Straddling the Secular and the Sacred: Clergy Job Descriptions

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As a non-United Methodist, I often wonder whether refining certain employment policies wouldn’t benefit annual conferences or the national UMC.

Today, the Call & Response blog on Faith & Leadership includes a post by Roger Parrott titled “Employee Policies are For Cowards”.  His points are well taken: beware of codifying into policy — and thus universalizing – your responses to one or two personnel problems or problematic individuals.  Doing so may not solve the issues at play, and may actually cause others.

Flickr/bjmccray However, as a non-United Methodist, I often wonder whether refining certain employment policies wouldn’t benefit annual conferences or the national UMC.  I’m thinking specifically of published job descriptions that would outline at least the minimum expectations for those engaged in parish ministry and for the committees that supervise them.  Such documents could define the denomination’s expectations and protections for vacation time, work boundaries, continuing education, and conflict resolution, amplifying the Book of Discipline’s description.  I realize that I speak from a tradition that uses a call system, rather than appointment system, so job descriptions there are standard practice.

Without a written benchmark, differing expectations arise, which can then devolve into wishful thinking – as this humorous ‘ideal pastor’ job description that has circulated on the Internet for years aptly demonstrates:

Handsome pastor needed to preach 10 minutes each Sunday. You will be working daily from 8 a.m. until midnight. The perfect candidate will have a burning desire to work with teenagers, and he will spend most of this time with senior citizens. He will smile all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his church. He will condemn sin but never hurt anyone’s feelings. Attendance at all church meetings is required. The perfect candidate will make at least fifteen home visits per day and will always be in his office so as to be available should an emergency arise. Preference will be given to a young pastor with 15-20 years of experience. Some light janitorial duties required.

Laugh all you want, but adoption of the mutual accountability statements found in standard job descriptions could significantly enhance the work of ministry for pastors and committees alike.  By setting forth clear expectations at the onset, churches could move beyond petty grievances to create healthy, respectful working relationships that enable more fruitful and vibrant programs.

Since pastoral work clearly straddles the secular and the sacred, are secular conventions like job descriptions appropriate?  Pastors: have your views about this subject changed over time, as the demands on your ministry have become more intense or more time-pressured?  Please let us know what you think.

Yours in health,

Robin Swift, MPH
Health Programs Director
Clergy Health Initiative

Photo Credit: Flickr/bjmccray

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