When to Play the Field and When to Date Exclusively

Recently, I’ve been posting some tips to help pastors find the right job in a local church. This post is a continuation of the series. In it, I encourage pastors looking for a job to think about when it is appropriate “to play the job field” and when they need to “date a job exclusively.”

*     *     *

Know when to play the field and when to date exclusively.

I don’t really like the dating analogy, but to a point, it fits.

There is a time when it’s acceptable, even expected, to be in simultaneous conversations with multiple churches. If you are a graduating seminary student, people expect this. But even then, you’ll need to know when to cut those many conversations off so that you can focus on just one church at a time.

There’s not an exact formula to figure this out, but there are some boundaries which I believe most would agree upon. If you are sending cover letters and resumes to churches, especially those doing open searches, then it’s probably fine for you to be in conversation with several churches at once. It’s like having casual conversations in the cafeteria, anyway, not like holding hands in a fancy steak restaurant over a candlelight dinner.

But on the other end of the spectrum, you certainly don’t want to be in the place where one weekend you have the final candidating interviews at one church, and then, on the next weekend plan to do the same thing at another church. This type of promiscuity helps no one, and more importantly, it doesn’t please God.

The further into the hiring process you are, the more hearts (both yours and those searching for a shepherd) will become invested, especially as the prospective church introduces you to more people. And if you continue to play the field, at some point it becomes like cheating.

Our role as candidates, throughout the hiring process, is both to trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God, and at the same time, to practice the golden rule—doing unto churches what you would want churches to do unto you. Think about it like this: I know you don’t want to be on a candidating weekend at a church, only to find out later that on subsequent weekends, three other candidates are doing the same thing at the same church. Churches and candidates shouldn’t choose each other the way the groom on the television show The Bachelor chooses his bride.

Finding a job in Christian ministry is a spiritual endeavor, an endeavor that requires godliness and trust. It’s not the “Miss Universe” competition. If you are unsure about where to draw the line, between talking with many churches and talking with just one church, ask trusted friends. You shouldn’t have to figure this out alone, for as Proverbs teaches, “In an abundance of counselors there is safety” (11:14; cf. 15:22).

When in doubt, err on the side of too much disclosure with a church, not too little. Rarely will this hurt your chances of future employment anyway.

And, if it does, so what? You did the right thing. That’s the important part, because God will be pleased.