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The Conundrum Of Pastor Accountability And Evaluation

As a general practice I am all for accountability, assuming it is healthy accountability. Therein as they say is “the rub” when it comes to pastor accountability. In a church world that has become decidedly pastor-led, effective pastor accountability and evaluation is more elusive than ever.

Personal experience and vast studies by Gallup make it clear that in most organizations accountability and evaluation measures are either ineffective, are unhealthy, and often worse than no accountability at all. This is because over three fourths of the people in management/supervisory roles aren’t gifted much less trained for coaching, evaluation, and accountability of their direct reports. My guess is that the statistics are considerably higher in the church, especially when it comes to the pastor. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that make for ineffective and unhealthy accountability for the pastor.

The Challenges In Fairly Evaluating And Holding A Pastor Accountable

There are any number of challenges that most churches experience when it comes to determining how best to evaluate and hold accountable the Senior Pastor. Here are just a few.

  • Lay leaders who are designated to provide accountability to the pastor bring varying approaches to the responsibility based on what they have experienced in the work place. The typical business and the church are usually two totally different worlds and all too often they aren’t adequately trained either.
  • Few if any lay people understand the role and responsibilities of the pastorate well enough to effectively evaluate performance.
  • Even fewer can spend the time necessary to observe the pastor in a variety of settings and to talk with a representative number of stakeholders to offer a fair evaluation.
  • Those charged with providing pastor accountability generally have the responsibility based on a position they hold, one that typically rotates annually, making consistency impossible.
  • Those charged with providing pastor accountability have their own biases, preferences, and set of friends in the church that have their ear. Usually there are not enough people charged with this responsibility to create a fair and balanced perspective. Often it is only one person with the responsibility, usually the Chairman of the Deacons or Chairman of Personnel who only hears complaints rather than compliments.

A Helpful Analogy

I find a helpful analogy is that of the President of the United States and his accountability and evaluation. Essentially he is accountable for his actions only to the voters and they evaluate him every four years. The House and Senate have limited accountability in that their only option is to censure or impeach him. The voter’s only accountability option is to vote him out of office. All other forms of accountability really are nothing more than confronting and advising which have no real teeth. The parallels in the church is that in most Church bylaws the Deacons or Elders are the advisory group and can only recommend a vote on removing the pastor. The church members are the only ones who by congregational vote can remove him from office. Viewing pastoral accountability this way means accepting that like the President the pastor really does play under a different set of rules than everyone else on staff and therefore needs to be evaluated differently. Not only do the bylaws state those differences but his job description and compensation structure does as well.

Potential Courses of Action To Consider for Pastor Accountability and Evaluation

  • An Elder Team form of governance has a high potential for effectiveness. Their role keeps them close enough to the pastor that they can better understand his performance. Evidence though is beginning to suggest that many Elder Teams get too close to the pastor to be objective. In fact, there are more instances of Elder Teams being too supportive and lax than too restrictive or onerous. There are several current examples of Elder Boards not performing due diligence and dismissing claims against the pastor that later prove to be true.
  • The Accountability Team approach is another potentially effective form of pastor accountability. It’s not perfect, but keys to success include letting the pastor have a voice in who sits on the team, requiring members to serve four year terms, meeting with the pastor privately on a monthly basis, making regular reports to the congregation or other governing body, and conducting a 360 degree annual evaluation revue.
  • The Advisory Team approach is probably the most viable approach open to virtually all churches. With this approach, the pastor too can have input by selecting two to three people and the other positions can be filled either by the position or office they hold or by selection by some group, such as the Nominating Committee, Deacons, or Personnel. The emphasis here is on advising versus accountability. But, there are a few things that can be slipped into their responsibilities that could be considered oversight in nature. This can include approving vacation, office hours, days off and conference/convention/speaking opportunities and even recommending a raise percentage. With this approach the wise pastor sees how such a team can provide him not only a sense of what is happening in the hallway and parking lot meetings, but also can provide air cover on certain issues by advising then signing off on them.

Apart from these options it is typically left to the Deacon Chair or Personnel Chair, often in consultation with each other, to provide individual or collective accountability and evaluation of the pastor. Generally speaking, any process is better than no process, but the challenges listed above make many forms of pastor accountability practiced in churches today worse than no accountability at all.



Posted on November 9, 2021

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5