Secret, Private, or Public Evaluations of #UMC Clergy?

flickr-analyticsAs we approach the fall, many churches across United Methodism see the freight train headed down the track and there’s no stopping it: clergy evaluations will have to be done. But how do they do it?

In the UMC, the Staff-Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) is tasked with clergy evaluations. What usually happens is that the SPRC gets together before their annual church conference and does a clergy evaluation to be placed on the pastor’s permanent file. It is used by the regional supervisor (District Superintendent) to evaluate how the pastor is working out in the current appointment, as well as what role the local church has claimed in caring for their minister.

The sticky question is this: Does the pastor attend the evaluation meeting or are they not allowed?

In my current appointment, the expectation from the SPRC is that I stay in the room for the evaluation. It was weird for me, but my ministry context has no difficulty offering opinions, so I don’t feel like my presence influenced the process. But in my previous appointment, we had instructions from the church hierarchy that read this:

“The Clergy shall be present during the discussion of the Local Church Profile and the Church Assessment portions of this document. The Clergy shall leave the meeting while the SPRC discusses and answers the Clergy Assessment portion. Then the Clergy shall return to the meeting to hear the assessment, sign the document stating they have seen it and reviewed it with the SPRC.”

However, it’s been pointed out to me that the Book of Discipline reads otherwise: it is optional for the clergyperson to leave the room.

¶ 259.e “The committee shall meet only with the knowledge of the pastor and/ or the district superintendent. The pastor shall be present at each meeting of the committee on pastor-parish relations or staff-parish relations except where he or she voluntarily excuses himself or herself. The committee may meet with the district superintendent without the pastor or appointed staff under consideration being present. However, the pastor or appointed staff under consideration shall be notified prior to such meeting with the district superintendent and be brought into consultation immediately thereafter.”

As I see it, there are three different processes for this kind of evaluation, each with pluses and minuses as to their appropriateness for a given ministry context:

  • Private – the SPRC completes the evaluation while the pastor is outside the room, and s/he returns and signs the group document.
  • Public – the pastor is in the room while the evaluation is being written and signs that s/he has received the group document.
  • Secret – the SPRC chair asks for evaluations from the committee by email and brings the completed evaluation to the meeting. The SPRC can either privately or publicly add or subtract from the evaluation.

Having a pastor in the room who can influence (either directly or indirectly) what goes on their permanent file is a big deal if they are overbearing to the process. I can see why DSes encourage pastors to leave the room to account for those pastors who then “know” who “gave them the specific bad feedback.”

But it is also a big deal to have erroneous or easily misunderstood information on one’s permanent file. I received a private evaluation one year that had several evaluation points that I felt were unfair. I signed the document, but wrote a detailed response to those concerns that I sent to the SPRC chair and to the District Superintendent. The DS was responsive and quickly called for a meeting with us to clarify what concerns there were. It worked out well, and my response was entered into the permanent file. So while there’s concern for private evaluations not being accurate, there are processes where pastors can object to or clarify aspects of the evaluation that also enter the permanent file.

John Tyson writes in his book Administration in the Small Membership Church that he doesn’t recommend leaving the room:

“In preparation for charge conference, the staff-parish relations committee (SPRC) must meet to recommend the pastor’s compensation package for the coming year. The package includes salary, travel, utilities, continuing education funds, acceptance of the insurance and pension amounts, and if a parsonage is not provided, an adequate housing allowance. This meeting will need to be held early enough so that the salary recommendation can be presented to the finance committee and the church council before going to the charge conference. It is traditional in many churches for the minister to be excused while the committee deliberates his salary; however, the Discipline gives the pastor the right to stay for the deliberations if he chooses. I usually let the SPRC chair know politely, before the meeting starts, that I will remain for the entire meeting. The Discipline gives us that privilege for a reason. The same is true for the meeting when the pastor is evaluated. People’s private opinions are important, but they are not as important as their public decisions. I want to be there when the public decisions that profoundly affect me and my family are debated.”

So let’s hear from the diversity of United Methodism:

  • If you are clergy, do you stay in the room for your evaluations or do you leave? And why?
  • If you are laity, do you want your pastor to stay in the room or not? And why?

Thanks for reading!

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  1. says

    An option if one leaves the room, of course, is to not sign the evaluation, explain why to the committee and then offer that response to the district superintendent as well.

  2. Tim says

    Read the whole paragraph. The SPRC may meet without the pastor if the DS has given approval. The pastor must be notified prior to the meeting. That being the case the letter serves as notification.

    • Tim says

      Upon further reflection… Does the discipline allow for this kind of meeting without the DS, unless, of course, the pastor has voluntarily left the room?

  3. Eric says

    Anyone have a take on associate pastor’s and being in the room during the same conversations or even being welcomed to SPR by the Senior Pastor?