DEVELOPING A PASTORAL JOB DESCRIPTION 1

A congregation that doesn’t currently have a pastor or which is facing the departure of their current pastor has a perfect opportunity to develop a job description for their next pastor. Developing a job description not only helps the new pastor understand what the church is looking for but also helps the congregation do a better job evaluating potential candidates. It might even help minimize the desperation that some small congregations feel when searching for a new pastor. With a job description, they will have a sense of what they need and want and may not feel as desperate as is sometimes the case.

Developing a good job description requires the participation of as many of the congregation as possible. I would suggest that everyone who attends worship be invited to take part in the process. Whether they are actual members or not doesn’t really matter–they will be affected by the ministry of the new pastor and have ideas and insights that will benefit the process. A suggested process would looks something like this:

1. Get people together and begin by having them pray together about the process. Then, very quickly, have them put down as many suggested tasks and responsibilities of the pastor as possible. In this process, there is no censoring of suggestions. If someone wants to suggest that new pastor should be in charge of making pickles for the Thanksgiving supper, it goes on the list. The purpose of this task is to surface as many of the unwritten assumptions about the job as possible. Depending on the size of the group, it might be wise to break up into smaller groups to give everyone an opportunity to give input.

2. After everyone has had sufficient time to make suggestions, compile a master list of the ideas. Now go through the list asking the following questions:

Is this task something that by training and tradition any pastor can be expected to perform?
Is this task something that our congregation needs/could benefit from?
Is this task something our membership expects of the pastor and has a right to expect?
Does this task contribute to the long-term health and development of the congregation?

An added question that is important is:

Is this task more an expectation of the pastor’s spouse or family than the pastor?

Answering these questions will allow some suggestions to be weeded out–for example, the training and tradition of many pastors does not include making pickles. Tasks that are more specifically focused on the spouse or family of the pastor should probably be removed, unless the congregation is going to pay that family member and they have the option of refusing the task without affecting the call process.

3. Because any pastoral job description is likely to be essentially more than one person can do, the congregation can also look at assigning priorities to the various tasks. Pastoral visitation, for example, it almost always a high priority for congregations but is the easiest task to cut in the pressure of regular ministry. Establishing the priority of this task in comparison to other tasks helps everyone involved have a better sense of what is required.

4. After the job description is acceptable to those present, it should be presented to the church and officially adopted according to the congregation’s process. It can then be posted, distributed, referred to and used by the committee in charge of the pastoral search process as well as by those involved in working with the pastor eventually called by the congregation.

The way I have described the process here may suggest that it can be done at one meeting. It probably can’t be done that quickly. It may take several meetings to arrive at an acceptable description. The time spent on the process is valuable and will provide great benefit to the church as time passes.

Finally, never view the final document as anything more than a suggestion. It will need to be reviewed and revised regularly. A lot of factors will require changes in the description: the specific gifts and abilities of the incoming pastor; the changing nature of the congregation; the requirements of new people; changes in the wider community and so on. For this reason, a job description, while necessary and important, needs to be viewed as a work in progress and the congregation needs to have a process for change that is easy to use.

Tomorrow, we will look at how to develop a job description when there is a pastor present.

May the peace of God be with you.

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