ASPIA: Scoring pastoral effectiveness

Five crucial elements in pastoral leadership and how you rate

James Coffin is senior pastor of the Markham Woods Seventh-day Adventist Church in Longwood, Florida.

Whether pastors like it or not, parishioners constantly evaluate their performance. Having observed congregations closely for more than 25 years (both from the pulpit and the pew), I would suggest that congregational evaluation of overall pastoral performance focuses primarily on five areas Administration, Speaking, People, Ideas, and Aura (ASPIA). Pastors don't have to excel in every area, but if their overall score is low, their ministry will languish. Let's look briefly at each category.

Administration. We may not like it expressed in these terms, but churches are big business: The bigger the church, the bigger the business. The physical plant must be cleaned and maintained. Programs and facility usage must be scheduled. Budgets must be created and accomplishment monitored. Church officers have to be chosen. New officers have to be trained. Volunteers and employees have to be overseen. And the list goes on.

In short, the pastor must ensure that these concerns are attended to. When pastors delegate administrative responsibility, they must ensure that those to whom the responsibility is given are executing their tasks. While high quality administration may slip by unnoticed because things generally run smoothly, ineffective administration can ruin a church.

Speaking. The spoken word is the pastor's medium of exchange. Sermons, prayer meetings, Sabbath School discussions, board meetings, committee meetings, hospital visits, home visits all these are a daily part of a pastor's life. Ministerial effectiveness is greatly determined by the pastor's ability to communicate publicly.

If a pastor's voice is shrill and grating, if a pastor shows no enthusiasm for what he or she is saying, if a pastor's speech is laced with colloquialisms, if a pastor doesn't understand the basic rules of grammar and subject-verb agreement, the message can easily get lost in the transmission.

A young woman in biblical times told Peter that his speech betrayed him. Similarly, a pastor's speech can enhance or detract from his or her credibility. It's tough but true that a person who speaks well gets ahead, while people who speak poorly get left behind. Words are the packages in which thoughts are wrapped, so present them well.

People. Pastors exist to help people. But busy pastors can easily forget their real raison d'etre. Administration, sermon preparation, evangelism, crisis management, and even counseling can become so all-consuming that the pastor doesn't interact with the bulk of the parishioners in a caring, loving, clearly concerned manner.

Do your parishioners like being with you? Or do they fear that you'll embarrass, dominate, or disregard them? Do they think of you as caring and compassionate, or as harsh and judgmental? Do you make people feel at ease in your presence? Do people feel that their concerns are your concerns? That their joys are your joys? That their sorrows are your sorrows? That you're an integral part of their life, a part of their extended family?

A pastor who is a good administrator and a good speaker can run a good church program and keep people coming to church. But a pastor who's a "people person," who truly cares and who's perceived to truly care, is the pastor who's going to be most loved by the congregation. Love and concern cover a multitude of shortfalls.

Ideas. Pastors need to have something to say that's worth hearing. Whether it's a sermon, a presentation at prayer meeting, or a comment during a planning session for a Vacation Bible School, pastors are judged by the quality of their ideas. Are the ideas imaginative, creative, practical, well thought through? Or are the ideas ordinary, run-of-the-mill, tired, wornout?

True leaders are "idea" people. True leaders move others not just because of how they share their ideas but because their ideas actually merit consideration. Parishioners want pastors who bring forth undiscovered things from biblical passages. Pastors whose ideas create more effective administrative structures and pro grams tend to be respected, as are pastors who pull new possibilities from ground already plowed many times over.

So-so, same-old, same-old, just isn't good enough. Pastors need to inspire. Ideas, well presented, are the grist of inspiration.

Aura. Administratively speaking, people and ideas are all quite tangible. But successful pastors always have a less-tangible element: that which may be called "aura." Every pastor has to have one or more characteristics that set him or her on a pedestal in the minds of parishioners. There must be some area or areas of performance that are so outstanding the average parishioner simply has to grant respect to the pastor. In short, the pastor must have an aura, or a "presence."

The area can be any of the foregoing abilities. The pastor may be such a superb administrator that the congregation can't help but admire him or her. He may be a great speaker or so caring and loving that people know they can trust him. Or she may simply overflow with good ideas. This aura can come from other sources as well.

A pastor may be so hardworking or so close to God, or such a person of faith, or so upright in his or her personal life that the congregation can't fail to be impressed. The aura can be the capstone on a great ministry, or the means of survival in a mediocre ministry. But there must be something special about the pastor that demands respect from the onlooker.

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James Coffin is senior pastor of the Markham Woods Seventh-day Adventist Church in Longwood, Florida.

July 2003

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