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A Letter from the Senior Associate Minister to Presbytery

Keeping the Pastor-Congregation Relationship Healthy
June 20, 2013

I frequently get calls from elders or chairs of church Personnel Committees asking me how to evaluate the work of his or her pastor. In many instances, by the time I am called, a problem has already developed and the idea of creating a process of pastoral evaluation (i.e. or even conducting an annual review)is already tainted by ill feelings, hidden agendas, and a feeling that the purpose of the evaluation is merely to make the case for why the pastor should sense a call to “move on.” In most of these situations however, the disruption to the pastoral relationship could have been avoided if the church had put safeguards in place for the pastor and key leaders to have regular, honest, and truthful conversations about how the relationship between the pastor and the congregation is developing. Is the pastoral relationship healthy or unhealthy? Are expectations clear? Are mid-course corrections needed? Where can the pastor find accurate feedback on how he or she is doing? What is the basis for a church to show appreciation to a pastor or even give a raise more than the cost of living?

I read recently that 48% of churches don’t do ANY kind of evaluation of their pastor or pastors. (Actually I thought the percentage low.) The reasons for this are legion: laziness, pastoral arrogance, evaluations are not “spiritual” in nature, an attitude of “if it aint broke don’t fix it,” ignorance, lack of experience and knowledge, a thin skinned pastor who is over sensitive to any criticism, and the list goes on. The result is churches pay a high price when no one is willing to talk openly through a set process about how to keep the pastoral relationship healthy. Destructive habits become engrained. Unclear expectations run rampant. A lack of accountability develops that does not serve the congregation let alone Christ. Some situations have resulted in the abuse of power by the pastor or the abuse of the pastor through overwork and unclear expectations about the use of his or her time.

There are many benefits of having proper “feedback loops” for the pastor or other staff. When a working relationship is properly reviewed it: allows for mid-course corrections to the relationship, clarifies expectations, mutual accountability is seen as a friend not a foe, people feel safer and appreciated, people feel valued, and trust is established which can make difficult conversations, if a problem develops, go better. The theological framework for personnel reviews comes straight from the Bible. Ephesians 4 speaks of mutual accountability. The Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 12 about all of us being accountable for the proper functioning of our part in the Body of Christ. In II Timothy 2:15 he writes we should “not be ashamed of our work”. Each of us is take care how we build on the foundation laid before us, and that requires we be accountable to one another.

Periodically I will go to a church and do a short 45 minute to an hour ”workshop” with the session or Personnel Committee on such matters. I help them see the importance of this part of ministry, giving them resources on how to create a Personnel Committee and how to conduct a constructive pastoral review. I direct them to resources that fit the size and culture of their church (e.g. family, pastor-centric, or corporate church). I help pastors develop ways in which they might assist in creating a culture of encouragement and accountability that will keep the pastoral relationship with the congregation on track.

I believe that Christ is served best when we hold ourselves mutually accountable. I have seen too many pastoral relationships ripped part or destroyed by churches taking the pastoral relationship for granted, as if it is to run on auto pilot. It does not. What are you and your church doing to keep the pastoral relationship at your church healthy and strong?

In Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Douglas E. Portz, Senior Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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