This post may cause some of you to feel uneasy. I have to admit I’ve had some of those same feelings writing it. I prefer to think of pastoral ministry as a calling more than a job. And I sometimes cringe when I write about seemingly secular solutions to Christian work.
Nevertheless, over the life of this blog the past several years, I have received countless inquiries from men and women seeking positions in churches. Many are frustrated because they feel like their applications or resumes go into a digital black hole. They never even hear from many of the churches.
So I asked a number of pastors and church staff about the processes they experienced in getting a new position in a church. To be transparent, I need to explain that a church pursued some of them without any initiative on their part. The vast majority, however, took specific actions that ultimately led to their being called or hired.
My questions were conducted informally, but I still think the responses are telling. Here are the top seven responses in order of frequency.
- They used an informal network of persons to recommend them for the position. That network included friends in ministry, denominational workers, and church members at the specific church that had the opening.
- They made certain their resumes stood out. They accomplished this feat in three ways. First, they asked knowledgeable persons to help them shape the resumes, and to proofread them carefully. Second, they looked at other persons’ resumes to see what everyone else was doing, so they could do something unique. Third, they made certain the resume addressed very specifically the position they sought.
- They sought an influential person to recommend them. Because the person recommending the candidate was influential to the decision makers, the candidate was more likely to be given more serious consideration.
- They made certain that their reputations were good in the world of social media. One pastor shared with me that he has not been able to find another church because of his negative reputation on his blog and other social media. More and more churches are doing a social media search on a candidate before ever contacting him or her.
- They actively monitored sites that provide job postings. Denominational groups offer some of the sites. Others are independent, and include ministry search firms.
- They asked for help from their denomination or seminary. These entities are not as active in ministry placement as previous years; but they still can be very helpful to a candidate.
- They were persistent. One candidate told me she had her application in over 20 churches before she ever heard from anyone. She persisted by submitting a resume to a different church for a position almost once a week. That determination finally resulted in a great position in a church.
Some of the pastors and staff I contacted were appointed to their positions by a denominational authority, so their process differed from the seven items I note above. Let me hear your responses to these seven approaches. If you feel comfortable, share with us how you got your current position.
photo credit: photologue_np via photopin cc
Posted on January 12, 2015
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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Bro Thom, I appreciate your blog posts. Frequently, I find the topics engaging and valuable.
I planted our current church. Prior to this, I served bivocationally in two poverty stricken areas. So I haven’t had the experiences of “competition” for jobs.
I have, on the other hand, been involved in hiring loads of people in business and ministry. I also have friends who are frequently networking to find their next solid leader.
If one of the younglings I coach asked me about steps to find a position, here are some suggestions I would give them:
* Build your network – a resume is a “leave behind” sales tool in the job search. It’s not the whole deal. Who you know gets you in the door. What you’ve done causes them to listen. The rest tends to be character and chemistry.
* Past age 27 or so, a candidate having great “potential” isn’t attractive to us. After that age, I want them to have actually made an impact somewhere. If they have not, then I’d rather take a risk on someone very young.
*Desperation is a repellent to those hiring. It’s the principle that a hungry salesman makes less sales. If you aren’t in your dream ministry role, then 1) Find something today so you can provide and have less financial stress. 2) Volunteer somewhere and make a HUGE impact. – This tells those hiring that you don’t HAVE to have a position. You will also benefit greatly if the place you volunteer gives you a strong recommendation.
* Remember that from the perspective of many hiring, the best candidates are already serving somewhere. If they aren’t serving somewhere, with today’s leadership shortage, there must be a reason.
* Don’t have friends that have influence to recommend you? Then go find some new friends. Volunteer for some known ministry catalysts or area leaders.
* Embrace networking positively. Think of it not as “playing politics,” “the good ole boys club,” or “some clique that I’m not in”- on the contrary. Think of networking as the exciting way God introduces like-minded people to one another!
* Some have a low view of networking. If you don’t like it, you won’t be good at it. I want ministry leaders who are going to be able to network in the community and expand their/our influence because of it. So of course networking is the best way to find many positions. It should be that way.
* Just find a place that’s doing exactly what you want to do and go serve there. With energy, passion and prayer.
