At my current university, at the end of the academic year, a representative from the dean’s office comes to classrooms, usually on the last day of class, and invites the professor to take a coffee break while students complete a three-page evaluation of the professor’s teaching performance, grading the professor on a scale of 1 to 10.
Getting a grade of “1” means “very disappointing and unsatisfactory professorial performance.” Getting a “10” means she or he did an excellent teaching job: good material, well presented, stimulated critical thinking, excellent student involvement, etc.
Professors who get several 5s or lower, are told by the dean that they had better shape up or ship out.
Thinking about the pastoral performance of some of our bishops this past year, I think it is time to implement a policy of annual evaluations of episcopal performance. If a bishop excels in grades of 5 or lower, he should be told to shape up or ship out. In fact, I suspect that Francis, the new no nonsense Bishop of Rome, might like that idea, judging from his recent observations that we need more PASTORAL bishops……
When thinking about the history of bishops in the Catholic Church, as I mentioned last week, we need to be forthright about a few historic realities. Jesus did not ordain anyone; nor did he designate anyone to be a bishop.
Bishops, for good reasons, were a later creation of the early church. They were quality control people, literally “overseers,” SELECTED BY THE COMMUNITY OF FAITH and entrusted with safeguarding authentic Christian belief and behavior. Back then, as today, some people claimed to be Christian leaders; but their actual teaching and way of life showed they were counterfeits. Ordination of pastors and bishops, therefore, was a quality control mechanism for establishing “holy order” in the community.
And so we come to today. There are some excellent bishops, but far too many of our bishops need a major performance assessment.
And…in general, Catholic bishops today have a major credibility problem. If they are to regain the confidence and respect of everyone in the church, they have to adopt a form of leadership that more clearly resonates with the Christian message as expressed in the New Testament.
In a revamped style of episcopal leadership, a number of fundamental reforms need to be implemented:
(1) A bishop should know his (or her when we get to the point of women bishops) people; and a diocese should be small enough to facilitate that kind of face-to-face familiarity and interaction.
(2) A bishop who wishes to lead and minister to the needs of the people must consult with them, listen to them, and seek their counsel and consent whenever important decisions are to be made. Even church law (Canon 119.3) insists that “what touches all should be approved by all.”
(3) A bishop must accept and demonstrate accountability to the community of faith with a transparent headship style. Back-room-old-boys-club decision-making and not so holy cloak and dagger machinations must end now!
(4) A bishop, demonstrating humble discipleship as a follower of Jesus, must abandon exaggerated titles and pompous medieval dress. Clothing and titles from the era of kings and princes have no place in the contemporary community of faith.
(5) A bishop must understand and demonstrate in one’s leadership style that effective leaders lead with the consent and backing of their people.
(6) A bishop must demonstrate in the way one teaches that all good teachers are, at the same time, good learners. No one in the church has all the answers. We study, we probe, we critique, and we learn together.
(7) And finally……..an autocratic and imperial mode of episcopal government has absolutely no place in a community that professes to follow Jesus Christ. Here the words of Jesus in the Gospels are quite clear: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant. Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” (Mt. 20:25-27)