By Aaron Summers
We all must do them and have them done to us. In church life, this tends to be tricky and messy. We have borrowed so many terms from the business world that we are fuzzy on the real issues before us. We use terms such as personnel, finance, human resources, etc. It is no wonder we have easily shifted into a cultural version of evaluative measures.
Every year, churches come to this point and feel they must do an evaluation on those who receive a salary. I certainly understand and accept accountability. We should be holding one another accountable. However, the criteria of the accountability are shifting toward cultural norms more than spiritual ones.
- One pastor I know put so much emphasis on numbers that if their ministry area did not double in attendance in six months they were going to be let go. While many of us shriek and shrink back from such audacious criteria, most of us are not far from it.
- Consider every state convention’s reporting system–numbers and stats. The questions “How many?” and “How much?” are asked more than anything else.
- Consider every time you run into a ministry friend. “How many are you running?”, is a common question.
- Some states award those who baptize more than anyone else.
Don’t get me wrong. I know these things are important. However, we put too much emphasis on them. When it comes to evaluating the staff in your church, what do you ask?
I have served in five churches. In each of them, this was an arduous process for all involved! I have been asked about goals and vision. I have been evaluated on preaching style, length, and topic. I have been evaluated on communication and leadership. On one occasion, the question was posed to the evaluating group “What is there about the pastor you don’t like?” That was an interesting discussion.
- When I was ordained, the biblical qualifications were considered.
- Every I church I have interviewed with has used the biblical qualifications as one point of review.
- I have never been asked about the biblical qualifications during an evaluation.
Why? Once we have a person on staff we shift into management roles. Whether I manage the staff or the personnel does. Then, someone should manage the pastor and hold him accountable. We look at job descriptions. We search human resource materials for options. We talk about vision, mission, and purpose. We set numerical goals. We chastise if we don’t reach them and challenge them to do more if they do.
Is there another way? I believe there is. Don Cousins, author of Experiencing Leadershift, suggests four questions as we evaluate. I will share my thoughts with each.
Just as it was discussed in the interview process. I believe those in ministry positions ought to be examined for their faithfulness to the biblical qualifications. (See 1 Tim 3, Titus 1:7 and Acts 20:28) If the search team saw it as important, why don’t we later? Is the staff member faithful to what God has called them to be? These qualities cover character, family, spouse, scripture, and morality. If there is a fidelity problem then address it. If there is not a fidelity issue then move forward.
Paul wrote to Galatia expressing that the follower of Jesus will have certain qualities naturally expressed. These include: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In your evaluation of the staff member in question, do they have these characteristics? Do they show love? Do they have patience? Are they kind and gentle? Each of us have strengths and weaknesses in this list. Take the time to share with them how you have seen the strengths. Help them to see how to support the weaker areas. These nine items build character in us as we follow Christ.
Here is the moment the staff member can share their heart with you. It is my prayer that every staff member would have the peace of mind and feeling of safety to openly share if they are fulfilled in ministry here. I confess, over the years I have not always felt those moments to be a safe space. I strongly suggest that as we bring on this next generation of ministry staff we are going to have to give constant feedback in a safe environment. They demand it. It doesn’t matter if you like it or not, that is where we are going. Further, every staff member has the right to be respected enough to be given that safe space. It is the church’s responsibility to honor those who work hard among you.
making God famous?
Too many ministers build their own little kingdoms. It is never more evident than when they leave. You know what happens? Their people leave too. That ministry falls apart. If a minister is seeking to honor themselves trouble soon follows. In this moment of evaluation, you can provide feedback as to what you have witnessed. (Please do not act on hearsay.) A minister of God seeks to reflect God’s glory rather than their own. Help them to see how they are doing this. Support them through the difficult times of adjustment if this isn’t happening.
Annual reviews do not have to be dreaded. They can be fulfilling and encouraging. This year, take a different approach.
If your staff member is found to be faithful, fruitful, fulfilled, and making God famous then what more would you want? God will work out everything else. I would suggest to you that you will prefer this method over what you might be doing now.
Summers serves as Lead Pastor at Coulter Road Baptist Church in Amarillo, TX.