* Find some close friends to give you honest feedback on why you aren’t being hired.
* Study and practice people skills more.
* Recommendations from college, seminary or denom are among the least persuasive. Sometimes those men and women are afraid to give honest feedback to churches about candidates. They don’t want liability exposure if they aren’t hired.
* Many fast growing ministries hire from within. Go volunteer somewhere that’s impacting their community.
I don’t think there’s an imbalance in supply and demand in the church leader market. It’s just possible that the large pool of unhired candidates don’t have the specific skills that are being sought out.
If we see any marketplace like a field – the market doesn’t care what your needs are. The market only cares the value you bring to it.
Theologically, there will always be a shortage of laborers. Some of our laborers perhaps just need to press in and find the greatest way they can make an impact.
You are yet another example of how my readers provide more value than I do! Thank you so much.
One strategy that has really helped me while I look for work is to intentionally be active in the community and/or community of believers. Do what you are trained for. Do what you are gifted at. Do what you believe in and continually challenge yourself to become better and more effective. If you are a preacher, then connect with the local missions director and get some random pulpit supply opportunities. If you are an evangelist then create opportunities and partner with other churches to help them evangelize. I have an MDIV in leadership. Instead of just sitting at home sending out resumes, I have chosen to meet with 3-6 guys individually every week and and talk ministry. I did some pulpit supply gigs. I joined the county ministerial alliance. I am helping out with a crusade. I also am helping a pastor with a conference for his church. I do this because, yes, I am called by God, and because I love it. God will supply my needs and one of those will be a job.
Of course no church has a problem letting you come in for free. My difficulty is knowing how much to invest in a church (that doesn’t want to hire you) when you are looking for employment at other churches. It seems disloyal. But that is my own problem to sort thru. I will admit that I love doing ministry Mon – Sat and having Sun as a true worship day. I love it!
Excellent input. Thank you!
This was what I was looking for above. Even if you are not currently on staff with a title and salary somewhere, there is no reason for you not to be able to minister within your gifting. My prayer would be that those who you are ministering to will see your heart and your gifting and offer to support you in the ministry that you are doing. Really think that is somewhere closer to what it is supposed to look like. Thanks for sharing Steve.
Congregations need to be prayerfully open to calling bivocational couples AND pastor couples should be open to bivocational opportunities, for a few reasons. Oftentimes, pastor’s wives are just as called to the ministry as their husbands, and that includes more than working an outside job so her husband can pastor full time. Also, younger pastors can gain valuable ministry experience for a more Senior position, both in the ministry AND in the workplace. Another reason is that congregations can then afford the person who God has called to pastor them. In our experience, a call to pastor a congregation is just as much about our growth as it is the growth of the membership.
Thank you, Mary Ellen. That is the topic of my next Monday post, a week from today.
1) I’ve said it before and I guess I’ll have to say it again. Bi-vo and intern experience DOES NOT COUNT. Churches are looking for full-time pastor experience.
2) Right or wrong, most men do not invest the time and money required to obtain a seminary degree just to be a part time pastor.
2) What’s with all this “pastor couple” stuff? Too many churches already think they should get two for one when they hire a pastor. Once again, don’t encourage unbiblical attitudes about hiring pastors.
That would be making the assumption that hiring a pastor is a biblical concept. I’m not convinced it is.
“The worker is worthy of his wages.” Not only is full-time vocational ministry exemplified by Paul, it goes all the way back to ancient Isreal and the temple where the priests and even the musicians were paid and supported by the people.
I’m not talking about paid ministry, I agree that there are those we are called to support financially in ministry. The idea of hiring a pastor in the way that it is conceptualized here is likely less than biblical.
I initially went to seminary to prepare for full time ministry. I served as a full time pastor and recently as bivo. I have since learned over my 24 years of ministry that my seminary education was not to prepare me for full time pastorate but to better minister in whatever place God placed me whether it is bivo or full time. You are correct whether right or wrong that is how most approach it. I know I did but only through maturing in my faith and calling did I learn different. More need to accept it as a calling more than a career then they would be open to God using them however He desires.
yes. i agree. we shouldn’t look at seminary as a golden ticket to pastor. Instead we should look at it as extensive and intensive discipleship training for obeying the great commission. I’ve often thought how seminary was like Christian bootcamp. Good training regardless of wherever you end up.
