How to Evaluate Your Pastor
It is an open secret: Christian pastors struggle. Many are worn out and frequently fatigued. Many suffer from discouragement. Many desire more constructive feedback to help them channel their energies and properly discharge their calling.
This raises some questions. Who is overseeing their time, priorities, and ministerial expectations? Who is ensuring that they are not being overextended in duties beyond their primary calling to minister God’s Word? If burnout due to conflict is the number one reason pastors leave the ministry, how are pastors being shepherded to prevent this burnout? Who is overseeing what is clearly an intense spiritual struggle happening in the life of the pastor and his family?
The challenge is that pastors, just like all other sinners, struggle to see their own faults, steward their own resources, and remain encouraged in the work God is doing through them. Habits can develop in the course of a pastor’s ministry that lead to stagnation and a lack of personal growth. These developments can greatly harm the effectiveness of a pastor’s ministry. The pastor needs encouragement, feedback, and direction to grow in his calling; otherwise he will export stagnation into the life of his congregation.
Part of the calling of elders is to help pastors remain energized and effective in their callings. And an annual pastoral review is a helpful way to fulfill this responsibility. A proper pastoral evaluation process will be intentionally supportive of the pastor in his calling and positively constructive in helping the pastor identify areas for needed improvement. An evaluative process that is done well will help foster an atmosphere of trust, strengthening the relationship of the pastor with his congregation. Members will witness a healthy, active, and accountable relationship between the elders and pastor. The pastor will receive feedback designed to help and encourage him. When this kind of feedback comes from spiritual men called to oversee the ministry of the Word, it will have an energizing effect upon his ministry.
The pastoral review can be one of the best and most rewarding ways to promote a healthy ministry. So what should it look like?
The pastoral review should be simple, clear, and intentional in its content. It should not be overbearing or cumbersome. The best way to construct the pastoral review is to focus on the following primary duties of the pastor.
Preaching and Worship
Preaching has always been central to the ministry of the church. In classic Reformed theology, preeminence has been given to preaching in corporate worship based upon the conviction that the minister is an ambassador sent to proclaim God’s holy Word, making known his salvation to the peoples. Preaching that is conducted in demonstration of the Spirit and power is Christ’s living voice to the church today. The apostle Paul tells us that it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21). For these reasons, the highest responsibility of the pastor is to give himself to the call of proclaiming God’s holy Word.
Elders should maintain the highest standard of respect for the act of preaching since we believe the pastor is speaking God’s Word. But such respect for preaching does not negate the responsibility of an elder to oversee the preaching itself. Preaching that makes a lasting difference in people’s lives is both faithful and effective.
Elders need to think through how best to encourage their pastor to strive for a faithful and effective pulpit ministry. The preaching ministry may be evaluated by the following three marks: the text is clearly explained, the gospel is faithfully proclaimed, and the people are driven to respond.
Personal and Family Life
In this part of the evaluation, the elders should determine the spiritual and physical vitality of the pastor and his family. The purpose is to determine whether he has become overburdened in his calling with the accumulation of duties, leading to the neglect of his personal walk with Christ, shepherding his family, and taking physical care of his body. Are there patterns of neglect in these areas? If so, why? Elders will also need to determine whether their expectations of the pastor are beyond what is reasonable. Failure in these areas will have a direct correlation to the effectiveness of his ministry. If the pastor cannot manage his own household, how will he care for the household of faith? This part of the evaluation focuses on safeguarding the pastor from himself and from unrealistic expectations.
Pastoral Care and Discipleship
Jesus desired to be among the sheep, caring for them, helping them, and loving them. Our Lord was accessible to his people as one concerned for their spiritual and physical well-being. Caring for the sick and the dying is a vital part of the pastor’s calling. When it comes to visitation and pastoral care, if improvement is needed, first determine whether the pastor clearly understands the expectations of the elders. The pastor should insist that his elders share with him the responsibility of meeting pastoral needs.
When it comes to discipleship, elders will need to assess how the pastor is promoting the growth of the congregation through teaching and counseling. The annual review should include the pastoral care of young people. This may require rethinking how accessible the pastor is to the next generation. Young people want a relationship with their pastor, and the elders need to ensure, with priority, that such a bond is being developed.
Other questions may be asked. Does the pastor make himself available to visitors? How is he promoting the enfolding of the lost? How is the pastor’s ministry propelling the Christian witness?
Leadership and Administration
In Reformed church polity, the pastoral role in leadership is one of assisting the elders in the shepherding and care of the congregation. The pastor holds an incredible position of influence that can be easily abused. It’s a sad but common problem that pastors are often known as controlling and manipulative. Sometimes elder bodies become no more than a group of yes-men to whatever agenda the pastor desires to push upon the congregation. At other times the pastor is viewed simply as a church employee and his leadership is hamstrung. While a pastor is certainly called to be a leader, this leadership must be accompanied with the heart of a servant.
With this in mind, elders will want to assess the pastor’s leadership among them. Is the pastor too domineering in his leadership, or too passive? Does his leadership demonstrate that he desires to assist or control the elder body in their shepherding of the congregation? How is the pastor’s leadership promoting the growth of other leaders in the elder body? Is the pastor known as a servant in the interests of Christ or a pusher of his own agenda on the body?
With God’s help a pastoral review will aid the growth of the pastor and the spiritual life of the entire congregation under his ministry.
Christopher Gordon (MDiv, Westminster Seminary California) is Preaching Pastor at the Escondido United Reformed Church. He is also the host of Abounding Grace Radio.
Help for the New Pastor by Charles Wingard
The New Pastor's Handbook by Jason Helopoulos
"The Pastor as Hourly Employee?" by Adam Parker
"Is It Only About Trust?" by Jonathan Kiel
Editor's Note: This article is abridged and adapted from Christopher Gordon’s chapter “How to Evaluate Your Pastor” in Faithful and Fruitful: Essays for Elders and Deacons, edited by William Boekestein and Steven Swets, which along with a free printable sample pastoral review form is available here: https://www.reformedfellowship.net/faithful-and-fruitful