Seven Ways Pastors and Church Staff Find Jobs

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. They actively monitored sites that provide job postings. Denominational groups offer some of the sites. Others are independent, and include ministry search firms.
  6. 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.
  7. 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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  • I have been out of seminary since May of 2013 and I am still searching for a church to pastor. It’s very disheartening when you see churches with 1-50 members and then they say must have 10 years experience. Full-time churches want that experience, but they don’t want to give you that opportunity. Sometimes I feel like full-time ministries believe that their ministry is of more importance that a bi-vocational ministry. In reality they are of equal importance. As I read in an above post the process does take a lot out of the future minister. I personally believe seminaries need to work closer with churches and put that future leader in a interim position while in seminary so that person can get some experience in that position of interest. I love the SBC, but I feel as if we have fallen way behind when it comes to helping ministers find that place where God wants them.

    • See my comment just below. I’ve been in your situation, and I understand how it feels. God will open the door for you in His time, so hang in there!

  • I want to add one more thing, there is a group of female seminary (M.Div. and D.Min.) students and up-and-coming ministers even in denominations that consider women as second class Christians. These females have blogs, video sermons on their websites, Twitter feeds, followings, and are getting publicity even as students. I don’t know of a single male semianry student who is even known, much less popular.

    • And your point is…?

      • Get some popularity and get your name out there. Become known. Start writing. Develop a following. Look at Rachel Held Evans. She has not even to been to seminary but is interviewed on CNN for their religion features.

  • In the midst of the many comments so far, someone said something like, “Be open to an interim position which can lead to a fulltime position.” That’s dangerous, if you are expecting to get a ‘leg up’ on the permanent position by serving as the interim version of the same ministry position at the same church. And I think it’s a bit unethical. Interim should be interim and ‘permanent’ should be permanent.

    • Interim is experience. Experience gets you hired. Years spent in education does not get one experience. Ask anyone in the private sector how hard the first job was to get.

  • Thom,

    Looks like you walked into another sorely needed topic. I love to hear the responses of your readers and appreciate your interaction very much!

    Steven Earp’s comments above ring true to me. As a career coach to missionaries, pastors and church workers I hear the frustration with the system and the “imbalance” in supply and demand that exists. The process of career change is a real challenge these days. Those in transition need to lean in and listen carefully to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

    I believe that God has a plan for each of us, and it is often not as simple or direct a path as we would like. Dr. Terry Walling taught me that, “God uses transitions to move us from where we are to where HE wants us to be!” As a missionary I ended up in a mega-city when I prefer a quiet rural farm type location. Yet, I learned much and was extremely blessed by my time in that pressure cooker of 12 million plus.

    I often recommend Jeff Manion’s book, The Land Between:finding God in difficult transitions, to those who are wrestling with confusing and lengthy transitions. Hugh Halter has a great book, BiVo, on bivocational ministry, but one needs to make sure of their calling as that is no easy road!

    Please keep sharing and doin’ the works…

    In HIM,

  • I have been on the search for almost 2 years. The long process has worn me our and worn me down. The issues of no communication or slight communication is draining because you do not know where you stand. I sent a couple of churches multiple emails with no replies to find out later by looking at their website that the position had been filled.

    I am searching for worship pastor position. There have been five major changes for this position. 1) Search teams seem to be looking for a style that is very close to what their church does now. They seem to be forgetting that things are changing all of time. Their overall ability and character may matter more than the style that you see represented on a video. 2) Many churches are hiring from within. Years ago very few churches hired a worship pastor from within the congregation. 3) Many churches are going to part-time worship pastors. 4) The age of worship leader seems to matter at many churches. 5) Churches that are more than two times the size of your present church rarely will consider you for a position. I serve a church of 250. I have had no interest from the minister search firms because they are normally filling positions at churches that are close to 1,000 in attendance.

    This time of year many search teams ceased looking from the middle of December and will start back some time in January. After awhile, the process becomes too tiresome. The church staff search is one of the only jobs where lay people are called on to fill professional level positions. My wife is a school teacher. They will bring in 3 to 5 candidates. They may bring back 1 or 2 of them and then the team will decide that week who to hire. However, they are teachers hiring teachers. It is astounding how slow most churches in the hiring process compared to the secular world.

    • I completely empathize. What gets me is that many churches are specificaly told by denoms, associations, or consultants to drag the process out and make it as slow and painful as possible.

      • Do you really think that is the case? Or was the search committee hijacked by church leadership who was hijacked by some large donors and/or old people who want to get their way?

        A majority vote in a church can still lose if one or two powerful people are in the minority.

