Essentials of a Great Ministry Resume

It’s a common question from people I am coaching and mentoring. What should I include in my ministry resume? There are definitely some dos and don’ts.  I’ve listed below a few essentials of a great ministry resume.

Keep your resume to two pages. A one-page resume is too short and connotes a lack of experience. Anything longer than two pages is unwieldy and not likely to be read in full. In some cases, three pages may be necessary for those with a lot of ministry experience, but three pages should be the maximum.

Put your ministry goals and objectives in a cover letter, not on the resume. Those receiving your resume assume you are pursuing a ministry goal that matches the available position. We do recommend a short cover letter describing why you are pursuing the position. Also, we’ve seen too many resumes that forgot to update the ministry goal and objective for each position. For example, you don’t want readers in Florida to see that you are pursuing a different position in Texas as well. 

A doctrinal statement needs to be in a separate document. Many resume readers will want a written doctrinal statement. Send it separately if requested. Some may have a questionnaire for you to fill out. Others may want to ask doctrinal questions over the phone or in a face-to-face interview. 

Include your picture on the front page of the resume. If you can, it’s better to include a picture of you with your family on the front page. In most professions, a resume picture is considered a faux pas. However, most churches like to see a picture and are drawn to the resumes that include them. One caveat: Make sure the picture is of professional quality. Do not use a Facebook picture taken with your cell phone. Hire a professional photographer to take the picture. The extra cost and time are well worth it. 

Place your education and ministry experience first. Some suggest putting your personal information first, and their reasoning is it demonstrates how family is a priority. However, including a picture of you and your family accomplishes this goal. We recommend placing your personal information last, just before your references. It’s more professional and creates a better flow for readers of your resume. If you choose to put your personal information on the front page, make sure the entirety of your education and ministry experience also appear on the front page. 

Tell a story about your ministry. The readers of your resume should feel your love for the local church and also gain an understanding of your accomplishments. Don’t simply list your churches as places of employment. Rather, include a brief description of what God did (not you!) at your churches. Stay positive. You can explain any negatives in an interview if necessary. 

Never use the phrase “references available upon request.” Always put your references in the last section of your resume. You do not want to add an extra step for resume readers. Some may want to call your references first without contacting you. Also, make sure you have permission from all your references. It is quite unprofessional for one of them to get a surprise phone call. 

If you need one, here is a template. It’s taken from my own resume, but I’ve changed the information to be fictitious. I also included several tips in the template resume.

Posted on January 26, 2021

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6 Comments

  • I hesitate to weigh in here, but I’d like to push back a bit on a couple of your points. In my experience working first with an HR consulting firm where we assisted larger companies in their hiring processes and now for a denomination, our recommended practice, based on the discrimination laws in the Canada Human Rights Act which we try to adhere to, (which states that, “For all purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.”), means that we ask our pastors and ministry staff NOT to include a photograph with their resume. While we also encourage in our documentation that Search Committees, in their exploration of candidates, look at public social media profiles, it is more for the purposes of understanding a candidates public presence than to determine how someone looks, their age (again, something that can be ballparked as you look at a good resume or CV), etc., all of which could be used to ‘discriminate’ against a candidate. Further, in my experience, a short resume is really only useful for weeding out those who don’t meet the basic requirements of a position and provides little to no information pertinent to a church search committee. It often means the committee has to go back to the candidates and ask for further quite general information. In consultation with our churches, we have developed a ministry profile document that helps search committees know the candidate better that focuses not just on education or work experience, but on ministry and on the candidate telling their story. We do ask our pastors to limit the number of words they use (which I would say is a good discipline in any event), but they have opportunity to tell how they encountered Christ, what challenges or encourages them in ministry, etc. And they are to include at least three references with full contact information. In my experience, this gives the committee a fairer look at all candidates and when the committee has questions, they tend to be less foundational. As you describe the additional documentation and information you would include in a cover letter and as separate documents, the resume would actually consist of more than the 2 pages you indicate is optimum. One further thing I would absolutely include – well two; have someone else read over whatever it is you are sending in response to a ministry opening – for spelling and grammar mostly (I can’t tell you how many resumes I’ve almost tossed because of incomplete sentences, no upper case letters at the beginning of sentences or periods at the end, numerous simple spelling mistakes – I could go on but won’t because I should re-check this Comment for my own errors before I submit!) and for continuity. It should make sense to a reader. And I would suggest, find a way to be creative – not over the top (please don’t use Comic Sans as a font!) or gimmicky – clear, clean, simple is always best and visually pleasing.

  • Elbrist Mason says on

    Hi! Getting better each day ! Thanks for all the prayers and blesssings!
    Pastor Mason

  • I have a question. I’m seeing many church leaders, including Thom Rainer, say that the future of pastors is leaning largely bi vocational. I agree. That being the case, will churches continue to require Bachelors and even Master’s degrees? They’re basically requiring a master’s degree for a part time job. Just wanting your thoughts.

    • Speaking from my tradition (Episcopal) the education is part of the process to become ordained. My Parish does not require a degree – my denomination does.

      Most mainline denominations require some form of training, whether institutional education or local examination and training.

    • The bigger question is are you getting a degree to get a job or are you trying to further your education and knowledge? That said, most churches want to know how well you can relate, communicate, and inspire. The discipline required to achieve a degree will say much about you to the propspective church. I know some churches will not ever consider me because I don’t have a Doctorate degree; but, God knows exactly which church I will serve regardless of degree. You never stop getting an education even though you do stop going to school.

    • Sam Rainer says on

      Jason – There will always be a place for seminaries and universities. Many will desire a formal education. However, I believe we will see a rise in certification courses in the future. Many churches will recognize a certificate in the same way they recognize a Bible degree.