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

Recently, I’ve posted several articles designed to help pastoral candidates get the right job in a local church (1, 2, 3, and 4).

Over the next month or two, I will continue to unroll my remaining 12 tips (three tips at a time). Here are next three.

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4. Get and send a recommendation letter.
My wife and I read books differently. Let’s just say that she has been known to skip a preface or two, and maybe even a few other pages along the way. I, on the other hand, won’t ever skip a page. I’m anal like that.

But there is, however, even for me, an exception to this rule. I never read the pages at the very front of a book titled “In praise of _________.” If you ask me, these pages aren’t even meant to be read, not closely. They are just there to make a point, namely, several well-known people think this book (or author) is hot stuff.

To me, a recommendation letter is sort of like that. They are nice to have because, at a glance, they give legitimacy to a candidate but, in my opinion, that’s about all. If you do decide to send one, however, and I’m not against it, here are a few ways to make the most of it.

First, realize that a reference letter doesn’t have to be from a Christian celebrity for it to be helpful. If John Piper or Rick Warren or Bill Hybels want to write you a recommendation letter, sweet. But don’t worry if they don’t. The other people applying for the job don’t have one either—probably.

It will likely be more helpful if you get a letter from a former supervisor or someone you oversaw (such as a small group leader you trained or a musician on your music team).

The most helpful letter, however, would be from someone who is already known by and has the respect of the church at which you are applying.

Recently, we hired a full-time youth and music director. He didn’t have a recommendation letter, but he did have on his reference list two men whom we already knew very well and greatly respected. Again, he just had these men as references, but each of them would have been great candidates for recommendation letters.

Second, if you don’t have someone famous to endorse you or someone who knows both you and the church, find someone interesting to write one for you.

When I was transitioning from a career in engineering to  one in pastoring, I asked one of my former pastors to write a recommendation letter. That’s not very interesting. But I also asked my Muslim engineering co-worker to write a recommendation letter. That is.

Obviously, my Muslim co-worker couldn’t speak to my preaching abilities or how well I could lead a small group; but, since we had worked closely on projects for several years, he was able to comment on my character and teamwork, and even how we had engaged each other in conversations about religion. Churches seemed to find his letter helpful. Not everyone has a Muslim co-worker, but if you do, or if you have someone like this, consider asking them to write a recommendation for you. They might do it.

Finally, don’t lead with your recommendation letter. Remember, you’re not hot stuff simply because you have one. When you send your information to a church put everything in this order: cover letter, resume, family bio, references, and, finally, the recommendation letter.

5. Keep track of everything.
The level of complexity of your job search will depend upon your context. If you are currently established in a ministry role, and only casually looking for a job, your search will likely not be too complex and you’ll manage it without much effort.

If, however, you are in a transition stage, say, about to graduate from seminary, then at some point in the job search, you’ll start to get overwhelmed. The job search may start simple but become complex quickly, and you’ll want to track everything before it gets there. At some point, you’ll forget which church you sent which piece of information, which church has a deadline coming up, and which church has a senior pastor that prefers to be called Steve, not Steven.

Let me give you an analogy. During the last year, I developed a food allergy that caused a lot of discomfort when I ate certain foods, and some days it even left me unable to work. I don’t know why this happened and I’m not happy about it, but it did happened. And to figure out what I’m allergic to, I had to track everything I ate for several months.

At first, I would convince myself that I could wait until the end of the day, or even wait several days, to record everything I had eaten. I thought this would be more efficient.

Big surprise: this doesn’t work. I always forgot the details.

It’s the same in the job search. You think you can keep track of it, but you can’t. Make a folder for every job, electronic or otherwise, and keep track of every interaction. Don’t wait a day or two. You’ll forget.

I recently went back and looked over the computer folder entitled “placement” from when I was preparing to graduate from seminary, and there were 17 different folders in it! Granted, some were threadbare because I only had one or two interactions with a church, but other folders were chalked full of details.

Additionally, along with folders, create a calendar (again, electronic or otherwise), to remind you of important deadlines and when you need to follow up with a church.

6. Know where to find job openings.
Having a professional resume, cover letter, family bio, references, and a recommendation letter makes for a good start. Yet, if you don’t know where to send them, you’re not going to get a job. Somehow you have to connect your information with the right employment opportunity.

But where do you find these opportunities?

Lots of places. Broadly speaking, here are a few of them.

Job Search Websites: As I’ve mentioned before, tends to be a good place to look, as it seems to be the most populated. (Note, their tagline is “The Site for Church Employment,” not “A Site for…”.) But there are others, for example, Church Staff Search or, but the quality goes down pretty quick after these. Something to keep in mind, though, is that the strength of these websites, at least, is also the challenge: lots of traffic. If you find a job you’re interested in, you’ll likely have to be aggressive. Additionally, The Slingshot Group and Vanderbloemen Search Group, which are primarily recruitment firms (i.e. headhunting firms), have job postings (here and here), and even The Gospel Coalition, a favorite organization of mine, has an online job board (here). You’ll have to look pretty hard to find it, but when you do, you’ll see it’s stuffed with opportunities.

Denominations: Often church denominations have resources for connecting candidates and churches. They have a vested interest in doing so. And when I say denominations, I have in mind official denominations such as the Presbyterian Church in America or the Southern Baptist Convention (see their respective job postings here and here). Yet, I also have in mind movements such as Harvest Bible Fellowship which now has over 100 churches and also posts jobs openings (see those here). I can’t speak with authority on every denomination or movement, but I can speak to my own, The Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA). In our denomination, the country is broken up into 17 districts, each district with its own staff who, on average, resource just under 100 churches each. When, fresh out of seminary, I was looking for a job, I sent cover letters and resumes to someone in each district, and followed that up with a phone call. For me, this didn’t generate all that many leads, but I think if I had already been serving fulltime in an EFCA church, especially if had I already been ordained (and not fresh out of seminary), it would have opened up more doors.

Church Planting Networks: If you are interested in church planting, then you probably already know about organizations such as Acts 29, Converge Worldwide (formerly the Baptist General Conference), and Sovereign Grace. However, if not, you can read more about planting within in these organizations here, here, and here. And there are others. You’ll find them if you look.

Bible Colleges and Seminaries: Some of the best places to find jobs are through Bible colleges and seminaries. The upside to these is twofold. First, by virtue of each institution’s theological DNA, to some extent the theology of the churches posting has already been vetted. This is helpful to both you and the churches. Second, a church will often have one or more of the current staff who are positively biased to hiring candidates from their alma mater. There’s nothing wrong with this. For both candidate and church, the hiring process is a risk, and anything one can do to mitigate that risk, including connecting people who shared theology professors, is a good thing. The downside of finding jobs through Bible Colleges and Seminaries, however, is that often access is only granted to current students and alumni. Under certain circumstances, perhaps the gatekeeper would give you access, if, say for example, you graduated from another likeminded seminary and are currently looking to relocate to the city that the particular seminary is in. It’s hard to say, but you won’t know until you ask. To find this person, just call the seminary and ask to speak with the person overseeing placement.  

Other Ministry Organizations: I won’t list any specifics here, but likely every major mission agency, camp, and parachurch organization has their own job postings. I know that’s true for places like Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), and Gospel for Asia (see those here, here, and here).

Direct Marketing: And finally there is direct marketing. This is the most targeted approach, which means you are reaching out to a specific organization or church within a certain region. Yet, don’t get your hopes up since this is unlikely to be successful. If you have constraints, however, on the region, or even city, where you need to live then it might be worth a try.

[Photo by Jakob Nilsson-Ehle / CC BY]