather evaluative information will be guided by trained personnel in the area. Correctly gathered and processed information will help pastors identify specific areas where they can improve their performance without injecting fear or insecurity into their professional life.

4. Let pastoral evaluation function as a developmental opportunity. Evaluations with a developmental dimension will diagnose a pastor's strengths and weaknesses in order to build the pastor's skill base. Diagnosis alone is not enough. The redemptive church will include in evaluation prescriptions for performance improvement. Pastoral evaluation should never be a stand-alone activity, but must be part of a comprehensive developmental program. This means the church should make provisions, including time and funding, to help pastors strengthen themselves where they are seen to be weak. Workshops, self-help courses, private consultation, mentoring, mutual peer supervision, continuing education, etc., must be factored into the evaluation process.

5. Let pastoral evaluation be a triangular process. In order to maximize the pastor's development, evaluation feedback will need to come from three publics: church members, leaders (conference personnel), and peers (ministerial colleagues). These three groups will tend to balance out the assessment. History and experience show that the more rounded the evaluation feedback, the more useful it will be to the pastor.

6. Separate developmental evaluation from personnel evaluation. The conference conducts and maintains personnel evaluation for the purposes of hiring, promotion, and termination. Developmental evaluation should be outside the direct supervision of the conference and under the control of the minister. This separation will minimize the natural tendency or temptation for conference personnel to use information gathered for purposes of development to make personnel decisions. The employing organization has a right to administer personnel evaluation, and this kind of evaluation can bring an objectivity to personnel decision making that the ministry has not known heretofore. However, when information from developmental evaluation is allowed to drive, inform, or influence personnel decisions, we may introduce distrust into the developmental evaluation process. The result? The developmental use of evaluation is lost as administrative use becomes primary. If truthful evaluative feedback is to be obtained, and if resentful and deceptive behaviors are to be avoided, then developmental evaluation must be separated from personnel evaluation. Furthermore, developmental evaluation must be initiated and controlled by the pastor and lay leaders of the local congregation.

7. Include the results of personnel evaluation in successive planning. Once the organization completes the personnel evaluation, it must deal with the question of how it will reward pastors who render exceptional service to the body of Christ. Why spend money and secure vital information on the performance of a pastor if the results will not play some part in the responsibilities given him in a conference? Should not exceptional performance be recognized in some identifiable way? It is time for the church to recognize the difference between exceptional and mediocre pastoral performance and to reward exceptional performance publicly.

Conclusion

Evaluation, like learning, never ends. We practice, evaluate, plan for improvement, and return to practice. Evaluation is a process, not a product. When viewed as a process it paves the way for making learning, informed, relevant, and caring leaders.

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