This is a letter that I wrote to senior Christian Educational Ministries majors and minors at Taylor University but I think it is applicable to almost anyone searching for a Christian ministry position.
Dear Senior Christian Educational Ministries Capstone Folks and some other CE Senior Minors in my classes,
I have been talking with a number of you and told you that I would email you a list of job-search websites. I have listed them at the bottom of this email. I think ChurchStaffing.com, Willow Creek Association's Exchange, and Youth Specialties's Job Bank are the most important. Here is what they are useful for: they give you an idea of the kind of positions that are out there.
Why Ministry Job Search Websites are Mostly Useless:
But I have got to tell you: hardly anyone gets a job by getting a position listed on an internet job site. I can hardly think of anyone that has actually gotten a position that way. (I have married two couples who met on the internet. I think that it is more likely to find a spouse than a job by searching on the internet). Before JR Kerr was hired, the teaching pastor position at North Way was listed for a long time at ChurchStaffing.com . . . but that is not how JR got the job. Someone on staff at North Way had met him and invited him to come down and meet with the senior pastor and just talk and see if there might be a fit . . . and there was.
So I have written more below about a better way to search for a ministry position.
How employers actually look for people to hire:
As Richard Bolles says in What Color is Your Parachute, most employers search for people in the following way. (I'm paraphrasing from memory here. Bolles actually gives the statistics). First, people hiring look at the people who are already part of the organization and see if any of them could fill the position. In the church, they look at volunteers from the church or someone who is working in another position in the church who might be reassigned. Second, they think of other people they know (in other churches, parachurch organizations, friends, relatives, acquaintances, etc.) Third, they ask trusted friends if they know of anyone who would be good. Fourth, they will post the position internally. They will post the position description in the bulletin and maybe on their website. Fifth, they will post the position opening more broadly. They may post it on Youth Specialties, ChurchStaffing.com, Willow Creek Association, a denominational site, Taylor's Career Development office, a local Christian newspaper or email Taylor CE profs. Sixth (and almost never for ministry ads), they may post the position in the newspaper want-ads.
How to find out about good positions:
The point is that if you wait for positions to be posted publicly on the internet or in the newspaper, a lot of the good ones will be already gone! But if you call someone in the church leadership and tell them about what you are interested in and ask them if they can give you any advice, you may be one of the first people who gets considered. People cannot resist being asked for advice. We all feel honored to give advice! The person you ask may have just been to a pastor's prayer meeting and hear that First Baptist down the street is looking for a Youth Pastor. Pray for God to be moving ahead of your phone call or email!
So, I would encourage you to contact churches and especially people that you respect and like. Probably if you like them, you will probably like the ministry positions they know about. If they are megachurch, they will know of other megachurch positions. If they are emerging church, they will know of other emerging positions. If they are a great youth pastor, they will know the other great youth pastors in the area. Just tell them what you are looking for and ask them if they have any advice for you and ask them if there is anyone else they recommend talking to.
Better than talking on the phone with them is meeting with them in person. They will see how charming you are and seeing you in person will inspire them to really think how they can help you! Email them or phone them and say this: "From all I hear about you, I feel like I could really learn a lot from you. Is there any way I could drive to where you work and take you out to lunch or to Starbucks someday and hear about what it is like to do ministry to youth in the inner-city? I think that is what I'm interested in and I would love to just get any advice you can give me. I'm a senior so I'm thinking about what I want to do next. If that's not possible to meet with you, is there a good time I could call you?"
Tell your relatives, friends in the area you are interested in, your home church pastor, pastor at Taylor, cousins, other students . . . everyone and let them know what you are looking for. "I'm interested in doing college ministry in a church, do you know of any positions open like that? Or do you know any really cool people that do college ministry in a church who I could ask for advice?" This will help you get leads and in the process you will learn what you are really interested in and what you're not interested in. For example, Cousin Billy will tell you he has a college ministry position open at his church in Arizona and after some soul-searching you may realize that Arizona is too far away from your jr-at-Taylor-fiance.
