Administration,  Church,  Discipleship,  Ministry

Towards a Healthy Church – Job Descriptions

In last week’s post, I provided some insights on why having a team description is helpful. Although many churches and organizations do not use this idea, knowing how a person (and position) fits into the overall dynamic of a team can be helpful. Many mid-sized and larger churches are using more of these ideas as more and more are becoming concerned with the overall interpersonal dynamics that are involved.

However, the primary reason Team Descriptions are not prevalent is that many churches do not have job descriptions.* And people are more concerned about what they are doing (or are to do) than they are about fitting in with others, at least generally. But again, many churches do not have written job descriptions.

*The church I currently serve is in the midst of updating all of our documentation – descriptions for teams, jobs, policies, procedures, and eventually an update of our bylaws, if not our constitution – more on the purposes and differences of these documents in the coming weeks.

Depending upon your background and/or church size, you may think that I am referring to job descriptions for paid staff. First, let’s be honest that many churches do not have written descriptions for these positions. In fact, I recently recommended a student for a position who resigned shortly afterward, in part, because of this issue. But job descriptions are for more than staff; they are for any servant of the church. Staff descriptions can (should?) have more information than those who volunteer, but having a written description is helpful for anyone.

Imagine that you are asked to serve in a position. Your first question is likely, “What do I have to do?” or “What is involved?” If the person asking were to hand you a description and asked you to pray about it you would probably have a much better appreciation for the process than if they said, “I’m not really sure. But we can find someone who probably knows more than me.” However, it is the second response that is common in far too many churches. I do not not have a firm number on this, but I would suggest that churches under 200, and likely under 500 are less likely to have written descriptions, but again, I have not done the research.

So, if a job description is preferable, what should be included? This question is good and is where we must consider if a distinction should be made between someone who is paid and a servant who volunteers their service.** I would argue that the descriptions could be mostly the same, but a few differences are likely.

**I recommend using the terms servant over volunteer. People can volunteer for anything – the PTA, give blood, etc., all of which can be good! However, the Bible clearly uses the word servant. (In the ESV, volunteer is used one time, whereas servant is used over 900!)

In their book, Pastoral Helmsmanship, the authors provide the following list of items that should be included in a job description for ministry:

  • Position Status (part-time, full-time, seasonal, etc.)
  • Employee Classification (pastor, administrative, clerical, volunteer, etc.)
  • Regular Work Hours
  • Accountable To
  • Accountable For
  • Position Overview
  • Overview of Responsibilities
  • Budget Authority
  • Evaluation
  • Conduct
  • Short-term goals.(1)

This list is obviously suited for a paid-staff position, but the list would not require the person be paid. Any of these items could relate to a servant who volunteers as well – as noted in the “Employee Classification” item.

One particular aspect of any description that is often overlooked is that of the evaluation. Evaluation is a key aspect of any job – for the person, for the church, as well as for the position itself. And this need is true whether the position is paid or unpaid. I will cover this idea in next week’s post.

Returning to the overall list, if your church does not have any type of description, this list can help. However, it might also overwhelm people who have not had a description before. Thus, you might find it beneficial to remove a few items, or at least consolidate them. (I have attached a link to a template originally developed for our church below, which might be of use for some.)

For some churches, the challenge in starting the process of developing these descriptions is the scope of the task. But the idea of how to eat the elephant is helpful here – you simply do it one bite at a time. But let me add one more thought to that approach. Invite others to eat the elephant with you. And invite others who know what it is like to eat the elephant. (I know I have some international readers, including those in places like Kenya, so let me clarify, we are not really talking about eating an elephant. It is an American expression for how to approach a large task by breaking it up into smaller ones.)

What do I mean by inviting others who have already done it? Let me give an example. My doctorate is in Christian Education. Therefore, I have a working understanding of the needs of young children, and can help others to understand some principles and theories surrounding those needs, including teaching them. However, I am not good at relating to children in a classroom setting. Thus, when developing the job descriptions for a children’s worker, it would be wise for me to solicit the input from someone who is already involved in working with children. I might review the description, ask questions about it, and recommend some additions or changes, etc., but the person doing the job already knows what they are doing, so why not let them create their own job description (or contribute to it). Thus, I can focus on my own part of the “elephant,” and simply lead others to focus on their part and oversee the process rather than eating it myself.

So, let me encourage you to develop a plan to begin developing or updating the descriptions you have. Once the descriptions are in place, each one should be reviewed occasionally, particularly if the church is growing because new growth may mean the responsibilities are narrowing as more people may be involved in more ways. BUT, descriptions should also be reviewed if church attendance (and/or participation) is declining because responsibilities could be expanding due to fewer people being involved.

Reviewing documents occasionally is important, but so is evaluation. That is the topic of next week’s post. And, don’t forget, that I have included a template of a job description for download here.

(1) Harrison, Rodney, Jeffrey Klick, Glenn Miller. Pastoral Helmsmanship: A Pastor’s Guide to Church Administration. Kansas City: MO: ICM Publishing, 2014.

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