The task of conducting a thoughtful and well facilitated review of a minister is often one tinged with anxiety not only for the minister and his/her spouse but also for the reviewers and the congregation. This is usually due to the many stories doing the rounds of poor processes, ministers and congregations getting badly hurt, issues not being dealt with and pastors resigning or being dismissed rather than being empowered to grow in leadership. Over the years, John Mark Ministries has worked with churches as they have reviewed their pastors and out of this experience has developed some tools and resources to assist.
The nature and purpose of pastoral reviews
Reviews of leaders are a natural and normal part of all organisations, the church included. Healthy leaders will have been doing this personally as an ongoing part of their own development. From the congregation’s point of view, these reviews should be undertaken with careful thought and planning.
- The purpose is personal and leadership insight and growth
Leadership is primarily about relationships. People connect to and work with a pastoral leader in the context of Christian community for the purposes of seeing God’s kingdom extended. A pastor needs to be affirmed in what is going well and to gain insight into how this can be further developed. Things that aren’t going well need to be carefully diagnosed, understood, and a process for addressing them put in place. A review should not be allowed to gather several years worth of minor issues which have caused discontent but never been addressed and bundle them into a mass capable of significant damage. Reviews are primarily formative not summative.
- Reviews should be conducted by a small group with some expertise and experience
Conducting a thoughtful review requires time, expertise in human relations and some knowledge of the pastor and the church community. It is important for the church council to appoint members to this group with attention to the skills, maturity and wisdom that will be required to collect and process all the information that makes up the review and to make appropriate and constructive recommendations as a result. If needed get a facilitator or coach from outside the congregation to work with the review group.
- The best reviews are part of a long term process
The most effective reviews arise out of a regular process of consultation with a pastor, the pastor’s spouse and to a lesser degree the congregation or parts of it. Many churches establish a Review Committee or working group which is a standing committee for the tenure of the pastor. This group meets every three – six months with the pastor and gathers feedback periodically from the congregation. They report to the church board every 6 – 12 months. This process allows the review of a minister to remain formative and positive. Reviews that only occur every three to five years run a risk of being the gravitational point for all kinds of negatives which have built up over years.
- The best pastoral reviews also include a review of the congregational and lay leadership
As noted above, leadership is a relationship. Pastors are not the only factor in the life and health of the church community. The church itself as a community of people needs to be reviewed for health, and also the lay leadership or governing group need to be reviewed for how they contribute to the direction and health of the church. When the pastor is going to be reviewed, it may also be wise to conduct a review of the church as a whole and also the church governing group or council.