What is an ‘effective’ pastor?

I had a conversation with a colleague last night about “guaranteed appointment.”

I’d already shot off an e-mail to my bishop telling him that if the cabinet in my conference ever deems me to be ineffective — and training does not fix my problems — I’ll turn in my credentials rather than fight a legal battle to enforce my “right” to appointment. (This all assumes I am ordained at some day in the future.)

As I told my colleague, I am hopelessly idealistic and naive about all this.

My colleague, in sharing about concerns, said the problem we have is that we don’t know who gets to define what “effective” means.

I’m sure many of my readers can share stories from within the belly of United Methodism about politics and personality conflicts leading to unfair or punitive appointments. We all know that there are congregations in United Methodism that are dysfunctional and chew up pastors like wood chippers. If I ever have to serve one of those, perhaps my pledge to the bishop will come back to haunt me.

Our Book of Discipline has an extensive list of clergy responsibilities (¶340). In ¶334.2.c the BOD discusses the meaning of effectiveness:

Evidence of continuing effectiveness reflected in annual evaluation by the pastor-parish relations committee and by the district superintendent or comparable authorities.

In ¶334.3, the BOD lays out the process to address concerns when clergy effectiveness is in question.

a) Identify the concerns. These can include an elder’s failed professional responsibilities, vocational ineffectiveness, or refusal of episcopal appointment.

b) Hold supervisory conversations with the elder that identifies the concerns and designs collaboratively with the elder, a corrective plan of action.

c) Upon evaluation, determine that the plan of action has not been carried out or produced fruit that give a realistic expectation of future effectiveness.

When an elder does not live up to his or her pastoral responsibilities, the BOD has procedures (¶361) to remove that person.

By my reading, we define “effective” on the basis of congregational and supervisory evaluation of the pastor’s ministry. Through the Vital Congregations process, it seems as if supervisors are going to more and more rely on “metrics” to make their evaluations. Congregations, I suspect, will always be more ambiguous in their standards for pastoral effectiveness.

[EDIT: Adding text after Taylor Burton-Edwards’ comment below] The text of ¶334.4 places the responsibility for defining effectiveness in the hands of cabinets and Boards of Ordained Ministry:

If an elder … does not demonstrate vocational competence or effectiveness as defined by the annual conference through the Board of Ordained Ministry and cabinet …

As Taylor points out, it is incumbent on the BOOM and cabinet to develop explicit definitions for effectiveness and competence. I am not sure if my conference has done that. I certainly do not remember (although this may say more about me than the process) this topic being explicitly discussed in a meeting I have been a part of. Perhaps this ruling will give some impetus to such conversations.

So, what do you think it means to say a pastor is effective?

8 thoughts on “What is an ‘effective’ pastor?

  1. Actually, it will matter very little what any of us thinks the meaning is. The Discipline gives the responsibility to each Annual Conference to determine the standards of effectiveness. Paragraph 334.4 specifies that the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Cabinet determine the standards of “vocational competence or effectiveness.” Cabinet and BOOM alone have the power to make this determination. It is not subject to review or approval by any other body.

    Here;’s the deal– few Annual Conferences have employed this first step, that is, having these two bodies develop the standards of effectiveness to be used. Without a standards policy in place, it becomes much more difficult to say that a given elder under appointment has or has not met them. With them in place, and with clear means of measuring them, it becomes easier to do so.

    What remains a challenge in the whole process is that the review process for ineffectiveness or incompetence is still handled under a complaint process, sort of. While we do have a “second track” (Administrative Complaint, para 362 ff) for dealing with incompetence or ineffectiveness, the fact that this exists still under a complaint process rather than a more or less HR process is part of the reason this tends to bog down once sufficient thresholds of incompetence or ineffectiveness are properly documented. I think this is where future legislation needs to focus– a process of “normalizing” performance review and remediation or other responses while “de-fanging” the process from “complaint,” and at the same time ensuring right to due process is maintained.

    1. I did not read the language in 334.4 carefully enough.

      How do you see that interacting with 334.3.c?

      1. The interaction is direct. Questions about effectiveness can’t be dealt with as definitively without standards for effectiveness being in place, per paragraph 334.4. One they are in place, you follow paragraph 334.3.c, see if that improves things. If not, move on to the steps outlined in 334.4 and 361 ff (Administrative Complaint).

        But before all of that, get the standards in place!

    2. I have read of the opposite of that standard being developed in an annual conference, i.e. a definition of ineffectiveness (in this instance, 3 churches asking for a clergy person to be moved). Though that has clarity, I don’t think it is beneficial as a standard for all clergy (what should I aspire to?) nor as an expression of doctrine/ecclesiology. Not sure that conference’s Board developed it, however. We’re wrestling with it right now in Texas–it’s harder than it looks.

  2. I have also been a little appalled at how quickly the word “ineffective” has been tossed around without any real standards as to what actually qualifies as effectiveness. I do think much of the problem lies in that fact that effectiveness can not be separated from the cultural and demographic context of the congregation–which is why using raw metrics is absolutely the wrong approach. This really is a subjective decision.

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