I think in the end, if you work hard like this, you will probably get a few options to choose from and you will probably make a better decision rather than just taking the first job that comes along.
The most important thing to look for:
I really think the most important thing is for you to be under an immediate supervisor who you admire and have respect for their ministry skills. If you spend time with them and realize that they don't seem to know what they are doing, are a terrible speaker, are not very relational, etc. but you are still tempted to go there because the position looks cool, I would think twice before going there. You want to think: "This is really someone I could learn from." Not that they are necessarily going to be your special mentor / guru / father figure, but for most people your immediate supervisor makes the difference between ministry being miserable or a joy. If you have a supervisor who believes in you and is wise in ministry, you can get through the learning curves and stresses of ministry.
Know what you are looking for but also keep an open mind:
It is good to try to articulate what you are really interested in - for example, leading worship and working with sr. high students, etc. If you just say, "I'm looking for a job" they won't remember you when a youth pastor / worship leader position comes up. But if you tell them specificallly what you are interested in, they will remember you! But also be a little open-minded and flexible about what you might enjoy doing. My wife Amy thought she wanted to do women's ministry but ended up loving children's ministry because essentially she ended up encouraging, praying for, counseling, nurturing, equipping and empowering volunteers - much like she had hoped to do in women's ministry.
How to find out what you are interested in:
If you are not sure what you want to do, ask permission to shadow someone for a day or most of a day. I give you permission to skip a day of classes to do it (or do it on a Sunday)! Again, the person you shadow will get to know you a bit and will probably be able to think of some other leads for you to check out. After that day, you will probably be able to say: I totally want to do do what that guy does. Or, I think I'd like to shadow someone from children's ministry and see if I like that a bit better.
Don't get stereotyped as a secretary:
I would not encourage you to take an "administrative assistant" position. Some of you are good at administration and like it but that doesn't mean you need "administration" in your title. You will do administration in every position (answer email, return calls, organize events, etc.) but a secretary position means that you need to sit at your desk and answer the phone no matter what. For example, if someone in the youth group comes in to your office crying, you want to be able to spend time with them and care for them. If you are in a secretarial position, that is not your job. They will be ok with it once but will be unhappy if that is a pattern. If you are in a ministry position, you will be expected to care for people! Make sure you take a ministry position because you will learn more and you are trained for that! I had a Taylor CE grad friend who took a youth pastor secretary position and the people always looked at her that way even though she could have done a better job than the youth pastor!
Accepting the job:
When you are "candidating" (visiting a church and talking to the church about working there) and negotiating a contract, feel free to talk to me or Phil Collins or another ministry person you respect from another church, to get advice. I think it is good for you to be paid something - hopefully enough to live on (especially if they are asking you to work full-time). Volunteering at a ministry and working a "regular job" elsewhere is ok but you will get a lot more attention and responsibility if the church is paying you and I think you will learn more this way. But I don't think you need to be paid big bucks in your first position. Learn now, earn later.
Let me know if you have more questions.
May the Lord guide each of you into the right position where you can learn, grow spiritually, be fulfilled, work hard and make a difference.
A couple of sites for looking up sample salaries:
- ELCA Youth Ministry Network Salary Survey - You need to get a free login.
- 2006 Leadership Network Salary and Economic Outlook Report - Again you have to get a free login. This is larger churches so the salaries tend to be higher.
- You can also buy a book which gives you information about this. The 2007 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff It is $29.95 or you can download just the section you are interested in for $9.95.
- Many denominations post salary guidelines. If you find more, list them in the comments.
Some Ministry Job Search Websites
American Baptist Home Mission American Baptist Personnel
Evangelical Covenant Church Seeking Staff
Evangelical Presybyterian Church Opportunity List
Presbyterian Church USA Opportunity List
Willow Creek Association — The Exchange
Willow Creek Community Church Employment Opportunities