Smoke the Curve
Recently, I’ve been posting some tips to help pastors find the right job in a local church. I’m currently working to compile all of the posts (and more) into a book. Here is the proposed introduction to Chapter 2. It’s a story from my track and field days.
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Chapter 2: Smoke the Curve
In track and field, the 200m race is a sprint. It’s only half a lap. It takes the best men in the world just under twenty seconds and the rest of us somewhere in the twenties. You start the race on the curve and finish on the straightaway.
When I was in high school, my sprint coach was Coach Grosso. He was a short, intense Italian man. He could bench press all of the weights in the gym, and he perennially wore a tank top, even in winter (at least inside). I remember many of the things that Coach Grosso taught us but especially how to run a 200m race.
And what was his secret?
Coach Grosso would pull us in close and in a raspy, passionate voice he would say, “Boys, if you want to run a fast 200m, ya’ gotta smoke the curve.”
Smoke the curve is track-speak for “start fast.” What he meant is that you need to get out of the blocks clean; don’t hold anything back because if you hold back at the start, it won’t matter how fast you can finish.
I don’t know if this remains the best coaching advice for running the 200m or not. I wasn’t ever very good at the 200m, but that’s because I was slow not because I was poorly coached. Regardless, this is what you’ll need to do if you want to find a job in Christian ministry: ya’ gotta smoke the curve. When the gun goes off, you need to be ready to run because if you don’t start strong, you won’t get a chance to end strong; the process will be over.
When I was looking for my first pastoral job, I thought I knew how important the initial contact would be. However, I wasn’t ready for what I experienced.
After I sent my cover letter and resume to one church, I called to see how the process was going and to let them know I was interested. The kind woman who answered the phone said, “It’s so nice of you to call. The search is going great.” When I asked how many people had applied, she said, “I think it’s up to 300.”
A few weeks later, I applied to another church, and in that search, I later found out I was one of 600 candidates from eleven different countries! See what I mean? If you don’t start strong in this process, you might be a great candidate, but they are moving on—without you.
Now I’m several years removed from these experiences. Now I can say (both as a candidate and someone who has been on search committees) that the size of those searches is on the high end of the spectrum. But they are not unheard of, especially for the large church that posts a well-crafted job description on a major website. In Chapter 2, I’ll show you how to get ready to run this race and maybe even how to take a few quick steps around the curve.
Always include a short, custom cover letter.
To start off, we need to talk about cover letters, resumes, references, family bios, and recommendation letters . . .