Recently BoardSource made available a resource entitled “How to Conduct a Chief Executive Performance Assessment in 10 Steps” (https://boardsource.org/conduct-ceo-performance-assessment/). This organization supports boards and executives involved in the governance and leadership of non-profit organizations. Churches form a specialized group within the larger non-profit world and normally operate with governing boards and lead pastors who function as CEO’s from the board’s perspective. This document offers very good guidance in terms of establishing a consistent, fair, and beneficial process for evaluating a lead pastor’s performance.
One thing the document emphasizes that a beneficial lead pastor evaluation will require good planning and careful implementation. Trust between church boards and lead pastors is essential and the annual performance evaluation process, if not planned and implemented wisely and with integrity, has potential to damage that relationship. Church board chairs should help their boards understand the importance of a lead pastor’s annual performance review, guide the board to develop good policy in this regard, and then ensure that the approved process is implemented faithfully.
I will not review the various steps the BoardSource documents. You can access it and read it if you are interested. I would offer a few observations regarding how a church board might implement such a process in a way that benefits them and their lead pastor.
First, the process that BoardSource defines is completed entirely among the board members. Each one is involved, is required to respond to any survey circulated, and will review the key themes that the process surfaces. Some church boards may find this limiting, because it would not incorporate input from staff or other key congregational leaders that they might regard as valuable. People often speak of an evaluation process that has a 360 degree purview, i.e., one that includes input from a variety of sources. However, if as a church board you regard this as an important expansion of the process, then great care has to be exercised in its management, particularly the nature of the questions posed. Such an extended process can exacerbate tensions that already exist and provide platforms for people who have a somewhat dysfunctional relationship with the lead pastor for whatever reason.
Second, if the primary responsibility of the lead pastor is to achieve the annual institutional goals established by the board, then the measurement of that achievement should be the primary focus of the assessment. In other words, be careful that the process does not become a fishing expedition or focuses on matters that are not pertinent to the annual performance evaluation. This will require the board and its leadership to exercise careful discipline in the process. As well, if a church board has not established annual goals to advance its mission, then it has very little basis for evaluating the lead pastor’s performance. Discerning this might motivate the board members to be diligent in this regard.
Once the group responsible has processed the results and written its report, the board should schedule in one of its meetings an executive session in which the report and its recommendations can be discussed. This presumes that the lead pastor has had opportunity to review a draft and suggest corrections of errors and other appropriate revisions. Arising from this executive session should be a clear message that the board through its chair person and perhaps one or two other board members can communicate in person with the lead pastor.
If an issue emerges in this process that requires attention, then work with the lead pastor to support change, including resources. However, also insist upon some means of review in three months to assess whether planned action has been initiated and implemented.