More Tips for Getting the Right Job in Ministry, Part III of V

I’ve been writing a series of posts designed to help those looking for a job in Christian ministry (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5). But before I share more, let me back up and explain why I’m doing this.

Here’s the deal: it took me five years to get my seminary degree. It was exhausting. It cost thousands of dollars and took thousands of hours to learn the things I needed to help lead in a local church. But eventually, that training was complete. It was time for my classmates and me to look for jobs. But this didn’t go so well for many of us. In fact, there were some—guys I respected and thought would make great pastors—that struggled to find the right church or any church at all. I don’t know all of the reasons for this, but I suspect, in a few cases, it was because they didn’t know the right things to do to find a job.

In the end, I did find a great church to work for, but it didn’t come easy for me either. Struggles were many. This series of blog posts is designed to prevent pastors from floundering while trying to connect with the right church.

To use an analogy, consider an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). An EMT, though trained, eventually needs an ambulance to get him to the location of an accident. After all, he’s been trained to help those who are hurt. But if he can’t get to the accident, he can’t help.

Consequently, I’m writing these tips in order to get those who are trained connected to those who need them. I’m not so interested in helping pastors earn lots of money or find the sexiest job; that’s not what ministry is about. What I really hope to do is connect pastors to local churches.

With that background in mind, here are three more tips for candidates in order to accomplish this.

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7. Build and leverage your personal network.
For whatever reason, I hate the word networking. It feels greasy. When I hear it, I think cheap suits, slick hair, gaudy gold chains, and a guy who points with his finger as he talks.

Even if this is a cliché, at one point or another, we’ve all had the miserable experience of being used, that is, we’ve all experienced networking after Genesis 3.

But what if networking didn’t have to look this way? What might networking have looked like before the fall?

Imagine gathering some friends and family to celebrate what God is doing in your life and asking them to pray for you as you consider future opportunities to serve God? Imagine reaching out to people that you don’t currently know, but who might be able and happy to genuinely help?

In other words, what if networking was more like buying a friend a cup of coffee than trying to sell a used car?

Networking, at its best, should just be purposeful communication with people you care about and people that care about you. Moreover, if this is what networking is, isn’t it something we could do without selling our souls or trampling on someone else’s. I think I can create a list of friends and acquaintances that would love to see me find a job where I’ll thrive. I bet you can too.

So make the list. Make a list of everyone you think would be excited to see you in a the right job in Christian ministry. Some of the people in your network are your close friends and family, people you know pretty well.

Others, perhaps, will be those you don’t know all that well, though they are people who might be “in the know” about potential jobs. For example, you might be able to ask that pastor of a large church in the large city that you want to move to if he’d be on the list. And perhaps you can add someone in the placement department of a seminary, or someone in an administrative role of a denomination who might know about job openings.

Now, I keep talking about a “list,” but let me be clearer because there are really two lists. At first, you’re just brainstorming a list of people who you think could help you in this process. That’s the first list.

The next step is to actually speak with these people and ask if they would mind being on an email list of people that you want to send periodic updates to regarding the progress of your job search. This is your actually networking list.

As you speak to people, be sure you always give a length of time for how long you expect to send emails. For example, you might say something like this: 

For the next 9 months, I’m going to email some friends updates about my job search progress. Would it be okay if I emailed you an update about once a month during that time?

Also, would you be open to sending me any ideas or leads you might have for me, and praying for me as you think about my situation?

That’s something most people will say yes to because they know what they are getting into. Moreover, it’s been made clear to them that you know you’ll be doing the bulk of the work; in other words, you’re not expecting them to find the job for you.

Before moving on, let me mention two more things about networking. First, in your preliminary phone call and in every subsequent email, remember to emphasize the level of confidentiality that is needed. Are they sworn to secrecy? Or are they able to, in fact encouraged to, forward your email around to their friends? The answer will depend on your situation, of course, but make sure it’s abundantly clear.

