New research shows opportunity for improvement
Many evangelical churches in Canada have a process for evaluating the performance of their senior pastor. When executed well, these reviews provide affirming and encouraging feedback while constructively identifying areas for growth and improvement.
However, poorly executed reviews can lead to strained relationships, ineffective ministry, termination of employment and abandonment of vocation.
Some ideas for how we can do better emerged from recent research I conducted with pastors and board members for my master’s thesis at McMaster Divinity College. Many of those who participated in this research are from denominations affiliated with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
NEED FOR INCREASED THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION
Fifty per cent of board members surveyed said they learned how to conduct the pastoral performance review from previous business or management experience.
Using business tools is not necessarily a bad thing. However, practices taken from elsewhere need to be carefully examined theologically to ensure they fit a ministry context. Biblical models of success in ministry and how relationships of responsibility are organized might differ from those used in some for-profit and not-for-profit settings, for example.
Only 35 per cent of the board members surveyed said they accessed denominational resources in their performance review process.
Survey participants were also asked to provide examples of how the church board had incorporated theological principles into the pastoral evaluation process. Nearly 20 per cent of all respondents were either "not sure" or "did not know" how the board might be doing this.
A further 28 per cent of pastors said their board had not incorporated theological principles into the performance review process. Only 55 per cent of pastors agreed their board was well equipped theologically to provide their performance review.
Clearly we can do more to equip board members for this important process.
Both groups noted the importance of focusing on the shared ministry of the church and providing the opportunity for collaborative, interactive dialogue with the pastor. The top factors that make the evaluation process positive or negative are summarized in the adjacent sidebar.
POTENTIAL FOR IMPROVEMENT
Only 60 per cent of pastors are satisfied with the pastoral review process, according to this survey. That indicates significant potential for improvement.
This research also suggests church leadership would benefit from increased, intentional theological reflection with respect to the pastoral performance review process.
Heather Card is the former COO at the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, and is continuing her research in the area of ministry evaluation while pursuing a doctor of practical theology degree at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ont.