It is that time of the year again. No, I'm not talking about taxes. It's time for your clergyperson's annual review. Boards of churches and synagogues and other houses of worship have been increasingly involved in figuring out the best way to provide feedback and determine the effectiveness of their clergy and the rest of the staff who work professionally in a religious institution. How can we fairly and honestly evaluate the clergy who lead and guide us to be better and more knowledgeable people in the teachings and practices of our faith tradition? Doesn't that sound kind of strange?
The first challenge with evaluating clergy is that the people who perform the evaluation are not peers but usually volunteers. So how does a board develop a process, let alone a document, that is appropriate and covers the right kinds of issues that will enable the clergy to fulfill their jobs and meet the reasonable expectations of the leadership of their congregation?
The second challenge is deciding whether models of evaluation from the business world or nonprofit sector fit for evaluating the contemporary clergyperson. Is the clergyperson the equivalent of the chief executive officer in a company?
The third challenge is how does one evaluate the clergyperson without evaluating the performance of the board? What the clergyperson does is a result of a partnership with leaders.
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Finally, what are the unique metrics for a clergyperson evaluation?
There are many more questions to address in developing the appropriate measure for how effective the clergyperson is at his or her job. Various religions and denominations within a religion view the role of clergy in different ways. That makes it difficult to agree on a one-size-fits-all model for evaluating clergy. I believe, nevertheless, that there are certain tips to keep in mind before engaging in this process.
To begin with it is critical to provide a clergyperson with ongoing feedback and to keep a record of the feedback in writing throughout the year. Work with one's clergy to develop a thoughtful and respectful mechanism that both the clergy and the leadership agree on and clearly understand the criterion. A second idea is to separate the evaluation from compensation. That may come down the road, but trying to praise the person for their strengths and point out areas of growth should be independent of money and remuneration. Third, confidentiality is crucial towards maintaining the integrity of the process. Fourth, the clergy should be offered the opportunity to create their own self-evaluation and that of the board which will enable both sides to compare the results from the perceptions of the leadership and the clergy.
Finally, both clergy and leadership should be committed to a process that is not only fair but has the appearance of being fair and professional for the sake of the values that both parties hold sacred in their religious teachings. The consequences of not holding to those values of the faith in the evaluation process can lead to division in the congregation. If everyone works in harmony, then even difficult issues can be handled in a dignified and respectful way, which will enhance the lessons to be learned by both sides and will, hopefully, benefit the congregation in the long run.
Does he give a good sermon? Does she visit congregants in the hospital? Is our minister respectful of the rest of the clergy and professional staff? The issues to discuss with helping the clergy to grow in their work deserve an evaluation process, but it must be one that is designed to address real issues that clergy face each day.
Congregational boards will learn more about the scope and depth of the job beyond what they see on the pulpit.
Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him at twitter.com/rabbibloom.