What do you Expect from a Pastor?

The Relationship Model

Imagine that conversation you had with an unhappy member of the congregation about the pastor’s performance. You heard a litany of complaints about what the pastor wasn’t doing. There were references to the preaching, the visitation program, the office hours, something the pastor said and a lot about what the pastor doesn’t do. There seemed to be nothing you could say that would satisfy the person you were talking to and no way to resolve the issue or to improve the situation. It was just another conversation that you’ve heard before and will hear again and again and…

There is something that can be done to break this cycle of unhappiness and frustration with the pastor’s performance, a frustration that is shared by members of the congregation and the pastor. It’s a process that is remarkably simple but in Christian congregations seldom followed.

Negotiate expectations.

The set of expectations for pastoral performance that could be expressed by members of any congregation are as numerous as the members. Yet those expectations are seldom expressed up front and almost never negotiated between the pastor and the leaders of the congregation in a process that results in an affirming, objective annual performance review.

Instead, expectations are assumed and the pastor can only fail to deliver the expectations that vary widely, are not expressed and seldom reviewed in any formal manner. As a result, there is frustration, misunderstanding, and disappointment for all parties in the relationship.

Here are some simple steps to follow to make the negotiation of expectations possible, productive and even fulfilling for pastor and congregation.

  1. Survey the individuals of the congregation (a generous sample or all of them, depending on the size of the group) with regard to expectations. This survey should take the form of a questionnaire developed by the leaders to include the main areas in which expectations can be expressed. Of utmost importance it must give the member of the congregation the opportunity and obligation to quantify the expectations in each area of pastoral activity.
  2. Negotiate realistic expectations in each area of pastor performance in a formal annual performance review with the pastor(s). The emphasis must be on the process of negotiation. It is not helpful simple to state expectations. Expectations must be negotiated in relation to the resources available to the pastor(s). Resources include human resources (staff, volunteers), financial resources (operating funds, budget), time and the pastor’s personal set of gifts, talents, strengths, competencies, however these are described in your congregation. This process is complete only when the expectations are stated in S.M.A.R.T goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant to the Mission, Time-limited) and when these goals are agreed by both parties.
  3. In an annual review complete an objective assessment of performance related to these agreed expectations. Where expectations have been exceeded or missed, assess the reasons. If expectations were exceeded at the expense of the health of the pastor, commendation for a job well done can lead to even more loss of health in the future. Where expectations were missed, it may have been the result of loss of resources or other factors that need to be factored into the next year’s goals. Good results are not always to the pastor’s credit. Poor results are not always the pastor’s failure.
  4. Formulate a new set of expectations (S.M.A.R.T. goals) for the next year, based on what was learned in the annual performance review. Make the necessary adjustments to goals according to the assessment of available resources. Repeat this cycle annually.

When you follow these steps with the involvement of the members of the congregation, there is a far greater likelihood that the expectations will be understood and accepted by all. Most important, it becomes far more likely that the pastor will be able to succeed in delivering the spiritual leadership that meets the needs of the members without pastoral burnout.

Pastors, more than people in a “normal” employment relationship work with vague sets of expectations and little or no performance reviews. The short courses “Monitoring and Mitigating Risk 402” and “Measuring Strategic Results 403” come with forms to review the relationship between the pastor and the church.

GovernanceMatters.com Inc. has also developed an audit of pastoral competencies to enable you to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your pastor(s) compared to the expectations you have for pastoral leadership. Contact us for more information on how you can benefit from this diagnostic tool designed to make the relationship with your pastor productive and fulfilling.

Les Stahlke, President/CEO
GovernanceMatters.com Inc.

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