Nine Ways to Make Your Ministry Resume Stand Out


Most people in vocational ministry will be required to send a ministry resume at some point. I often hear from many ministers that they can’t seem to get a positive response from churches or other organizations where they would like to be considered. Perhaps the problem is with their resumes.

So I spoke to several church and organizational leaders who were responsible for culling through ministry resumes. I asked them what made a particular resume stand out from others. Here are their top nine responses.

  1. A highly qualified person proofread the resume for grammar, style, and appearance. I am amazed at the number of resumes that were rejected because of poor grammar and style. One leader on a search committee said, “If they are sloppy on their resumes, we assume they will be sloppy in their ministries.” This factor, by far, was number one. Simply having your resume carefully proofread will make it stand out from the crowd.
  2. There are no gaps in dates of employment. If you had a season of unemployment, it is best to explain it on the resume. Any unexplained gaps may cause your resume to be put aside.
  3. The resume had a great photo. First, the leaders with whom I spoke very much wanted to see a photo on the resume, either an individual or family shot. Second, the quality of the photo must be excellent. Again, a photo of poor quality communicates that the applicant is sloppy and uncaring. One search committee member told me that two-thirds of the resumes included “terrible quality” photos.
  4. The resume presented statistics clearly and truthfully. While most of those with whom I spoke really appreciated seeing such statistics as attendance, receipts, and others, they said that often the statistics could not be confirmed with other sources.
  5. The applicant only sent what was requested. If only a resume was requested, send only a resume. Those in the search process are often put off by unrequested supplemental information.
  6. The resume included a narrative of accomplishments, rather than just positions with dates of employment. Those in vocational ministry are often reticent to “brag” about accomplishments in ministry. Don’t be shy. Those on the receiving end desire to hear from you about these matters. Many good resumes, I was told, label this part of the resume “God’s Work at ABC Church.” That approach provides a good summary of the accomplishments while giving credit and glory to God.
  7. The order of the details on the resume reflects the priorities of the organization more than the applicant. So an applicant for a professorship at a seminary might begin with academic credentials. An applicant for pastoral ministry might begin with ministry experience.
  8. Most of the resume uses the active tense. I personally use the passive tense in some of my writings, but resumes sound better in the active tense. “I fulfilled the assignment” thus sounds better than “The assignment was fulfilled by me.”
  9. Good resumes avoid “cutesy” attempts to stand out. One rejected resume had five different font sizes. Another used four different font colors. And even another sent the entire resume as a QR code. All were rejected.

These nine items are not radical matters. They do not require huge investments of time and money. But, if a person heeds the advice in all nine of these matters, his or her resume will likely stand out from over 90 percent of the other resumes.

Let me hear from you about your perspectives on ministry resumes. I know you readers will have much to offer.

Posted on September 27, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • I need help fr writing a resumes for ministry’s

  • Hi Thom, 8v) I stumbled upon your info article (above) and I am very impressed. I know that resume writing is a tough assignment for anyone, but for Ministers it is certainly double tough. I was very happy to see that you want them to show accomplishments with quantifiable results. I agree wholeheartedly. I happen to be a Christian Resume Writer and the owner of a nonprofit myself. I have plenty of experience writing resumes for Church and Faith-Based Positions, since I work for In my experience you are right on target with all this great info. Keep up the great work Thom and God bless you.

  • I think a resume is important but the truth is a resume can’t adequately tell you everything there is to know about a person. I think it helps give a idea but I believe the most important aspect of a resume should be providing a link within the resume where the committee can hear you preach and a link to Facebook and Twitter and also a phone call does wonders because it allows the committee to talk to the person and get to know the person better! I believe resumes are important but its not the most important!

  • Thank you.
    I’m on a pastor search committee at this time. It’s been an education for me in reading resumes, for example what a candidate includes on a resume and what they leave off. Gaps in employment is a red flag, but also seeing a candidate that changes jobs frequently. Explanations as to why there has been quick job changes helps. Including a mission statement or life goals helps. For a pastor candidate in their 30s or older, they should include particular experiences in leadership and training learned. As for a photo, they are wonderful, it personalizes the resume. Some resumes we get are just the bare template so to speak of a persons education and skills. Those resumes that really tell me what this person is all about, where his life goals are and why he should be considered a candidate, they are usually placed in the top of the pile in order to research further.
    Another really good thing to do for a candidate. Make sure your Facebook page or other social media looks appropriate and Christlike.

