I am currently experiencing a settled stage of my life—which I find slightly unnerving but mostly good. I do, however, have several friends discerning a call. (In case you don’t speak church-ese, that means they are looking for a new pastor gig.) So I’ve been hearing about interviews and looking at pastoral job descriptions. I can tell you that some churches are much better at this process than others. But none of them are very good. Because if it is a healthy church, they just don’t look for new pastors very often. And if it’s a dysfunctional church . . .
As a public service, I offer this guide to navigating some of the finer points of church job descriptions:
If a “grievance procedure” is included in the job description itself, you are dealing with a church that is either very mature and forward-thinking, or one that is a hot mess. You should find out which it is before accepting the call. If the grievance procedure cites Matthew 18, explain how you agree that the pastor should be brought into the middle of all inerpersonal conflict. If they smile and nod, just smile and nod right back. Then don’t answer your phone when they call to follow up.
If “hold regular office hours” is part of the job description, ask them what exactly they want you to do during those hours. If they say, “paint your nails for all we care,” this may not be the church for you. (Or maybe it is. Maybe you also value good nail care.) And if they want you to be extensively involved in the community and make frequent pastoral visits while maintaining office hours, ask them where they keep the duplicator machine. And if they show you a large cardboard box with “DUPLICATOR” written on it in magic marker, they either have a great sense of humor or a very poor grasp of reality. You should find out which it is before accepting the call.
If you are expected to plan services “in coordination with the Music Committee,” you better have a long conversation with said Music Committee. Be sure to ask all the pertinent questions: Do you sing Hallelujahs during Lent? Do you sing Christmas carols during Advent? What is your policy on praise choruses vs. hymns? If I suggest that maybe the organ could be just a little bit quieter so that people can hear themselves singing, will the organist throw the hymnal at me and storm out of the room?
If the job description lists percentages of time you are expected to spend on each item, back away slowly. If these percentages add up to more than 100%, back away quickly. If these percentages include things like: “Pastoral Care: 7.8%; Outreach and Mission: 5%; Broader Church Involvement: 2%,” run like hell.
If they expect you to “interact informally with members of the congregation,” let them know that you are happy to spend part of your 40-hour work week going to soccer games, high school band concerts, and local coffee shops. Show them the time-tracker app on your phone.
If it is a part-time job that expects weekly preaching, ask them who takes care of all the pastoral visits, denominational meetings, administrative work, Bible study leading, and email correspondence. If they say, “you,” make sure they are fine with sermons taken directly from the internet. (There are some great sermons out there!)
If the job description cites 1 Timothy 3, this may be a red flag for women pastors. Because they probably aren’t using the gender-neutral NRSV translation–”married only once”–but the NIV’s “faithful to his wife” (or King James’ “husband of one wife”). Though if you are a woman who happens to have a wife, you could see how that flies.
(Disclaimer: All advice here is based on my vast experience scrolling through some job descriptions and talking to my friends. Anything the Holy Spirit tells you completely overrides my half-baked theories.) (Unless She tells you to get in the Duplicator machine. I’ve read enough Calvin and Hobbes to know–that will not turn out well.)
Rev. Joanna Harader pastors Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, Kansas, and blogs at SpaciousFaith.com.
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