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Advice on applying for a pastoral position

I received an email from a man in his 40's who is interested in a pastoral position at a church of 85 attendance.  He has done a lot of leadership in Christian organizations but hasn't been a pastor.  Here is my quick response to him this morning.  I did not post his letter to me but in my response I work through the main questions he asked me: (1) approaching the process, (2) salary, and (3) church growth.  He wanted me to post my response in case it might help others.

Dear __________,

First of all, I would not share with the congregational search committee about the setbacks or problems in the churches and parachurch organizations you served unless you are talking about how you positively addressed the situation.  Emphasize ways you contributed that turned out well.  "I noticed this . . . this problem came up . . . and this how I addressed it."  That shows them how you would address problems.  If you talk about "the whole story" about the decline of the organizations you were involved in, that will be discouraging for all and is unnecessary.  I just don't think the details of all those situations matter to the congregation and I think they unnecessarily muddy the waters as this church is different from those past organizations.  I have attached two resumes (one of me and one of my wife) we did a while back.  It demonstrates a bit of how we highlight things we accomplished.  You also want to do this in interviews.  You want to focus on positive accomplishments.  When they ask you a question, say, "Well here is how I addressed something like that in the past . . . " 

Most churches are looking for a good preacher and someone with integrity.  Perhaps you have a tape of a good sermon you've preached or you can do a great one when they ask you to come interview ("candidate"). 

Hopefully you also have a lot of people in your past who can speak to your integrity, honesty, hard work, and compassion--usually three good references--ideally people who were colleagues or in official positions in the church or parachurch organizations you were involved in but you can have someone who was a volunteer leader. 

They want to know that you are a good listener and care about people (like elderly people) and can speak to them with interest, laugh, ask questions and empathize.       

My How to Search for a Christian Ministry Job which I wrote for graduating Christian ministry majors in 2006 might also be helpful as far as the job search.  

I think the Presbyterians are right in talking about the pastor hearing a call to the church (feeling like it is a good fit) and the congregation hearing a call to the pastor (this is the right person God has for us now).  The process should be thought of as "discerning the call"--not "hiring" and "finding a job."  This is your prayer, "God, help this to be a good match for both the congregation and our family." 

Second, on salary, sometimes pastors salaries are thought to be similar to teacher's salaries in the area.  Perhaps that is a place to start.  There are a few surveys out there like the LifeWay Compensation Study: 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Compensation Study.  I don't think you shared what state you are in but I did a calculation for Senior Pastors in Missiouri (a good swing state!) attendance 75-99.  Average compensation: $33,856.  Average pay package: $41,232. 

Do not mention salary until the very end when they have offered you the job and present to you what their offer is.  Of course, don't say "yes" until you have heard what the package is.  My hope is that with home prices as high as you mention, they will pay you ok.  Churches will want to make sure that they are paying you a fair salary.  My bet is that it will be in the ballpark of these averages mentioned above.  You should be thrilled if they are 10K higher.  If they are lower, you are welcome to say, given my three kids and the cost of living in this area, and what is typically paid to pastors of other low-paying denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention in this state, I was thinking $__________.  If they like you, they won't let you go over a difference of 5-8K; they will cough up the money.  But if you mention it early, they will think you are all about money and no one likes that. 

Third and last, as far as vision-casting and church growth, I would be slow about that as I mention in the my post you read: 8 pieces of advice for a new pastor.  Your main jobs will be adequately preaching and leading worship and getting to know everyone's name and the stories of the congregation in the past.  Eventually you will be able to identify the key leaders in the congregation (perhaps 15) and have casual and then gradually more focused conversations about focus and direction.  In general though you should not expect much major change for 5 years!  If you are doing great preaching, you will be able to stay around 75-85 attendance and at least pay to heat the building, a 15 hours per week church secretary, 10 hours of janitorial service, and your salary.  I like David Hansen's book The Art of Pastoring for encouragement about small congregations and getting by.       

May the Lord strengthen and guide you as you seek to serve the church. 

Grace and peace,


Andy Rowell
Th.D. Student
Duke Divinity School
Durham, North Carolina
Blog: www.andyrowell.net