Eschew Obfuscation

Chuck FullerChuck Fuller, Church, Leadership, Ministry Ideas, Ministry Tools

Dr. Paul Chitwood, Executive Director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, recently released findings from a study concerning forced terminations of pastors and staff in 2011. The top reasons for forced terminations among Kentucky Baptists were as follows:

  1. Control Issues
  2. Poor People Skills
  3. Church’s Resistance to Change; Leadership Style of Pastor or Staff Person (Tie)

Notably, moral failure and financial indiscretion didn’t make the list. They happen—and garner much publicity when they do—but they occur with far less frequency. The reasons cited on the list, though, could be bunched into one broad category: expectation obfuscation.

Expectation obfuscation takes place when a church or its leaders fail to adopt, document, communicate, and evaluate ministry expectations. Often, this dire omission becomes visible only in the wake of a termination. For example, perhaps the pastor search committee didn’t specify whether the church expected a hands-on leader or a delegator. Perhaps the committee didn’t know, and didn’t seek to find out, and the topic never surfaced in the interview process. Or, perhaps a church called a new student pastor, but didn’t craft a job description with specific duties because, after all, he was a trustworthy young man and surely he and pastor could work it out. Perhaps the worship pastor was never told that the pastor expected him to assist with pastoral care or the children’s ministry. Perhaps he was told, but didn’t voice his hesitation in an interview because he really wanted the job. Without clarifying and communicating expectations, churches launch their pastors and staff on a trajectory toward failure.

I have a suggestion. It’s simple, but requires effort. Employ a system of expectation corroboration.

First, before calling a pastor or staff person, make sure that a clear job description has been drafted and approved by appropriate committees and, if necessary, the church. The description will certainly be reviewed and edited periodically, but it sets an important baseline that holds the pastor or staff and the church accountable. It prevents unfair criticism from the church toward the pastor/staff, presents essential expectations to the pastor/staff, and provides basic benchmarks for evaluation.

Second, near the beginning of each new church year (January, September, or whenever), each staff person should complete a “Ministry Development Survey.” The survey might include several questions, including but not limited to the following:

  1. What are your current areas of strength in your skills and particular area of ministry?
  2. What are your current needs for growth and maturity in regard to ministry skills?
  3. In the coming year, what are the greatest opportunities before you and your ministry area?
  4. In the coming year, what are the greatest challenges facing you and your ministry area?
  5. What are your specific goals for the coming year? What resources do you need to meet these goals?
  6. What would you most like your supervisor to know about you or your ministry area?

Third, the pastor should meet with each staffer for an annual evaluation. In the meeting, the pastor should present his own documented evaluation to the staffer, talk through the staffer’s Ministry Development Survey, and schedule a mid-year check-up. The pastor should then discuss his evaluations and the surveys with the personnel committee (or other form of staff oversight), if the church utilizes such a mechanism.

Fourth, the pastor himself should submit to some form of evaluation, whether by other pastors, local elders, or an accountability team—whatever is appropriate within the church’s structure. He too should complete a Ministry Development Survey and share it with trustworthy people who will assist in a faithful way.

An expectation corroboration plan has many advantages. It provides up-front expectations, establishes measures for fair evaluations, employs a method of collecting data, and utilizes a mechanism for addressing problems directly. If more churches would adopt a similar plan, maybe they would experience fewer forced terminations, less pain and division, and more unity in purpose.

Remember, eschew obfuscation. Corroborate expectations.