      • I don’t think they should make the process “as slow and painful as possible”, but neither should they do their work hastily. I’ve seen pulpit committees make some big mistakes when they did the latter, and some pastoral candidates, too.

  • Something to consider before going to seminary: go to a seminary that has some kind of successful placement system. The church I serve now contacted my seminary and that’s how we were matched up! If God ever calls me to another place, I would, however, start in my own network and then contact my seminary. They also help alumni find positions all over the world. Grace and peace!

  • Celebrity Pastor says on

    From my experience, this is what every church is looking for in a pastor/staff member:

    35-45 years old
    M.Div./D.Min. from Southern Baptist school
    10-15 years experience
    2+ children
    Wife works so they can pay you less (including insurance)
    Not overweight
    Great preaching/relationship skills – not boring
    Currently working at a church (not unemployed)
    No facial hair
    No baggage (i.e. emotional/health/mental problems)

    Guys, from my experience, if you fit the above description, a church will hire you! Getting hired at a church (especially full-time) is like dating.

    • That last line is great!

    • And the candidate needs to have the correct opinions on a host of topics.

      It’s too bad that the search is just limited to married men with children. You’re leaving out a lot of qualified candidates when you add those requirements.

    • In fairness, that’s been the case with churches for a long time. One of my seminary professors once told me that when pulpit committees start searching for a pastor, they’re almost always looking for the next Adrian Rogers or Billy Graham (who, by the way, does NOT have a seminary degree). It takes them a few months to realize that’s not going to happen, and then they get more realistic in their expectations.

      When I was in high school (over thirty years ago) our church was between pastors, and the pulpit committee took a survey as to what kind of pastor the church wanted. The consensus was they wanted a pastor with a seminary degree, 45-50 years old, with 15-20 years experience. They found such a candidate, presented him to the church, and he was voted down. They finally decided on a 30 year old man with no college degree (let alone a seminary degree) with about three years’ experience, and he was voted in almost unanimously!

  • I am curious about how long a pastoral search should take, especially considering how many are out there now looking for pastoral positions. Yet churches will take eons finding a pastor to lead them, to the point of posting on their websites that they’re looking to hire an interim while they look for a long term pastor. I understand seeking the Lord in the decision making, but does a months, even years-long, process make His response any clearer than simply prayerfully vetting the candidates who apply? How long should a church expect to take–just a ballpark figure–when hiring new leadership? How long should final pastoral candidates reasonably be expected to wait to receive a final response?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Louise –

      First, most search committees are taking over a year to find a candidate. In my opinion, that timetable is indicative of a flawed process. Second, I think the search typically SHOULD be done in about six months. Not many churches are at that point.

    • >I am curious about how long a pastoral search should take, especially considering how many are out there now looking for pastoral positions.

      How long it takes, depends upon:
      * How large the search committee is;
      * How much time _every_ day, the committee devotes to the process;
      * The tools used by the search committee;
      * Whether or not the church understands where it wants to go, before the search committee is formed;

      That last point — church direction — is the killer.
      If the congregation does not know where they want to be in five, ten, and fifteen years time, then the first duty of the search committee is to determine, construct, and clarify that direction.

      If the search committee:
      * Consists of between 5 and 7 people;
      * Uses the same tools as a semi-competent HR department in a medium-sized business;
      * Members spend at least four hours per day on the task;
      If the search committee is also willing to use “fast track hiring”:
      * You review a minimum of 100 candidates;
      * You’ve fill the position with what is, statistically, your best qualified candidate;
      * You fill the position within 30 days;

  • At what point do we look at this and say that there is a massive over saturation of guys seeking the same positions; therefore, we need to take our theological education either to foreign missions, to church planting, or to the secular marketplace here in the U. S. where we can settle in and be salt and light? I would say that there is at least a large percentage of ministry job hunters that should seriously consider an alternative to the typical cookie cutter route.

    We could use engineers, financial advisors, salesmen, landscapers, etc., who have theological training.

    • I keep hearing this push to move toward strictly bi-vo ministry as if that will solve all the problems and frustration with hiring. What people don’t seem to understand is that theological training requires a serious commitment of time and expense. Are people supposed to spend 3-4 years in seminary and then go get an engineering degree on top of that? Furthermore, most people, including myself, want to be in full-time ministry so that we can pour our heart and souls into it. My wife would be the first to tell you that she could not be an effective teacher if she had to work a second job to pay the bills. Yet, for some reason, people seem to think that being a pastor is something that can be done by anybody as a side-job or a hobby. I know many men serve faithfully as bi vo pastors but I’m sure that almost all of them would tell you that they would be more effective too if they could fully “devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and to prayer.”

