In the midst of the profound changes that are taking place regarding church life and ministry there are some constants based on biblical revelation. While many Christian believers are experimenting with non-professional leadership in the church there still is a common sense of interest in the value of an ordained ministry. This means that leadership in the church is identified as those who, like so many examples in Scripture, have a clear sense of call to pastoral leadership and have been specially prepared to practice that calling.
It is generally accepted on the basis of Scripture that God has ordained or planned for a kind of leadership in the church that is uniquely qualified for the role — both by calling and preparation. Preparation, it is understood, has both spiritual and educational dimensions. Educational elements include life and ministry experience as well as training in theological understanding and pastoral ministry. This defines the nature of professional pastoral leadership in the church that also identifies it as a legitimate career including regular remuneration. (See 1 Corinthians 9:1-19; 1 Timothy 5:17, 18.)
Since it is established that there is an important and legitimate place for pastoral leadership in the local church, one can easily see that appreciation and recognition of this kind of leadership is no small matter. But in these post-modern times, when the whole concept of personal authority is severely threatened on every hand, pastoral leadership is also regarded with a certain kind of suspicion. This is good in that it strengthens the need for credible leadership in the church but it is bad in that pastoral leadership is extremely vulnerable to the whims of personal preference.
It is my conviction that the cause of the Gospel and the church of Jesus Christ suffers severely, as is often the case, when well-qualified leadership is hindered or discouraged by the mere political will of uninformed or unspiritual people. Likewise the church is also negatively affected by a kind of leadership that is spiritually and educationally unqualified and often manipulative in its practice. That is why the matter of preparing pastoral leaders, seeing that they are properly credentialed, and carefully evaluated from time to time is of such tremendous importance.
Apart from preparation and credentialing, it seems so often that the evaluative process for pastoral leadership is severely wanting. Denominational leaders tend not to be proactive about guiding the process of pastoral evaluation in a constructive manner. As a result, unqualified people within the church are often allowed to influence or generate implusive decisions about whether a particular pastor should continue to serve. As in any other profession an ongoing system of evaluation for the pastor is extremely important. But it ought to be done in a way in which everyone, including the pastor, has a good sense of confidence that the process is both thorough and equitable. Everyone — the church, the community, and the pastor — benefit when this is done well.
For this reason, several years ago now, by the direction of my own Denomination, I tried to give some attention to an evaluative process for pastors that might ensure a better transition experience for the church as well as a pastor in any particular case. I prepared a document consisting of three parts each supervised by a transition consultant that would enable a pastor to be evaluated objectively. The process consists largely of a pastor’s self-evaluation on a dozen different subjects to be harmonized to a parallel evaluation from a carefully selected representive group of people who share the larger common interests of the church. The consultant processes the results and is entrusted with the responsibility of making recommendations to the pastor and the board respectively.
Pastoral evaluations properly conducted by this kind of objective means could go a long ways to ensuring healthier and more effective church ministry. It would also save a ton of heartache for pastors and their families who are often the victims of the kind of persecution that God’s prophets of the Old Testament experienced and that Jesus so strictly condemned (i.e. Matthew 23:31-36).