The Ministry Job Search

Unless you are part of a denomination that handles job placement for you, finding a job in ministry can be challenging. Ideally, you want to find a church who will partner well with the mission and vision God has stirred in you. But how do you go about finding that church? And even if you think you have found it, how do you know for sure? Unfortunately, churches can be idealistic in the hiring process, often having unrealistic or unwritten expectations that don’t surface until after you are already on the job. So, how can you go about searching for a job in ministry wisely? Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Be grounded in prayer. Like Elijah at the brook in 1 Kings 17, sometimes you have to spend some time in isolation, placing your complete dependency on God in prayer. God is the one who has placed the calling to ministry upon you, and He is the one who will lead you to the right place. But you must be surrendered to His will. You must consistently, persistently, let Him prepare you for where He would have you go. And keep in mind that He may send you somewhere temporarily—to prepare the soil for the next person and to prepare you for the next step in your own ministry journey. Ministry transitions give us opportunities to walk by faith, not sight. And this process requires constant prayer.

2. Know yourself and put together a good resume. There are three kinds of pastors and leaders—shepherds, managers, and visionaries. Most of us in ministry are really good in one of these areas and pretty good in another, but we stink in the third. Figure out your strengths, look for positions that match them, and tailor your resume to them. Writing your resume with your niche in mind will also help you come up with ideas for making it stand out. As you put it together, pray for wisdom in how to communicate who you are and for the courage to be transparent. Also, consider having your resume critiqued. Paying extra to have a professional service layout your resume and tailor it to your audience may very well be worth the money.

3. Be faithful and give your best today. When you are “in the land between,” when you are looking for work and there are no promising prospects, you can be tempted to shut down or to spend all your time dreaming about the future, but God blesses faithfulness. So, don’t quit ministering where you are, and don’t allow dreams of the future to minimize what God is doing today. The truth is, God often uses what we are faithful in today to impact tomorrow or to grow us toward it. For example, before Abraham Lincoln became successful, he chose to forgo an evening of networking, where he would have been personally introduced to the influential minister Henry Ward Beecher, in order to spend the time reworking a speech he was to give the next day. That speech, known as the Copper Union Address, changed the trajectory of his career and his life by starting him on the road to the presidency.

4. Cast a wide net. Put your name out wherever you can—Bible colleges (not just local ones, but in regions you might want to live), parachurch organizations, networking websites, friends, friends of friends, etc. Let people know you’re looking (unless you are currently in a job and don’t want your search broadcast). Ask around. And don’t be afraid to look in places outside your comfort zone. You may find a description of a job you would love that is so far away you wouldn’t consider moving to it, but then, you can look for a similar job nearby.

It’s also important to remember that you are going to face some rejection. This might scare you, but don’t let it stop you. Courage is moving forward in spite of fear. When you do not get a job, you have simply discovered that this direction is not the one God has for you.

5. Be prepared to jump through hoops. A lot of small and medium-sized churches are very dysfunctional and don’t vet their prospective employees well. Different churches have different processes. Some are idealistic and naïve in the way they search. Others will make you do things you think are pointless as part of the hiring process. Some don’t even seem to know what they want. You may be asked to fill questionnaires, and some of the questions may not make sense. Fill them out anyway, and do so honestly. Most churches who use these are looking for certain answers. If your honest answers don’t match theirs, it’s probably not the right place for you. 

6. Ask tough questions. They need to interview you to see if you are a good match for their church. Likewise, you need to be interviewing them to see if their church is a good match for you. Their doctrine and philosophy of ministry needs to align with yours. For example, some churches say they want a leader, but they really don’t. So, ask behavioral questions not just theoretical ones. In other words, don’t just ask, “Are you OK with change?” Ask, “What would happen if we changed the music or moved the communion table or changed the dress code?” or “If I were to do ­­­­[fill in the blank], would the church support me?” In addition to behavioral questions, you should ask measurable ones, such as, “What is the ratio of first time guests to regular attenders? How many first time visitors return?”

Churches often oversell themselves and downplay their problems. Ask questions with the goal of finding out how a church defines itself and how it defines success in ministry. Small and medium-sized churches usually have an unwritten definition of success that revolves around something like the support of missions, the effectiveness of a specific ministry or program in the church, attendance numbers, etc. Some churches also have unhealthy leadership structures and values. Ask questions with the goal of probing where those might be. Look for sacred cows that might impede ministry work. It is also important to get job specifics. Who would you report to? What is the church’s leadership structure?

You cannot go into the hiring process with idealism, or you are setting yourself up for problems. And if you are offered a job, be sure to get a written job description, written expectations, and maybe even a covenant. Make sure these are document that both parties sign. Then you have an agreement you can point to if disagreements about expectations or job performance arise.

7. Ask for references from the church. Ask the church to provide you with the names of a former pastor or family, another pastor in the area, or a professor at the local Bible college who knows the church well. Churches may not tell you the whole story, or they may not even know their own reality if they are dysfunctional. It’s helpful to have an outside perspective on a community before you commit to joining it.

8. Give them reasons not to hire you.  When you make it to the interview process, tell them what they need to know about you. This doesn’t mean confessing every sin; it simply means saying something such as, “If you are hiring me, you have to understand [fill in the blank] about me.” That blank might be filled in with “my kids are a priority, and I won’t miss ball games” or “I need flexibility in my schedule” or “I need a Sunday off every six weeks in order to avoid burnout.” Be up front without being confrontational. Simply and kindly tell them who you are and who you’re not. It takes faith to do this, but if they end up hiring you, you will feel much more confident that you are in the right place.

9. Think of large churches as seminaries. If you are in transition or trying to leave a dysfunctional church, consider looking for experience in a large church. Experience in a growing church often has more credibility now than a seminary degree. So, you might consider looking for a transitional position where you can gain more experience that will let you walk through better doors at a later time. 

Doing these things will not guarantee that you will find the perfect job, but they can help you think through your job search in ways that might keep you from making serious mistakes. The work you are looking for is ultimately Kingdom work, so search prayerfully and intentionally, asking God for guidance and considering how He has shaped you and where that shape would best fit. God honors this kind of seeking.