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

Recently, I posted several articles designed to help pastors find the right job in a local church (1, 2, and 3). I hope you’re not tired of them yet because there’s still more to be said.  

Over the next month or two, I have 15 more tips that I plan to share in subsequent blog posts (three tips at a time). Here are the first three. Stay tuned for the rest.

*     *     *

1. Pray without ceasing.
Many people know that the shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” But this is only the shortest in English Bibles; this verse is actually three words in Greek, edakrusen o iēsous.

The shortest verse in the Bible, in the original languages, comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Paul instructs us to “pray without ceasing.” That’s three words in English, but in Greek it’s only two, adialeiptōs proseuchesthe.

Now this is mostly just silly Bible trivial, but the point I’m leading up to isn’t; Paul’s point isn’t trivial in the least. As Paul ends this letter to the church in Thessalonica, he does so by reminding the church of the gospel. He writes, “For God has not destined [Christians] for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (5:9).

And after this gospel reminder, he then gives a host of short, but important commands related to how Christians should live in light of the gospel message. One of these commands is to “pray without ceasing.”

As you look for a job, because you are a Christian who has not been “destined for wrath,” but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, you ought to be someone who prays—someone who prays without ceasing to the God who saved you. This doesn’t mean that Christians don’t do other things besides pray. Of course we do. But it does means in and around, before and after, and throughout everything we do, we pray.

In the job search, it will be easy to overlook this kind of persistent prayer, even neglect it. There will be plenty of other things to do: make cover letters and resumes; collect references and recommendations; research websites, both church websites and job boards; build a network of people who will help you along the way; prepare for interviews; and so on. In the midst of all these tasks, there will always be pressure to do “just one more thing.” Consequently, prayer can easily fall by the wayside. Don’t let it.

We are always dependent and desperate people—dependent upon God and his grace, and thus desperate for him to move on our behalf. Sometimes we feel our dependence more acutely than at other times, but it’s always there. Prayer acknowledges this dependence, and it is the God-appointed outlet, or channel, for our desperate need.

And when you feel the most overwhelmed and the job search looks anything but promising, you don’t have to pray alone. Get some friends to join you. Just make sure you do it. And besides, if you don’t depend upon God when finding a job in ministry you’ll likely not depend upon him once you’re in ministry, and that begs the question whether or not you should be in ministry at all.

You see, prayer doesn’t “work” because God is a giant piñata and prayer is the stick that whacks him until he gives us goodies. Prayer works because God is gracious and good, and because he is sovereign.

This leads to my next tip.

2. Trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God.
When looking for a job, it’s imperative that you keep a vibrant trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God.

But perhaps you’re thinking,

The “goodness and sovereignty of God”? Benjamin, I thought you were going to give me lots of juicy tips for finding a job in Christian ministry. Now you’re going all Mr. Systematic Theologian on me. Where’s the practical stuff?

Here’s the deal: there will likely be low moments during the job search and hiring process, very low moments. There were for me. To make it through these moments, you’re going to have to commit yourself now, before the low moments, to the belief that God is good and he is in control.

Consider what you’ll do if a church you really like, maybe even the one that you think could be the perfect fit, says, “No thanks.”

What are you going to do?

And consider what you will do if this same church does something worse; what if they say nothing at all—silence. No returned calls, emails, letters—either because they lost your resume or because they were not considerate enough to close the loop.

Or maybe, at some point, you’ll realize that you have to take “that list”—you know, the list you made of the details about your dream job in your dream city with your dream church—and you’ll find yourself throwing it in the trash. You’ll throw it away because the job search has become so difficult and the rejections so frequent that you no longer care about finding your dream job; you just want a job.

Or maybe this will happen. Maybe you do get a job, even a good job, but when you move to the new city, your old house doesn’t sell—for another 18 months. Now all of your savings are gone and you’re not sure if you should sell your car. Then, to make things more difficult, the role you were promised at the new church doesn’t turn out to be exactly what you expected, or even what they expected.

I’m not making this list up. These things can happen. (They all happened to me!)

Yet God has his purposes for these times as well, even though it may feel like he’s trying to shake you, or even break you. As Tim Keller writes in his book Counterfeit Gods, “Sometimes God seems to be killing us when he’s actually saving us” (p. 20).

I think when we as Christians sing about the faithfulness of God (e.g. the classic hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” or a host of contemporary songs that major on this theme), what we are singing about are primarily two things:  the goodness and sovereignty of God.

God is good in that he never does evil or ultimate harm to his children. This is a wonderful thing, but if he were not also sovereign, his goodness wouldn’t be much help to us because he couldn’t act upon it; in other words, without sovereignty, God’s goodness would just be a platitude. But he is sovereign.

Sovereignty is having absolute control over everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen in the future. God has this type of sovereignty. Scripture tells and shows us this.

We can see it in the overall narrative of the Bible, namely, the overarching story of a sovereign God acting in history—across all nations and generations—through the smallest of details that he governs (such as a fish swallowing a coin) as well as the largest of details (such as the geopolitics at work in the book of Jeremiah).

And we can see God’s sovereignty explicitly affirmed in Scripture in many verses. For example, consider just this one verse from 2 Chronicles: “O Lord, God of our fathers… you rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you” (20:6).

It’s true that for some people, the goodness and sovereignty of God is primarily a thing of controversy. But I hope that before these doctrines are controversial to you, they are beautiful to you. Because it’s only a vibrant, gospel-empowered trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God that will sustain you in the low moments… and it’s also what will fill you with humble gratitude in high moments.

3. Speak to former employees.
Okay, after all this deep stuff on prayer and God’s sovereignty, let me end with something a little lighter.

You won’t always be able to, nor will you always want to, but it won’t hurt to ask the church (or organization) if you can speak to former employees.

And when you do speak to them, you might ask questions like these:

What were your favorite things about working at the church? Least favorite?
If you feel comfortable saying, what were the circumstances for your departure?
Would you work there again? Why or why not?

Also, if you know former employees are still in the area, you might want to know if they plan to still attend the church or not. This is especially helpful to ask of a former senior pastor. You’ll want to know if the guy who planted the church and pastored it for 25 years is still living down the street and showing up on Sundays in the front row. The shadow of this pastor’s leadership will be strong enough as is, and to have him still among the church could potentially be divisive.

And as you speak with a former employee, be as discerning as you can. Remember, he or she is likely a former employee—not a current employee—for a whole matrix of reasons including the good, the bad, and the ugly.

If at any point the person is hesitant to answer specific questions, and you are unsure why, perhaps you could just say something like this: “If you were me, what questions should I be asking the church before I committed to them?” This allows the former employee to offer suggestions of things you can pursue together without the former employee having to spell out all the issues.

Okay, that’s it for this post. Stay tuned for 12 more tips. Oh, and be sure to leave me a comment below if you have a tip that you think should be included.

[Photo by peasap / CC BY]