How to Do Job Descriptions

Churches are finding great value in having a job description for each ministry task done by volunteers–everything from weeding the flower beds to serving on a board.

Yet most churches don’t have volunteer job descriptions. It can seem like a daunting task, although it needn’t be. This article looks at the how-to’s; for more on the value of job descriptions, check out “Do You Know What You’re Doing?

First, gather a team of interested people. Adapt these suggestions to tailor a plan for your congregation. Be sure to include plans for using the completed job descriptions, or why bother making them?

What jobs?

It can take some digging just to discover all the tasks done around your church. Create and maintain a master list. Get official input from staff and ministry leaders, then ask around to find the unofficial volunteers: the person who waters the office plants, changes the furnace filters, etc. Announce that you’re compiling this list, and see what pops up. You’ll likely find it’s never a complete list: there’s always someone else, or someone thing new starting. You might decide to create guidelines to distinguish church-related ministries from the person who on her own decides to take a casserole to a neighbor, but aim to be more inclusive than exclusive.

By the way, if the church’s paid employees do not have job descriptions (or they are out of date or unused), this applies to their jobs, too. All work/workers benefit from job descriptions!

Who writes them?

The person in the job is the one who can best describe it. But not all workers are comfortable writing. Find a couple people who enjoy writing, and let them be ghost writers. They can contact the person working in the job, ask them questions, write their answers into the job description form, and then ask the worker to review and correct the finished job description. Leaders will give input also, especially in such areas as purpose, qualifications, etc.

What goes in them?

Look at some samples from other churches to see what they included. Decide what has value in your situation. Here’s some thoughts on specifics.

  • Purpose – easily overlooked, but don’t dare leave it out. Purpose is crucial to service. Tie the task’s purpose to your church’s purpose. An usher’s purpose is not “to hand out bulletins”-that’s a description of what he or she does. An usher’s purpose is more like “to smoothly facilitate and support worship so that our members and guests can focus on what God does in worship, and can respond to it.”
  • Who supervises this task? – Important to establish lines of accountability as well as the source of assistance.
  • The task description – be as complete, detailed and concrete as possible in the space available. Don’t presume that people know what the Altar Guild or the ushers do. Write it for someone who has never attended church in their life-they’re the ones we especially want to bring into service in the church!
  • Time commitment – Include both the length of time it takes to do all aspects of the job (“Sunday School teachers arrive 20 minutes before class begins at 9:30, and stay till all the children leave; plan on 1-2 hours for preparation each week; a 2-hour training meeting is held quarterly”) and how long of a commitment is asked (“Teachers serve for 9 months, from September through June”).
  • Qualifications – Include skills (word processing ability; handyman/woman experience) and qualities (ability to keep matters confidential; reliability; self-motivation). It can be helpful to distinguish between what is necessary and what may be helpful. Some churches include spiritual gifts here, but if you do, be thoughtful. I’ve heard people say, “I’d love to teach Sunday School, but ‘teacher’ did not come up on my spiritual gifts inventory.” Good Sunday School teachers may have other gifts: wisdom, shepherding, etc.
  • Benefits – if there’s no benefit, why do it? Be thoughtful here, and creative. In this position, will you get to meet new people and make friends? Get to hold a baby on your lap? Be first in line for donuts? Share the gospel with a person in need?

The don’t’s

Don’t fall into the temptation to start with an electronic version of the job descriptions from another church. It’s so, so easy to simply change “St. Peter Lutheran” to “St. Paul Lutheran” and change choir rehearsal from Thursday to Wednesday night. But you want job descriptions that are authentic for your situation, that will be ‘real.’ The creation-from-scratch is crucial to the process. People need to think it through!

Don’t make them too long, or too short. One page is a good goal. If they’re less than half a page, they’re not giving much information. If more than a page and a half, it’s more than most people will read.

Don’t sugarcoat reality. Honesty is crucial. Broken trust is very difficult to restore. Be upbeat and positive, but make sure you’re being accurate.

Don’t be humorless. It’s healthful to make people laugh. The tone of the job descriptions says a lot about the ‘tone’ of serving in your church.

What to DO with them

Once they’re all written, you’ve only just begun. If all they do is gather dust on a shelf or take up space on someone’s computer, you’ve wasted your time (and discouraged those who worked to make them possible). Using the job descriptions is absolutely crucial.

  1. Make them available: post them on the church website and/or hand them out to new members and/or keep print copies in the church entry. Regularly remind people that they’re available. Talk about the collection as if it’s interesting and fun to look through, as well as helpful-because it is! Use the collection also to encourage appreciation for the variety of gifts given by God to members, and for all the ministry that is done for the Lord.
  2. Keep them updated. A team can have the ongoing task of noticing when some task is changed or a new task created, and of updating the electronic and printed copies. (Think about this step before you decide to print 300 bound copies of the job descriptions!) Once a year, have every job description reviewed by someone who knows that job. Once people sense the job descriptions are musty, dusty historical records, they won’t be used.
  3. Work to instill into the church culture that whenever anyone is recruiting for a task, they have a job description in hand. Those being recruited will appreciate it.

Compiling, updating and using job descriptions is no more than recording what God is doing through the people he has gifted and called, while inviting others to join us in the marvelous adventure of using our gifts to serve our great Lord.

Try it!

Print two copies of this blank job description form. Share this article with a friend at church. Ask your friend to write a job description for one church volunteer task they’re familiar with, while you do the same for another task. Then exchange and read what the other wrote. Did you learn something new about the other job? Did you learn something worthwhile?

Click on ‘job description’ in the topic list at right for more info.

Let’s pool our knowledge! If your church is using job descriptions, give us the benefit of learning from your experience! Share your thoughts below.