It is tempting to say that developing a pastoral job description while there is a pastor present is exactly the same as developing it when there isn’t a pastor present but I have to resist the temptation. When the church has a pastor, developing the job description can be as easy as when there is no pastor or it can be a very difficult and painful task.
The central issues that will determine the difficulty are the nature of the relationship between the congregation and the pastor, the pastor’s emotional reaction to the process and the presence or absence of people in the congregation who see the process as a chance to work out some of their frustrations with the present or a former pastor.
So, although I think developing a job description is an important task for any congregation, it is best done when the church is in transition. That is not to say it cannot be done with a pastor present–it just needs much more consideration before it is done. The congregation and the pastor need to weight the various factors involved and determine if the results of the process are going to be worth the potential tension and disruption it might cause.
Essentially, if the relationship between the present pastor and the congregation are not good, trying to develop a job description will likely make things worse. Given the reality that when there are significant tensions between pastor and congregation, the pastor is probably already making plans to leave (and/or the congregation is making plans to have the pastor leave) it is probably wise to delay the job description process until the pastor actually resigns or leaves.
If the relationship is good but the pastor for some reason is reluctant to engage in the process, it is wise to discover the reason for the reluctance first. I have worked with many pastors, know many other pastors and have trained pastors in three countries and realized a long time ago that we pastors have the same emotional issues as anyone else. Our insecurities are real and we do feel threatened by things like developing a job description for a job we are already doing.
If the congregation and pastor can work out the issues and become comfortable with it, they can proceed. However, if the insecurities are not worked out, it is probably better not to attempt the process–if the pastor and congregation get along well and ministry is happening, again it is not worth the effort to develop the job description.
When there are people in the congregation who want to hijack the process for their own ends, the congregational leaders will need to deal with that as well. If things develop into an attack on the current pastor by certain members of the congregation, the job description process will not work. The underlying tensions must be worked out first. Actually, the underlying tensions need to be worked out no matter what because ignoring them will allow them to grow and develop into a threat to the whole ministry of the congregation.
When the pastor and the congregation are doing well together, there are no major stumbling blocks in the way and there is no written job description, the process can proceed pretty much as outlined in the previous post.
Because there is a pastor already doing the work, he/she needs to be given a strong say in the process. Because no pastor ever does the job perfectly, both pastor and congregation need to work hard to avoid allowing the pastor’s present activity become the total job description. In the end, the job description is about the congregation designing the type of ministry they believe they need, not accepting what it.
This can be a time for pastor and congregation to re-define their ministry and improve areas of weakness while strengthening what is going well. There will without question be areas where the pastor and congregation disagree. These will need to be negotiated and discussed but in the end, all involved need to remember that the congregation is designing the job description for their needs, not to please the pastor.
The resulting job description will definitely reflect the gifts and abilities of the current pastor. That means that it should be revisited and revised when the pastor finally leaves–the next pastor will not have the same gifts and abilities and the congregation will not have the same needs so a revised job description is a necessity when looking for a new pastor.
May the peace of God be with you.