In every job where I have had regular performance reviews or job evaluations, I had a clear job description that was used as the basis of the review process. That makes sense–it is hard to evaluate something if those involved aren’t really clear on what is being evaluated. But this leads to one of the major problems with doing an evaluation of the pastor–generally, there is no clear job description.

When I began ministry in the early 1970s, congregations and pastors didn’t worry about job descriptions. But the reality was that church culture of the time provided both pastor and congregation with a pretty clear unwritten job description. The pastor was expected to do things like visit the people, preach good sermons, lead Bible study, do the appropriate life stage ceremonies, be available for emergencies and other tasks depending on the specific context and pastoral abilities.

There were always some pastors and some congregations who took exception to parts of the unwritten description and no pastor ever did it all perfectly–but then again, congregations didn’t expect the pastor to do it all and do it perfectly. There were complaints, generally focusing on the lack of visitation or poor preaching but on the whole, there was a generally accepted, unwritten pastoral job description that formed the basis of the pastor-congregation connection.

In the intervening years, there have been dramatic changes in that area. The congregational view of the job description hasn’t changed much in most smaller churches but the pastoral view of the job has undergone some dramatic changes. For a variety of reasons, many pastors see their job in a very different way.

A few years after I began ministry, I began to hear pastors complain about how much of their time was wasted on pastoral visitation. Others began to suggest that a regular Bible study was not really a pastoral responsibility. Some with young families began talking about the need to set limits on congregational demands on the pastor’s time–I know a few who even forbade phone calls to the pastor’s home.

At the same time, North American culture began to make leadership more attractive than pastoring and pastors were being encouraged to see themselves as leaders and visionaries whose task was to move the creaky, staid and stuck church into the 20th (or 21st now) century, whether the church really wanted to move or not.

The end result has been a serious divergence in the way pastors and congregations view the pastor’s job. The problem lies in this divergence. Neither the congregation’s traditional job description nor the pastor’s contemporary job description are actually wrong–what is wrong is that neither really knows the other’s thinking and they end up puling in different directions. A lot of the tensions that I see between congregations and their pastors seem to come from a deep divergence on the understanding of the pastor’s job.

It is probably well past time for congregations to discover the need for a clear job description that they use when searching for a pastor. This job description provides the basis for an effective pastoral search–the congregation knows what they are looking for and potential pastors know what will be expected of them. The potential pastor can also have a better idea about their ability to deliver what the congregation is looking for.

It is probably also a very wise thing for churches that currently have a pastor to spend some time discussing and developing a mutually acceptable job description. This process is a bit harder because it has to take into consideration not just the congregation but also the incumbent pastor but it can be done and will likely prove very helpful to both congregation and pastor.

The next post will look at a process for developing a job description in a congregation that is between pastors, which is probably the easiest time to develop such a description. Eventually, we will get to using the description as the basis for a pastoral job evaluation.

May the peace of God be with you.


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