Saturday, November 19, 2011
Which job description?
Therein lies the problem. This young Pastor needed some seasoning to realize the full dimensions of the ministry -- that it is not just preaching, teaching, studying, and praying. Or, what was left unspoken, it is not even primarily about preaching, teaching, studying, and praying.
Now I understand the complaint. It is fair enough on the surface. The Pastor cannot afford to spend all his time doing what are the duties assigned him in his call. There are other things. But that is the rub. Which other things? There are a great many expectations people have of their Pastors that have nothing at all to do with what is explicitly written into his duties as defined by the call documents. You learn that over time. Yet this whole conversation is somewhat sad. What good is that call document with its official duties and "job description" if there is another unofficial "job description" that supersedes it?
And that is the point of this post. What is the value and purpose of pastoral evaluations and their ministry when Pastors have two job descriptions (or more) -- one that bears all the official signatures and seals and the other(s) that exist in the minds and conversation of his people?
I know that evaluations tend to be complaint sessions and that they generally only become important when complaints or conflicts arise. I know that this is always a bad time to conduct evaluations. But it is a little like the question of when is the best time to beat your children -- when you are angry or when you are happy? (Just an expression, cool down the comments.) I also know that Districts and other official entities are wont to see evaluations done and sent out examples and forms and process descriptions to help congregations start up the practice. I also know that Pastors are uncertain about them and the folks expected to do them are loathe to start up a conversation with the Pastor about what he does well and what not so well (about as comfortable a conversation as talking about how much to pay him while he is sitting there looking at you in the eye). So why do we try so hard to promote them?
The most effective evaluations are done informally. Pastors listening to their people and people listening to their Pastors. Often this conversation can be encouraged by a good group of elected (or non-elected but established) parish leaders) -- call them elders, maybe? They can often help a Pastor hear what he is missing and share with the larger congregation what the Pastor finds it hard to say.
I have been blessed in every parish with folks who picked up the phone or dropped in to see me to sit me down and tell me what I was missing or to point out to me things that needed my attention. Though sometimes these were official leaders, elders, most of the time they were just folks who loved me enough to tell me what I did not want to hear and to have my back for me when I did not realize it needed having.
Of course there are congregations that are clergy "eaters" and I know of Pastors who are completely oblivious to the things around them. What I do not know is how to institutionalize the kind of conversations of which I am speaking. I do not know how to make formal the informal, to make official the unofficial, and to frame this all in the context of love for the Lord, for His Church, and for one another. But I am pretty sure that pastoral evaluations is not the answer.
This is not something taught (or that can be taught) in seminary. But it can often come from the patient, kind, loving, and wise counsel of brother Pastors and the good hearted and lay folk whose only hope, purpose, and prayer is for the Pastor/parish marriage to be successful, long, and happy.