Saturday, November 19, 2011

Which job description?

"All my Pastor wants to do is preach and teach and study and pray..." said the complaint passed on to me.  "Who me?" I am thinking...  My face must have given away my thoughts.  "Oh, no, not you!" the person assured me.  "I am talking about a young guy right out of seminary."  (Lord knows I would not be confused with either being young or fresh from seminary!  That might also mean that this person also thinks I know better than to think my duties are to preach, teach, study and pray!)

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.


Ted Badje said...

I believe nothing could be better than for congregation members to come up directly and say to the pastor, "Here is our problem, or here is where we think you are lacking". Written evaluations don't come up to that level. A District President should be very
wary of any evaluation that comes without the people engaging in conversation with the pastor first.

Terry Maher said...

Pastors have an incredibly difficult job, and all of them deserve our respect for even trying, regardless of how well we may think they are doing.

Yes, there's the way it is, and there's the way it is. That happens in other "jobs" too though. I think the problem with the other way it is, is not that it isn't formalised, but that it doesn't happen at all. Kind of like nobody telling you your fly is open.

God can have some surprises though. I remember when my wife was in the hospital in her last months, our parish was in the middle of a call and a visiting pastor came by. She thought his manner at services and preaching was too stiff and formal and didn't care for him. When he showed up I though this is the last guy I would pick to help her prepare for death. Later she would say how helpful his visits were and she was ready. Amazing. He didn't even use the prop of a collar; he was just true to his call.

The new pastor arrived just before she died. First call, right out of sem. He handled the situation of a wife and mom of small kids dying, and the funeral, like he had fifty years of experience of which he actually had none. Just true to his call.

The preaching, teaching, studying and praying are important indeed, but as you say, not the real "job description". Just as evangelism can get messed up when it's handled like a sales campaign, parish life can get messed up when it's handled like a corporate world hierarchy.

Anonymous said...

A pastor who humbly submits his
ministry to the Lord and allows
himself to be used as the Lord's
servant will be blessed.

Pastors are tempted to be people-
pleasers as well as CEO's. However,
the steady and consecrated pastors
rely on the Lord to empower their
ministry. The laity can spot the
phony facade of a man on an ego trip
who abuses his God-given authority.

mlorfeld said...

I have found in my limited experience that the key to receiving feedback is the time spent in visitation: be it with shut ins, the sick, the hospitalized, and with members in their homes.

While Oratio, Meditatio, and Tentatio rightly take place in the study of the pastor, when this occurs when you are with fellow Christians, it brings a greater depth to the entire pastoral vocation.

Even when you hear things which might not be in complete harmony (or even conflict) with what Scripture teaches a pastor is to be doing, the feedback is still helpful as it identifies what people are thinking and opens up opportunities for catechesis.

Anonymous said...

This is a very valid Concern, I'm glad I saw the link on Google+. There are many pastors who believe that the Pastoral ministry is a 9-5 job that as long as I preach, teach, and administer the Sacraments according to right teaching thats all it takes.

This is myopic, and I have seen it used to cover up failings, like not going out to visit the sick or to actually tell people about Jesus, because their responsibility is done as long as they are faithful inside the walls of the Church. But the Word of God matters outside the walls of a Building, Theology isn't just Christology, it is ontological reality for all creation and the sooner we can express that, the better equipped we will be to evangelize.