You mention the apostle Paul . Might I remind you he was bi-vocational (a tent maker) and he was appointed his apostolic authority by god and not by man and therefore when we address the issue of finding vocation in pastoral ministry I find that people who are appointed pastor’s and teachers within the congregation are already pastors or teachers that have simply been recognized and paid by the church for contributions and sacrifices they make for spiritual leadership. The recruitment process is flawed in that weeding out applications based on worldly qualifications for a position counter to this worlds ideology is a waste of time at best , at worst it is a lack of respect for gods calling on the lives of people who didn’t appeal to you on paper . Do we forget that god is the one that qualifies the called and not us? And that every application no matter how trivial should be prayed over and treated with the utmost respect? This may be a dead thread and what do I know I’m only 22 but in the ministry experience I’ve had so far councils have a hard time being spirit led in the day to day administration
I was looking for a pastoral post back in 2010. I have a MDiv, a successful track record, and, at that time, 17 years experience as a church staff. I sent resumes to every single SBC state/area convention in the country, sent a resume to every association in my home state of CA, and tapped every friend, contact, website, and lead I could find. After a year I only had one offer. I took it, of course.
If I could do it all over again, I would build a flexible career first and then do ministry part time with church planting or revitalizing small churches. Ministry as a full time vocational career does not seem to be a stable option.
Wow, Nathan! Are you reading my mind? Next Monday (a week from today), my post will address this very issue.
this is exactly what I’m doing. I’m a programmer working with a good company that allows me flexibility while I invest in a small church revitalization in my neighborhood. My bills are paid and I’m doing ministry smack dab in the middle of my calling (church revitalization).
When I talk with young people who aspire to the ministry I always tell them to establish a trade craft first as a way to support their family while they pursue God’s calling for their ministry. It’s an amazingly freeing feeling to know that I don’t have to jump on a church job just to pay the bills.
Bingo. You are exactly right.
I thought the internet would speed up the process of finding a place to serve, but it seems to have done just the opposite (based on my experience). As others have mentioned, it seems churches are flooded with resumes if they advertise online–even if they only advertise on smaller venues (like associational websites). It’s discouraging when you know your starting odds are 1 in 300 (or worse).
That is why I think the pastor search process will change. I talk about that issue in my upcoming Wednesday post. Thanks.
I’m inclined to agree with you, Thom. I look forward to the Wednesday post.
Totally agree with you on this Kevin. This is why we don’t take resumes this way. Our best candidates tend to be referred by those we trust.
It is a struggle on the other end. Our committee has received over 150 resumes through contact with state convention, seminary and members. Having been in ministry myself for thirty-five years I read every resume with a “I wish I could help” attitude. Praying through the process just cannot happen over night. Trusting God to bring the right someone to the forefront.
Thanks so much. I join you in that prayer. I encourage you to send each applicant a note that you have received their resume.
It often seems odd to me that there are not internal options to fill these positions. A body that I was part of in the past had a stated goal of raising up leadership from within, with the purpose of planting new congregations out of the growing body. Not only did this not happen, but when the pastor left for a secular position last year, there was no one within the body found to replace him. Just seems odd.
See my upcoming Wednesday post.
Will do, but also interested in the perspective of those who are in these commitees. Thanks
I suggest using internships like the private sector. It’s harder to reject someone you know than a piece of paper.
1) Wouldn’t there still be the same competition and frustrating process to fill the internship?
2) Most interns don’t get paid (or get paid very little) and most pastors have families to support. There are already too many churches that expect the pastor’s spouse to support the family so we sure don’t need to add another layer to that unbiblical attitude.
I suggest starting during college and seminary. Don’t wait until you are done with your education to look for a position.
I had a couple questions for those who are currently seeking employment in a pastoral position.
What does your current fellowship situation look like? Do you have a congregation that you are actively ministering in? In what ways are you able to function within your gifting in your current situation?
