As the Minister for Ministers in Local Churches for the Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA) ministry team, I regularly receive requests from congregations who want to evaluate their ministers. Some are thrilled with their pastor’s leadership and want to encourage her (and maybe ensure she stays longer!). Some are angry with their pastor’s leadership and are looking for an excuse to fire him. Some just think it’s a thing they are supposed to do, but they don’t know how or why or when.
I love the opportunity to remind people that fundamentally, the goal of evaluating ministry is to affirm ministry and to discern ways for it to grow and thrive in their setting, to bring glory to God’s realm.
Did you notice the shift from “evaluating the minister” to “evaluating ministry”? That’s intentional. Ministry doesn’t happen in isolation. It is not something that the minister does on behalf of the church or on behalf of God, but ministry is a shared endeavor among the congregation, the pastoral leadership, and the Holy Spirit.
For that reason, I always make sure to ask a few questions:
- Do you have a call agreement with your pastor?
- Do you have a job description for your pastor?
- Does your congregation have vision, purpose, and/or mission statements that reflect the core beliefs and values of your church?
- Has your congregational leadership set goals in the past year for ministry and mission priorities, in partnership with your pastor and in relation to the first three things?
- Has your pastor set professional goals for the year which have been approved by the congregational leadership?
- How do you integrate the Ministerial Code of Ethics and The Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers into #1-5?
All of these are essential tools to help begin to evaluate ministry; for they give focus, shape and a sense of missional priorities for the congregation and thus allow the congregation to do what God has called it to do in their particular time and place. They also help to focus the pastoral leadership of the congregation on the communal discerned needs of the congregation.
“When should we evaluate?” Establishing a pattern of seeking regular feedback from stakeholders helps both lower the general anxiety about “evaluation” in a ministry setting and set the tone for continuous improvement. Some sorts of evaluations can be done annually, while some feedback can happen on a longer cycle. Of course, post-event evaluations provide immediate feedback that leaders can incorporate into their future planning of events and projects and can be done at the end of a meeting or event. One simple way to do this is to ask for responses to three simple questions: What worked well? What insights did you gain? What could be improved for next time?
“How should we evaluate?” There are different ways to provide feedback and evaluation. Feedback may be descriptive in nature (“Share about your experience with X” where X is “worship” or “Faith Formation classes” or something else); or it may be evaluative (“Does the minister ensure accordance with Safe Church policies?” or “How does the minister reflect these aspects of the Marks/these parts of the Code of Ethics?”).
Furthermore, evaluation may be summative (“Is the individual doing work consistent with the position description? Is the ministry focusing on programs consistent with the goal set out? Are the stakeholders completing their assigned tasks?”) or formative (“Where has growth happened in the past year in this ministry? Where have we seen excellence displayed? What changes can be made to aid X in advancing the overall mission of the congregation?”).
The bottom line is: Regular, consistent evaluation of ministry is vital for continued growth in ministry – both for the authorized minister and for the ministry setting. Check out The Local Church Leaders page on the UCC website at the end of March for an updated handbook for ministry evaluation.
MESA also recommends the following books as resources for congregations:
- When Better Isn’t Enough: Evaluation Tools for the 21st Century Church by Jill Hudson (Rowman and Littlefield; Lanham, MD: 2004).
- Completing the Circle by David McMahill (Rowman and Littlefield; Lanham, MD: 2003).
- User-Friendly Evaluation: Improving the Work of Pastors, Programs and Laity by Jeff Woods (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; Lanham, MD 1995).
Learn more about Rev. Elizabeth Dilley’s work supporting local church pastors here.