Five solemn-faced people assembled on the other side of the conference table, eyes averted. It was time for my performance review. Nobody seemed particularly festive.
For several months there had been rumblings about my pastoral "performance." Nobody doubted my gifts as a preacher or questioned my commitment to Christ. But everyone at the table that day knew there was a growing discontent with my skills as an administrator and leader. Still, I remained confident, ready to admit my faults and defend my record as their pastor.
A month earlier these members of our staff-parish relations committee had filled out an evaluation form, rating me on a scale from 1 ("needs a great deal of improvement") to 5 ("superior, excellent"). Now, everyone sat stiffly in their chairs, fidgeting with their completed evaluation forms.
Finally, to break the awkward silence, I volunteered to evaluate myself.
I gave myself 3's and 4's on most areas but rated myself a mere 2 ("needs some improvement") in leadership and administration.
"I confess that this area is not my strength," I said. "It's been a tough transition coming from a small church, but I'm willing to grow as your leader." How much more transparent and vulnerable can a pastor get? I thought to myself. Surely they'll have compassion, or at least pity, on me. They'll probably even insist that I be bumped up to a 3 ("fully satisfactory").
Billy, the senior member of the committee, tapped his pen and stared at his evaluation form. "Well, Pastor," he drawled, "actually I was thinking that a 2 was pretty high. As a leader and administrator, I gave you a 1."
I glanced at the full page of notes Billy had written in the comments section. "Poor communication … poor administration … confused leadership" were just some of the phrases that caught my eye.
"Billy, I don't think Pastor Matt is that bad as a leader," said a young woman named Janet. "I mean, if he was really that bad, the church would be falling apart."
Billy glared as if to say, "My point exactly."
After a half-hour of discussion, the committee agreed I wasn't quite bad enough to merit a 1. I squeaked by with a 2.
Confident pastor, insecure leader
Naturally, the entire process was discouraging and painful.
Most days I am a confident pastor. I entered ministry because I love Jesus, and he gave me a burning passion to love others. I love to connect people to Christ. I love to see the Scriptures come alive in people's lives. I love to lead people in worship. By the grace of God, I can do those things with passion and excellence. And God has used my pastoral gifts to touch souls for Christ.
For example, a few days after hearing my sermon on Jacob, "The Power of Surrender," a young man called to say, "I couldn't talk to you on Sunday about your sermon; I thought I might start bawling. You see, before I came to church, I was preparing to leave my wife. Your sermon nailed me right between the eyes. I'm just like Jacob: I keep eluding God and others. I recommitted my life to Christ during your sermon, and now I want to make things right with my wife."
One thing was abundantly clear:
the pastor-lover-preacher model
of ministry wasn't cutting it.
The week after this call, a new believer in Christ met me for lunch. For the past year he and I have met regularly for spiritual direction and mentoring. Prior to that, he was actively involved in the gay lifestyle for seven years. Now he is pursuing sexual wholeness through Christ.
"Matt," he said, "I can't believe all the junk you've seen in my life—but you've never given up on me. Thank you for being there for me. Thank you for being my pastor."