As is mentioned in the introduction to this post, the whole subject seems awkward, and kind of odd, so it brought those questions to mind. Thanks
I was serving at a church in the midwest as worship pastor before moving my family to a church in TN where I felt God leading us. Ten months passed between the time that I first spoke with my current church and officially moved here. Those ten months of ministry at my old church were both a blessing and yet a humbling experience. Yes, it was at times difficult to maintain my focus, to be ALL IN while looking forward to the prospect of serving in a new area of ministry; but God also taught me a great lesson. It was not about me, I wasn’t needed where I was and I am not needed where I am, I am to simply be willing to go where God wants me to be. I was able to lead worship with great freedom at my old church, knowing that I was doing what God had called me too and I have been able to lead with great purpose and freedom here, thankful that I was obedient to HIS call on mine and my families lives.
In short, God’s grace allowed me to serve where I was in an uninhibited way; while He also prepared me to to serve where I am. I coud not have done that on my own..Ryan was unable to do that….God however was indeed up to the task.
I entered ministry at age 35 so before that I had lots of experience on committees including staff search. I watched people go through resumes looking at the pictures and discarding them based on who knows what. having a moustache seemed to be a big one at the time (1980s).
Now at age 70 I find for the last few years no one is interested in my experience or great health or anything really. despite seeing many older preachers on tv local congregations don’t seem to want one.
there are plenty of opportunities to filling in and even interim but….
when I was younger all the positions I got were from churches seeking me out. one had received a resume from seminary and one from state headquarters. others were word of mouth among churches.
to the young person- search long and hard but never forget or get discouraged because God is ultimately in control of who gets the position so pray pray pray.
Your last sentence is pure gold.
One of the new realities is that many churches no longer allow the interim to become the pastor. Be aware of the policy BEFORE you take the interim position if this is your hope.
Strongly agree with that last sentence as well!
I think the other sad thing is that church’s are becoming not too different from the business world and they know they can get a younger guy with less experience that will be a young face for the church for way way less money (Less salary, cheaper insurance…..just an all around cheaper rate).
The only thing we can do is pray that God can lead us to the right place.
Sometimes being open to a short term interm position can open up long term position. It is always best to be employed when searching for something New too.
I have heard of people having great success with interim’s, I have also heard/seen a number of awful failures (and not because of the leaders skill level, actually some really awesome talented folks).
So far I am 0-3 of interim’s turning into a full-time worship position. I am finishing one out now and when the pastor told me I didn’t get the job he said you are really good, and my resume was the top 5 out of 150 + resumes you should have no problem getting another church job if you choose to go that route and I would help you. So I was like……Ok, so why did you not pick me then (I have been doing for a few months)? He said “well sometimes not getting picked doesn’t go down to skill, there are other factors that play into picking the right Worship Leader for this season. I want you to stay around and work with the new guy, I think you both would work great together.”
Makes me weary of interim’s just because none have worked out for me. I had a friend go through a similar situation.
I have been cautiously searching for a new position for the last 12 months. Much of what you suggest in this blog I have done. The networking via friends in ministry is important. However, it’s important to remember that all of these friends are busy; I cannot expect them to be my fulltime job-finding team. Also, regarding the “person of influence” recommending someone, that only works if you personally know persons of influence (many do not). Using the ministry job boards seems to be key these days. And that’s a change compared to a decade ago. Denominational agencies and schools used to be key, but less so today, it would seem. Three additional thoughts: Churches making no response whatsoever appears to be the “new normal.” I find this rude and frustrating, but it is what it is. Also, understand that because of ministry job boards, churches are now receiving HUNDREDS of resumes. (One church to whom I applied–a church of 300–received 400 resumes!) This reality makes the “competition” factor more daunting. And finally, one key “job finding tool” was not mentioned, which may be the most important: PRAYER. While someone investigates the various job opportunities, prayer cannot be omitted or applied as an afterthought. The bottom line is that God puts kings on thrones and pastors in pulpits. So while you actively investigate possibilities, pray, trust, wait.
You are so right. Not mentioning prayer was a terrible omission on my part. Thank you.
To be fair, your post was how people go about getting Church Jobs… not how they “should” seek church jobs 😉
Pretty simple, to some degree, you do the same thing as any other job. Think of where you want to be, make yourself more desirable for that position, then look for/wait for the opportunity.