  • Tom Malionek says on

    Thank you; these are very helpful guidelines. To expand a bit on #1, I suggest expanding it to read, “A highly qualified person proofread the resume for grammar, style, *diction,* and appearance.” Please know that I cite this only as a constructive criticism: you provide an example of this in #8, where you say, “active tense” and “passive tense.” These are _voices_ in English, not tenses. Granted, this is an obscure example: few people are taught grammatical nomenclature any more, and even fewer care; but there are less obscure examples, and regardless of how important the terminology or phraseology in question may seem to the writer, if someone who does care (e.g., an English teacher of the old school, or a professional linguist like me) happens to sit on the search committee, you may have cast doubt upon your ability to say what you mean. (Recall the movie, _The Princess Bride_: Vizzini keeps exclaiming “Inconceivable!”, and Inigo Montoya eventually says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”) These are also the kinds of errors that spelling and grammar checking software will never catch. To be sure, the English language is changing (to my mind, not always for the better); the difference between “principle” and “principal”, “incident” and “incidence”, “regardless” and “irregardless”, “e.g.” and “i.e.”, or usage like “equally as” no longer raises eyebrows even among intelligent, well educated people, but they still grate on some of us. Attention to fine points like these may not make your résumé stand out; most people will never notice. If anything, they will keep it from standing out in a negative way. For that very reason, however, they are worth ferreting out if you want not to weaken your chances.

  • This is a good list for what it is trying to do, but in young, naive part of my life of ministry I find it hard to get behind it. Perhaps it is my viewpoint that needs to be adjusted, but I can’t help thinking that God–and thus prayer–should play the biggest role in a prospective ministerial employee getting hired. Should we really have to write the “perfect” resume? I’m sure there’s a balance of intentionality and reliance upon the Spirit/Prayer, but it seems we so easily get caught up in using formulas and methods to getting what we want, not what God wants. And that doesn’t just go for applicants. I believe it applies to the churches as well. Again, call me naive (and unemployed in the ministry), but my cover letters lay out my vocational weaknesses too. People should be presented with authentic “pictures” of applicants and let God pick out His “David,” so to speak.

    That said, I read that simply including one’s middle initial makes one seem smarter on an application. I received confirmation from a relative who works at a hiring firm. I’m sure there’s a ministerial equivalent somewhere.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      That’s fascinating, Steve. Thanks for the additional information.

      • Crystal says on

        Mr. Rainer, why do some churches require a degree when it says the the apostles were unlearned (meaning, they didn’t go to college… They learned everything they knew from the LORD and through the Holy Spirit)?

      • Don Melo says on

        The Bible teaches us to study to show ourselves approved. What people keep on forgetting is that the apostles learnt from the “Word” itself. The apostle Paul was also an educated person but later in his life learnt from the Lord Himself. Being a pastor of a church is not an easy task. One is leading God’s people and it is important to have someone who is learnt so as not to lead the sheep astray. I have a question for you. Let’s say you have your own business that is growing leaps and bounds. You are in need of a manager to attend to the day-to-day operations of that business so you can devote your time to other things. Would you rather have a manager who is educated and has the experience or one who is not educated but has the experience?

  • I must disagree with #3 approaching it from the other side. The asking for a picture can cause all manner of problems. If it can be speculated that the picture was used to exclude certain candidates, an accusation of discrimination can be brought. I suggest that the hiring entity get an employment lawyer to write a hiring policy that is updated periodically. I realise that in some parts of Christianity women are still prohibited from certain positions. However, you still can get into problems with people applying for positions and feeling that they were rejected because they did meet some illegal criteria. There are message boards about certain jobs on the net and anonymous applicants can discuss calls, interviews, questions, etc. If one says that he got the job and the rest think they had more experience you may have a complaint that the criteria specified in the announcement weren’t followed but that there were secret criteria (e.g. 2.5 children, white, etc.). Folks, Jesus recruited prostitutes and tax collectors. I doubt he picked based on looks so why is anyone in a Christian ministry doing or even appearing to do the opposite?

    • Mark,
      I’ve been involved in the hiring process both in the secular world and church world, they are quite different. Yes, in the secular world a picture is a dangerous thing on a resume and highly discouraged. However, in ministry a picture of the candidate and his family is quite important. While there are places in ministry for someone who is a biker with a tattooed head, I highly doubt most churches want to consider that person as a senior pastor. Then there are some with names that could be either male or female, a picture clears things up nicely for the search committee. Lastly, if not mistaken, the law allows for churches to discriminate in this way. We are given much more latitude than the average secular business in our hiring practices.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Mark and John –

        Thanks to both of you for articulating well two different perspectives. I will simply affirm that the people with whom I spoke strongly preferred photos.

      • Yes but you call some in for an interview to find out certain things. Do you really want to be seen discriminating when Jesus said there is neither Jew nor Greek…..? Or do looks mean everything?

      • If the tattooed biker look is out, then you would never have hired Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber who has a growing Lutheran church in Denver called House for All. Check it out some time online and read her background. Drug addict turned seminary student and now a pastor. I think that is a 180 degree turn.

      • Craig Giddens says on

        Her? Didn’t Paul tell us a woman is not to teach or usurp authority over a man?

      • I do not believe that was intended to be the law in all places forever.

    • Resume? These days you have to have your own ministry Youtube channel so everyone can see how you preach/sing/teach/organize the kids to line up for pizza.

      Obviously I’m exaggerating but I’ve seen some pretty incredible requests from churches recently. Particularly for Worship Leaders.