(Bishop Paul L. Leeland) Recently, public education has moved into the forefront of the national debate circuit as many network stations have highlighted the local conversations taking place. The national debate has focused on the criteria of what makes a teacher effective and how the number of effective teachers may increase. Obviously, parents want, and deserve, excellent, qualified, effective teachers to educate their children. Yet, not surprisingly, the debate has drawn great criticism from some teachers, who may fear they will be seen as less than effective when local boards of education begin to identify clearly defined criteria for effective teaching.
Dr. Lawson Bryan, senior minister of First United Methodist Church, Montgomery, Ala., has been asked by the Montgomery Education Foundation to co-chair a steering committee who is leading the way in community engagement with education. They are working “to build an informed community that will demand higher standards and greater accountability from public education.” While still in the initial stages, this will hopefully be accomplished through a four-phase process beginning with conversations related to higher levels of achievement for every child in Montgomery County, and ending with a “model for ongoing reporting to the community on the progress and achievement of goals for our school system…giving the public access to important performance data.”
I am interested in how these national and local debates regarding education parallel many conversations regarding clergy effectiveness throughout our entire denomination. The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church has printed “A Call to Action”*
citing the need for “…a culture of accountability that would provide a significant opportunity for improving organizational effectiveness, creating a vital connexion, and improving the effective and efficient use of resources of ‘affordability.’”
Many clergy interviewed by members of the Council of Bishops were in favor of eliminating guaranteed clergy appointments with one key proviso: “the prerequisite of creating a clear, objective and transparent performance measurement and evaluation process for clergy.” At this time, very few annual conferences have agreed on what those objective and transparent measurements for evaluation of clergy effectiveness would look like.
Personally, I believe there is too much fear related to the identification and measurement of fruitfulness - to use the terms “fruitful” and “effective” interchangeably. Too much attention has been placed on “clergy fruitfulness” without the needed additional conversation on what makes a congregation “fruitful.” There has not been enough affirmation of our clergy who often feel compelled to produce more, and are anxious their work will appear unfruitful when compared to others. Is it possible to even have a conversation that moves toward a general understanding of what fruitfulness looks like? When laity, anticipating a change in pastoral appointment, ask me if the minister being assigned as their new spiritual leader is effective, what does this mean? What exactly are they anticipating?
A popular television program over the last few years has been “The Biggest Loser” on NBC. Contestants are willing to participate in strenuous activities and make significant lifestyle changes in order to see who can lose the most weight. However, they must wear tank tops and shorts to remind them, and everyone else, of what they look like. I’m not sure why, but I do know most of us only like looking into a mirror from the shoulders up; we don’t like looking into a full length mirror. It’s hard to look into a full length mirror because so often it reminds us of what the “next best step” should be. Yet, the dramatic change in the contestants would be hidden and uncelebrated if they were clothed in baggy sweat pants or thick, winter coats. We need to get down to the basics to see the true transformation.
Many clergy have shared with me that ministry has changed since they began and almost daily are facing things for which their past experience and education did not prepare them. I’ve listened carefully, have heard, and want to provide an opportunity to expand the conversation of clergy effectiveness and fruitfulness. I want to do so, but only if we also talk about what effective and fruitful congregations look like.
Can effectiveness be measured? Would we know effectiveness or fruitfulness if we saw it? Some clergy and congregations are extremely effective and fruitful. Perhaps the best approach is to look at what creates fruitful leaders and congregations rather than trying to focus on ineffectiveness.
At this point, we simply join the many other annual conferences across the country wrestling with the definition and indicators of effectiveness. I hope we will continue to be a part of the national conversation, so that we may set our own specific criteria for measurement.
As far as how we gather this information and data, it is important to remember all annual conferences receive the numerical data of each local church every year via the Tables I, II, and III reports. While we already have this annual numerical data, it might be more appropriate to have data collected in real time - allowing us to celebrate the accomplishments and growth of the church as they occur rather than simply reporting the differences after the entire year has passed. When we wait until the end of the year, the report can be heard as a mantle of judgment; whereas, if we were seeing the information in real time it could be received as an affirmation and celebration of fruitfulness as it occurs. Praise be to God!
“Finally , beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)