Second, when you email people, consider using the “Blind Copy” (BC) function. This way everyone isn’t able to see all of the other recipients of the email. This might not seem like a big deal, but here’s what you don’t want: you don’t want your dear aunt Jessica (bless her heart) to keep hitting “reply to all,” to tell you how excited she is for you. Not professional. (But the fault will be yours.)

And if your email list gets really large, you might even want to use a mass email service such as MailChimp (which should be free for the size we’re talking about). The upside of a mass email service is that your email will look professional, but the downside is that it will look too professional, and then you’re back to networking after Genesis 3. It’s a hard thing to balance, but if your motives for networking are pure, people will sense this and be glad to lend a hand.

8. Have a mock interview.
Having a mock interview proved to be one of the most helpful things I did during the job search—yet, as I’ll explain, also one of the least enjoyable.

When I was looking for my first pastoral job, I had participated in interviews many times before but never in the context of a local church. All my experience had been in the business world. There is some helpful overlap, but I can tell you, with certainty, that when I interviewed with engineering firms no one ever asked me to articulate the gospel or explain the Trinity. No one ever asked my opinion on whether all of the small groups in a local church should use the same curriculum or if each group should choose their own. And they didn’t want to know what spiritual gifts my wife had. They didn’t ask these kinds of questions. I needed practice at answering them—lots of practice.

This is why I’m so thankful one of the elders at my local church offered to create a mock interview for me. He recruited several other mature Christians at our church, and for about two hours on a Tuesday night in a classroom in the basement of our church, they grilled me. Then for another hour they gave me feedback.

It was miserable, absolutely miserable.

But why? Were they mean? Not at all. Were they unfair? Nope.

It was miserable because I thought I was good at interviewing but wasn’t. In other words, by miserable, I mean deeply humbling.

Invariably, my answers were too long, and at times, unrelated to the actual question at hand. I had a lot to learn. Likely, so do you. As humbling as the process was, I am so thankful for it. I’m thankful I had friends who cared about me enough to help prepare me for ministry, even if that meant giving some honest feedback.

Before you begin the interview phases of a job search, I highly encourage you to have a mock interview. The best people to conduct it are those in your church who’ve sat on search committees before and, perhaps, even have hiring responsibilities in their job. If you don’t have this, recruit some friends to do this for you. With a quick internet search you can find good interview questions so that those conducting the interview don’t have to do too much legwork. Regardless of how you get this done, I could not recommend it more.

9. Send the best samples of your work.
I recently had coffee cups made with our church logo on them. We give them to newcomers. But before I bought 300 coffee mugs, I asked the company that made them to send me a sample. This was helpful. It helped me make an informed decision. 

However, the company keeps sending me stuff: pens, water bottles, tote bags, and brochures—lots and lots of brochures. This has not been helpful.

Candidates can learn something from this. At the right time, and in the right amount, sending samples is helpful. But sending too many samples, or sending them at the wrong time is not helpful—in fact, it’s harmful.

Early in the hiring process, your cover letter is probably enough, but as the process continues, you’ll likely want to send a few of the best samples of things you have worked on. This does not mean you should send a complete series of handcrafted small group curriculum from the last five years. Don’t do that. But it might mean that you send your favorite lesson or two. That’s helpful.

If you are a worship leader, it might mean you send a sample of a devotional you lead your worship team through, or a few favorite worship sets with an explanation of why you enjoyed them so much. If you are in youth ministry, perhaps you have videos from events or mission trips or material from a favorite Wednesday night teaching series. If so, send them over.

Again, sending high-quality samples of your work, at the right time and in the right amount, is helpful. It’ll help you stand out from the crowd.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for three more tips. They’re important. Churches are full of hurting people, and God means to help them. These tips are an ambulance designed to get EMTs to the place where they can do what they’ve been trained to do.

[Photo by sv1ambo / CC BY]