People seem to be complaining about “there were 300 other candidates” well duh. If it’s a job worth having, there are thousands of people out there trying to get that position.
I’m guessing these folks aren’t applying for the bi-vocational position, but applying to the 200+ average attendance church with ZERO experience…
“Yes, I’d like to apply for the CEO position at your Tech firm… oh no, I have no experience with computers, but I’m a quick learner, and by the way, I reject all the current industry practices because I’m that great!” ;^)
Over 20 churches? I’ve sent my resume to over 100 churches at least. God has led me to a new position, but for me the whole process has been like trying to make it through the playoffs. First you’re in the top ten, then you’re in the top 4, now it’s down to you and one other guy – you’re so close – then, sorry, the other guy got it, but thanks for playing.
I can relate. Church X: “We received 350 resumes!. . .You’re one of 50. . . You’re apart of he short list of 9 candidates–please fill out a 35 question survey for us. . .You’re apart of the group of 3 finalists–now fill out 60 “essay” questions for us–it should only take you six or eight hours. . .So sorry–we’re going another direction. May God bless your ministry.”
Frustrating, Difficult. But this seems to be the way of things these days.
I can relate to this completely, Joe.
I do agree with the previous comments. I have also expereinced churches bascially interviewing two or three prospects at the same time. I always understood that to be no, no. Interview one individual at at time. Dicern if that is God’s man for the pulpit. After a definate no from the Holy Spirit, move on to the next person. I have on two occasions worked through a nearly year long process to find out in the last few monthns the church would bring in one canadate on one weekend, then another canadate on another weekend. Conduct back and forth initerviews sometimes in the same week. Interview each mans family at the same time. It sort of turns into a horse race. Who is going to crack first” Who is going to slip up in the intview first. Who is going to say somthing slightly amiss first? I took my whole family to a church several states away for a three day visit, begin to fall in love with people only to learn the next month another man and his family werer coming to the church for a three day visit. Very discouraging and very wrong in my understand. Peace & Grace.
Churches involved with selecting a Pastor should “candidate” one at a time and through prayer and the leadership of the Holy Spirit the Lord’s Will will select the right man. Unfortunately, too many churches have too many spiritually weak men on the pulpit committee who lack the wisdom and courage to do right! They either want someone who they can control or someone who won’t preach against sin!
Unfortunately, you are right.
I have done the same so many times. I think I have filled out the first and second questionnaire over 6 times. got down to me and the other candidate each time for the past year. Finally stated we are going a different direction. Thank you for posting this. It actually made me burst out into laughter as I shared this with my family.
What happens when you deal with these “obstacles” an realize you’re disgusted with fellow Christians and their underhanded, secular tactics…. THEN WHAT? I’d probably tell them to stuff that questionnaire up their hole!
The whole point of going into ministry was to get away from CORPORATE POLITICS and these PRICKS seem WORSE than the bankers and Wall Street brokers I used to run the computers for.
“Exclusive offer”??? Jesus Christ, these twits just tried to SELL ME A BOOK…. GET BENT!!!
I fully agree with the above commenters. As crude as it sounds, it really is like a competition, like trying to make it through the playoffs. Sometimes, when I don’t make it past the short list, I wonder if others have the same feelings of gut pangs because they were “cut” too? Yet, going through interviews and “failed” results allows me to reassess my strategy, questions, responses, focus, and direction for another position and potential church.
What I would like to know is what are some of the top sites pastors are using for their search? I have a ton bookmarked: seminaries & bible colleges career boards, denominations (national & state), and ChurchStaffing type of sites. What sites have other readers and pastors found useful?
What are some of the websites that have been helpful in providing listings?
Google “ministry jobs.” Vanderbloemen.com is excellent.
The SBC website is obviously good for SBC jobs, as is Ministry Well. Another site I’ve found is findingourplace.com, which has links to dozens of sites with ministry job listings. Some of those links are broken or outdated, but many of them are very good resources.
I get the impression that Vanderbloeman is only for the elite. If you don’t have a Ph.D. , D.Min. and 15 years in a large church, don’t even bother to apply.
Completely agree. They are not for people looking to shepherd normative sized churches. That’s a byproduct of search firms generally. The recruiting fee could be more than what most normative sized pastors make in a year.