When I was first called into pastoral ministry, both the church and I knew enough to put together a job description that set out some basic expectations. At that time, preaching and worship planning took first place with pastoral care as a close second. Then as the church grew over the years and needs changed, my job description changed too. Preaching and worship planning remain a primary focus for me, but now with more staff, my responsibilities for leadership and administration have grown, while some of the pastoral care has shifted to other staff members.
Having a good job description has benefited both me and the church in clarifying responsibilities and moving forward together. It helps to communicate priorities and guide ministry–not in an unyielding way like a list of do’s and don’t’s chiseled in concrete, but in a dynamic way as a living document that’s responsive to the changing needs of the church and to my role as a ministering person.
So what makes a good job description? How often should a job description be updated and how? For a hilarious and inspiring intro, take a look at the following video. While it focuses on how to explain what you do when you’re a pastor, it relates much more broadly to anyone who works for the church or other Christian organization. Then keep reading for my Top Ten Tips about job descriptions.
So what part do you play in this global and intergalactic enterprise? A good job description can help bring focus to your unique role and responsibilities. Here are my Top Ten Tips.
What makes a good job description?
1. Be specific.
For a 10 hours/week position, state 10 hours/week and mean it. For a full-time pastoral position, think 45 hours a week, or 12-14 units of time where a unit is a morning or afternoon or evening of 3-4 hours each. That’s roughly equivalent to the church member who works full-time and may serve as a Sunday school teacher, deacon, or in some other voluntary capacity in the church.
2. List the essential responsibilities or tasks.
None of us is the Master of the Universe in Charge of Everything, so don’t list everything. At the same time, be sure to list enough so priorities and expectations are clear. If the expectation includes leading weekly youth meetings, then specify weekly. If it’s a children’s feature once a month, then specify once a month.
3. Use active verbs.
Develop, coordinate, lead, preach, supervise, and other action words help set a positive tone and direction.
4. Include accountability.
Who does the staff person report to? Will there be monthly council reports, an annual report to the congregation, or other expectations?
5. Be consistent.
Each staff person in your church or Christian organization needs their own job description. And each job description needs to be part of the big picture of your purpose and mission. For example, in my congregation, Anabaptist theology and principles are part of our core values, so each of our staff job descriptions includes this in some way.
6. Update regularly.
When hiring. Whenever the job title, responsibilities, or work hours change. Prior to any performance evaluation or review. And even if there has been no obvious change, review at least once a year, say some human resources experts.
What needs updating?
7. Review the job title.
Is it clear? Does it still reflect the appropriate role and level of responsibility? When I started pastoring, the title on my job description was “Senior Pastor” to distinguish my role from our “Associate Pastor.” Then when we called a part-time “Seniors Ministry Coordinator” to focus on visitation and coordinating a once-a-month seniors fellowship, my job title changed to “Lead Pastor” to avoid confusion and also to convey my role of leading our staff team.
8. Review work hours.
Have these grown or changed in any way? When our office secretary’s position expanded from four days/week to five days/week with added responsibilities, her job description should have been changed to reflect that. In a dynamic environment, paperwork sometimes lags behind our actual practice, but it’s best to keep as current as possible to avoid any misunderstandings.
9. Review the responsibilities listed.
Have some responsibilities been eliminated or shifted? Have some responsibilities been added or increased? My first job description listed “Worship and Preaching” as a first priority with “Pastoral Care” in second place. In my current job description, “Leadership and Administration” is now second with “Pastoral Care” in third place. It doesn’t mean that I care any less or pray any less, but it reflects a change in our staffing and the demands on my time as the church is growing and changing.
10. Remember that job descriptions are living documents.
A job description isn’t meant to be filed away and forgotten. When kept up to date and used well, a good job description can help set priorities and healthy boundaries for productive and sustainable ministry.
I’ve found the process of working through my church job description so helpful, that now I’m planning to put together a job description for my writing. Not because I need a piece of paper to tell me what to do, but because the exercise of thinking through my priorities and time commitment has helped shape and empower my pastoral work, and my writing ministry could use that too.
If you have a job description, how has it helped and/or hindered you? If you don’t have one, do you have some other way of establishing priorities and healthy boundaries? Is there anything else you’d recommend to add to my Top Ten Tips? Please scroll down to share this article and/or to leave a reply.
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Forgot! Typical. Not your picture, April, but your name appeared!
I love that humorous pastor’s job description! I need to remember that when I share what we did before retirement! Even after! So I had a good laugh. Thanks. Maybe you can share all that in a sermon sometime, April! We can all be a bit more creative about our work, eh?
Thank you, Mary – I’m glad you enjoyed that job description, and I’ll consider whether I should add my picture to the subscription emails too. I know how hard it is to keep track of so much information coming in!