"Being a pastor - the worst of all jobs, and the best of all callings."
(John Newton, C18 Anglican priest)
My 2015 thesis identified the salient features of a clergy evaluation - Formation, Collaboration, Imagination and fourthly Vocation.
That's because the interface between the individual and the denomination is also a critical dimension.
The fourth important construct for conversations with, and about, pastoral leadership relates to the wider denominational dimensions that apply to a clergy review, even in Baptist churches with an independent congregational polity. I called this interface between the individual and the denomination Vocation to emphasise a sense of divine call, as well as the secular experience of finding personal fulfilment in one’s work. For ministers, vocation usually begins with candidating and selection for training, but there is also an ongoing degree of denominational oversight. Reviews play into that oversight, as organisations find ways to equip and safeguard human talent in whom they have invested. This study found a review conversation is “theological, relational and strategic” for individuals, parishes and denominations (1).
The interface between denomination and individual minister has common features in New Zealand Baptist and Presbyterian churches:
1. Candidating and selection – both churches use prayer and discernment, require tertiary academic study, and rely on interviews, observations, assessments, references and psychometrics to test the call.
2. Theological training and pastoral internship – both traditions assist new graduates to find a good match of pastor and parish, though neither church guarantees a placement.
3. Ongoing monitoring and mentoring, regulated nationally in both traditions - Presbyterians apply mandatory Certification of Good Standing and Ministry Development Reviews, while Pastor Registration and pastors’ clusters provide a structure for accountability in the Baptist movement.
This mean that by the time a pastor accepts a call, a good deal has been spent developing their potential, so safeguarding that intellectual capital is important. Human Resource Managers call this retention, but in the church we call it stewardship. Clergy review clearly has a strategic function checking motivation and engagement, perhaps by leveraging non-financial incentives since opportunities for pay increases are limited. I found review conversations can signal organisational values, such as an outward focus, and can also reveal concerns about pastor health and safety. I heard how about “pastor killing” Baptist churches but also saw that even in the Presbyterian system with its layers of protection and advocacy, unabridged feedback can be dehumanising and destructive. Subjective responses of members need to be carefully weighed and an outside reviewer can place criticisms in realistic perspective.
So how are the reviews working for these churches? The Presbyterian programme’s trained reviewers apply an education model aimed at ministry development. While there were concerns about language, follow-up and reviewer quality, overall I found the programme is accomplishing what it set out to do, affirm achievement and identify goals. one minister summed it up:
"I was a little bit anxious going into it, worried about being told you can’t do this job anymore. Being told you’re incompetent. Because when you think of review, you think of school teachers, medical practitioners who lose their licence, and you think the recommendation could come back, “this guy is no good.”....Now we’ve done it and I’ve got to do it again, and to have done certain things that have been recommended. On the whole it’s a good exercise ‘cos of that opportunity to sit and think and reflect, it makes you a better minister."
Locally-developed Baptist reviews that rely on a business model seemed less successful, but an outside facilitator is a clear advantage. NZ Baptists are placing increased emphasis on national frameworks for child safety, pastor accountability and lifelong learning, and I believe clearer protocols about the timing and scope of pastor reviews should be added to the registration framework. One pastor's view:
"It’s not fair to review a pastor based on performance criteria that he didn’t know he was required to complete (say) if there’s a change of Board and no institutional memory about what the church wanted the Pastor to be or do when he was called....it’s not until the person’s been in the role that the church discovers what they really wanted and what the person can do, so you have to let the dust settle, then there needs to be a healthy robust process which really asks the question “now we have some understanding of each other, what are we called to build here, what’s your part and what’s my part?”
Evaluations that increase awareness and intentionality on the minister’s part are in themselves a form of professional development, and have strategic value for the congregation and the organisation. A review conversation can help the minister in their daily work, by identifying unhelpful attitudes, unsafe practices, or issues of culture and change. But this study’s participants also used the experience as a discernment tool in a metacognitive way, and applied the feedback loop to the "pastoral tie" between leader and people. This became the central finding of my thesis, the core of the review conversation model. The ministers spoke of how a review tested their call to a specific congregation, or even their overall vocation to pastoral leadership. A positive review meant they felt their call affirmed, the pastoral relationship was “still a good fit”. They did not want to be “the last to know” when they should go, and seriously considered how long they would stay in an appointment, even an open-ended one. Reviews helped them and their spouses consider relocation, retirement, or becoming bivocational. Protestant clergy in general regularly question their call; it seems that review exercises are “crucial conversations” where the stakes are high (2).
This construct also led me to consider protocols for ministry termination, which are complex and confusing. Ministers under ‘Terms of Call’ are not subject to the protections of the NZ Employment Relations Act (2000), but they still deserve to be treated fairly (3). Follow-up was certainly an issue for Presbyterians concerned about effective ways of dealing with incompetency. They wondered if privacy provisions meant marginal performers are being supported beyond a reasonable level, and if “the ambulance is still at the bottom of the cliff”. Baptists often mentioned mismatched terms of call; they felt their job description was “generic”, or “outdated”, and that unspoken assumptions had only emerged later. The fact that Baptist reviews are not always formally documented does makes shared expectations hard to clarify and poor process had sometimes led to a resignation. It seems the main concern of the Presbyterians is for the clergy review not having enough ‘teeth’, whilst the Baptists are more anxious about ‘teeth’ that are used unjustly. Either way, there is room for the denominations to take a more proactive role in guiding churches contemplating termination of a pastoral call. An Australian support group for ministers after termination reports that only 55 percent returned to church-related vocations. Except in the most extreme circumstances, this is a waste of valuable human talent.
In summary, today’s ministers are knowledge workers, valuable human resources that a shrewd manager will protect and preserve. Their intellectual capital is a product of competence and commitment, and is a matter of strategic significance to Baptist and Presbyterian churches. An effective ministry development review is said to be 90% formative but this study demonstrates how collaborative leadership, missional imagination and vocational management are also key dimensions that need to be taken into account. Denominations should continue to recruit people who are self-motivated, collaborative and insightful, but they also should find realistic and hopeful ways to sustain their call and nurture their souls. I believe there are things we can learn from the business sector; a Harvard Business author gives us pertinent advice about managing valuable human talent:
“Don’t smother them with rules or give them too short a leash...Point them in the right direction, support them with appropriate resources, and give them periodic praise and rewards, and they will get the job done.” (4).
To Think About: How do you understand the notion of vocation? How does the interface between pastor and denomination apply in your setting? How could it work better?
1. Wright, C., Hannah, A., & Ward, K. (2013). Ministry Development Review Training Manual. Dunedin, NZ: KCML p 7.
2. Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2012). Crucial conversations: tools for talking when stakes are high (2nd ed.). McGraw-Hill.
3. Burt, G. (2012). Pastors and Ministers - “Called” or Employed? Retrieved from http://www.gazeburt.co.nz/files/docs/publications/pastors%20and%20ministers%20-%20called%20or%20employed.pdf
4. Luecke, R. (2006). Performance management: measure and improve the effectiveness of your employees. Harvard Business Essentials.
This article is part of a series introducing in more detail the findings of my 2015 Master of Business (AUT Auckland) where the thesis topic was performance management of clergy in NZ Presbyterian and Baptist churches. I looked at the changing business sector practices of Performance Management in knowledge work, examined the polity and processes of the nationally-mandated Presbyterian Ministry Development Reviews, and mined Baptist documents for evaluative practices applied in locally-governed congregations. Then I interviewed 15 senior ministers with a mixture of age, gender, ministry years and the two denominations, who had all experienced at least two reviews.
An introduction to the thesis findings "Realistic and Hopeful" can be found at