      • Great point. I had an unexpected event happen with a family in my church recently that required me to be available every single day of the past week. I had to prepare to teach one lesson and preach two sermons on top of that. If was working a full or part time secular job, I would not have been free to minister to the family in need. Bi-vo may be necessary for some, but, if we’re honest, the bi-vo guy, as faithful and qualified as he may be, simply just does not have the availability and flexibility to study and shepherd as the vocational guy.

      • There’s a reason why we call them “bivocational” instead of “part-time”. A bivocational pastor has two full-time jobs. I must say they have my everlasting respect. I don’t know how they do it.

      • ACD,

        I understand your point and agree for the most part. A 3-4 year commitment to theological education in addition to an engineering degree or whatever degree would be overkill. I merely mean that there are some of us who have an M.Div already who are struggling to find a pastor’s job. I am asking the question, what would be so bad about a large chunk of those job hunters resolving to work in the secular world? Nothing, or at least, I cannot think of a reason.

        I get your point about wanting to pour your heart and soul into ministry. I love that point actually. At the same time, I would suggest that there are some (and perhaps in your case given your clear passion, not you) that could and should let the “vocational” thing go and embrace a secular job, settle in at a young church plant or another church, come alongside a vocational pastor in support as a member and potential elder or leader.

        I worry that we have a whole bunch of guys who have been taught that full-time, vocational ministry is the epitome of spirituality and feel the pressure to be a vocational guy. I realize that this is not the case for everyone, but there is at least percentage of men who see all of their identity, success or failure, in whether or not they can land at a church that they feel is sufficient for their qualifications. Expectations from other friends in ministry or family adds to the pressure.

        As a pastor, I have heard the stats about how few pastors retire in the ministry. I know the point of those stats, but sometimes the effect is to create a guy who says, “Oh crud, I don’t want to be a stat.” And that guy is left trying to compete with 400 other guys for the handful of church jobs that can support his family. I think that pressure valve should be cut a little bit, that we should continue to keep beating the drum of pastoral-work-is-not-your-identity and remove the stigma that comes with “leaving the ministry.”

    • Do you really want “engineers, financial advisors, salesmen, landscapers, etc., who have theological training” doing the teaching and preaching?

      I get the impression that a lot of that the young in that group aren’t even wanted in churches as members, much less as teachers or preachers. For starters, their opinions might not be the officially sanctioned opinion. Additionally, they might take the leadership positions away from people who aren’t as qualified but whose families ran that congregation or have the title of deacon.

  • I have served on the search committees 3 times in the past 19 years, the most recently about 20 months ago. The process has changed a great deal over the years.

    First it is longer and not as personal as it used to be. Second, back ground checks are a new part of the process. Finally the resumes are usually more professional these days.

    The committees I served on tried to answer all the resumes with a least a response, however I am sure we missed some. You really have part time lay people guiding the church in the search process. Sometimes there is just not enough time to throughly vet every applicant.

    Some one earlier said prayer was a component. I could not agree more. That’s the only way we got through the process. Spiritual discernment with an open mind is must as well.

    I could say a lot more about the process. It’s not perfect, but it has become more refined over the years.

    Blessings to all the pastors seeking a church. Most are excellent people. May the Lord lead you and direct your paths.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you, Henry. I really appreciate getting the perspective from a seasoned search committee member. The changes you note are areas I will discuss in my upcoming Wednesday post.

  • Jeff Scheibenpflug says on

    I’ve really appreciated reading the article and discussion! I’m independent Baptist (don’t hate me!), and have pastored an independent Baptist church for 21 years. I’m not looking for a change at this time, but from conversations with others and the comments to this article, I ‘m glad I’m not out there looking now! When I graduated seminary, it was the recommendation of a well known person which gave me a huge advantage — but this recommendation came at no request of mine. I had sent many resumes out and received little or no response from any of them, but it was a recommendation of someone else, without my knowledge, that did the job. I say all this to encourage those who are looking for a pastoral post — do your part, but in the end God may surprise you with an opportunity that you had nothing to do with generating.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks for input, Jeff. There is no hating on this blog. You are always welcome here.

    • I am also an Independent Baptist who is looking to pastor. I have 15 years of experience. I have sent out 50 resumes. That is a crazy amount. I sent an email to a company for some secular work, they emailed me back the same day. And by the following Monday I had an interview and was hired. I know the church doesn’t and shouldn’t work that way, but wow, what a difference! I won’t quit looking though. The Lord has a place for me and my family.

      • Just an update to my previous post. I have sent my resume to well over 70 churches, about 8-10% respond back in some type of manner. But one and a half years later I am still waiting on the LORD. I am not discouraged though, the LORD has taught me many things. I have preached out in different pulpits around where I live about 80% of the time and I have seen some souls saved, God is good!