Seven years into his ministry, “Pastor James” realized he no longer felt the fire and passion for ministry that he once had. He wondered if he had lost himself, his direction, and his connection to God.
Instead of ignoring his thoughts and soldiering on, or simply leaving the church, he sought an in-depth evaluation of his ministry.
“Was it a classic case of burnout? Or was it something else? I decided to face the challenge and get it fixed,” he said.
He read up on the topic, joined a Sustaining Pastoral Excellence peer group, and—most important—asked his elders to honestly assess him and his ministry and tell him if had gone off track and, if so, how and where.
The evaluation process is proving to be a successful way for pastors and church leaders to undergo a checkup, like going to the dentist or physician for routine care—and to see whether something more serious needs attention.
“What was unique about the pastor performance process is that it was pastor-led. I set up and led the process,” Pastor James says.
“I identified two areas in which I felt particularly vulnerable: leadership and preaching. I asked for input from the church family. With the assistance of a five-person team, we invited a random group of members to a meeting. I asked them to critique my preaching and leadership skills.”
The ground rules were simple: If the pastor judged a comment to be more hurtful than helpful, he would ask the person to reframe the comment or leave the room. Similarly, he reserved the right to leave the room.
“After explaining that I was sincere in asking for input, they offered numerous suggestions for ways I could more effectively lead our ministries and more effectively communicate in preaching,” he said.
“The team then assisted me in processing what we heard, and together we developed an action plan, a plan that has guided me and, I believe, has blessed the church.”
The evaluation process may not be for all pastors, but it can help some pastors to flourish.
Cecil VanNiejenhuis, Norm Thomasma, and Jeanne Kallemeyn from Office of Pastor-Church Relations work on the Evaluation Essentials training tool.
In place for more than a year, the evaluation process from the CRC’s Office of Pastor-Church Relations is called Evaluation Essentials for Congregational Leaders, Setting the Table for Healthy Conversations. The CRC’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program helped to put it together.
Pastors aren’t the only ones asking for evaluation. Phone calls and emails from churches to the Office of Pastor-Church Relations often sound something like this:
“Hi, do you have some evaluation materials we can use with our pastor?”
“Good question; what did you use the last time you evaluated your pastor?”
“Oh, we have not evaluated our pastor for a long time.”
“Oh, so why are you thinking of an evaluation now?”
“Well, things have not been going so well lately. “
Rev. Norm Thomasma, director of the Office of Pastor-Church Relations, says his office concluded that councils and congregations do not generally think about evaluations until there is conflict.
“It is understandable why pastors and congregants passively conspire to avoid regular evaluations,” he said. “They take time and effort, and they need to be done well. In fact, poorly conducted or poorly conceived evaluations can do more harm than good. And what will work in one congregation may not be appropriate for another.”
That’s why the Office of Pastor-Church Relations wrote the training tool Evaluation Essentials, rather than a simple how-to booklet. Evaluations need to fit the congregation, the pastor, and the situation. Working through the training tool increases the likelihood that that will happen.
One pastor of a church in Ontario obtained Evaluation Essentials for each member of his executive council as they reviewed the church’s ongoing staff evaluation process. He said they found affirmation for many things the pastor had been doing.
Another pastor of a church in Colorado downloaded the booklet from the CRCNA website. “Reading through Evaluation Essentials is challenging our elders to rethink the evaluation process for all our staff,” the pastor said.