Perhaps this is the point where we freely admit that some churches and candidates do operate this way while others tend to have a healthier approach. If you are one of the churches that are doing things right you will know it by fact that the people you interact with feel blessed to have gotten to know you (regardless of whether or not the job works out). On the other hand, if your dismissal communication is nothing more than a letter to the people whom you have built a more personal relationship with, you may want to remember that the church is to operate like a church – not a business.
To the prospective candidates, though, you don’t get off the hook quite so easily. Many churches have become impersonal because we invited it by our behavior. As hard as it might be to hear, their rejection of you isn’t intended to sound like a panel of judges from some overrated reality show. Rather, treat every interview as a chance to get to know the “Church” better while getting to know the “church” along the way.
Whether you are looking for a candidate or looking for a church, consider the insights below as a few thoughts you may want to process:
Time moves differently for people than it does for churches. When you’re unemployed and waiting for someone to call you back on a job, the phone can never ring quickly enough. In the same way, if you’re a church and have been trying to fill a position for quite some time you may not know that your congregation’s sense of instability may cause many to leave before you complete a lengthy search process.
- A piece of advice for search teams: If you have the choice between calling a candidate “now” versus “later,” keep in mind that someone may be counting the moments until you call. If something comes up that keeps you away from the candidate (i.e. having to bring in a certain number of applicants for a visit), remember to stay in social contact. Even asking for weekly prayer requests lets the person know you are interested in him/her beyond the job.
- A piece of advice for candidates: Don’t read into silence as anything other than busyness on the other end. While it is easy to give up hope if you don’t get the call you’ve been looking for, look for a way to bloom where you are planted. Even if you’re unemployed you still have opportunities for ministry all around you. Keep an eye out for them and stay networked to friends whom you can share prayer requests with.
Keep all communication balanced. No one likes to be broken up with through an answering machine, roommate, or spouse. Once I had someone end an interview process by sharing the news with my wife. He later recanted this choice and even offered me the job. I would challenge you to take courage, face the awkward moment with the individual, and end in prayer. This may just be good old-fashioned etiquette, but if you’ve had a phone interview with someone don’t end the relationship with a letter. While this may be fashionable among adolescents it is in poor taste in an interview process.
- A piece of advice for search teams: While you may have several phone conversations with candidates, break them up among your search team. In this way if it doesn’t work out it isn’t up to one person to do all of the calling.
- A piece of advice for candidates: Make the most of every opportunity to communicate the different facets of who you are. A church is interested in your skills, but most will want to know about your family, hobbies, and dreams, too. Make the most of every medium to show who you are spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and physically (so wear your favorite shirt).
Look for the diamond in the rough. Whether it’s the paradigm of hiring a female in a male-dominated profession or getting past the stereotypes you experience when reading denomination history, give everyone the kind of grace you would hope for in an interview.
- A piece of advice for search teams: We all have bumps and learning curves in our past that either have crippled us or strengthened our muscles. You won’t know which of these it is until you take the time to find out with an open mind. Instead of asking “Are we comfortable with his/her track record?” consider the question “Do we see integrity in how he/she has handled success and failure?”
- A piece of advice for candidates: Look for the right DNA match but don’t expect it to come in the packaging you expect. I had a mentor challenge me when I asked him to keep an ear out for any “progressive churches” looking to hire. He gently yet firmly asked, “Are you above serving sacrificially in a small church?” Ouch.
Walk with intentional integrity. Whether it’s the paradigm of hiring a female in a male-dominated profession or getting past the stereotypes you experience when reading denomination history, give everyone the kind of grace you would hope for in an interview. This includes being up front with any controversial issues and speaking of your past relationships in the most positive way possible.
- A piece of advice for search teams: If you already have a candidate in mind, don’t take a group of other men and women through an unnecessary process. While you may want to show your congregation that you jumped through all the right hoops you may have inadvertently misled the emotions of several others.
- A piece of advice for candidates: I will freely confess that one of the reasons my resume has a few different churches on it is because I have been an immature imbecile on more than one occasion in my life. I’d argue, though, that being able to track these moments has helped me to grow through them. There’s nothing like calling a former boss on the phone or having lunch with a congregation member so that you can ask for forgiveness and perspective. Take a good inventory of your life and see if there are any hard conversations you need to have. Who knows – perhaps the reason someone is calling your references is so that you have to ensure you have done all your relational “business.”
Remember that the church should operate differently than a business. Ultimately we look to the Holy Spirit (not corporate America) for our cues, even if it means doing things that seem unnecessary. I’ve really been touched when those whom I’ve built a friendship with in an interview process continue to contact me after the journey together has ended. After all, isn’t the Kingdom of God more about building people and less about filling jobs?
- A piece of advice for search teams: Many ministers have spouses and families that are connected to every conversation you have. Take advantage of the chance to get to know them during phone calls and visits. While they may not want to be interviewed (nor should you attempt to do so), they will most likely appreciate simply being asked, “How can we be praying for you?”
- A piece of advice for candidates: Don’t settle for a job in a church when you can instead pursue a God-sized ministry. Likewise, it is in poor taste to string anyone along while you wait for a better option. If you aren’t called to a church don’t pretend you are. Instead, be up front and suggest another candidate. It may create an awkward moment in an interview when you hit the brakes, but in the long run they will appreciate your honesty.
Of course the list can go on, but the bottom line is that we need to be real from the start. There is no value in presenting yourself for more than you are if you desire an opportunity where you can be the person/church God has called you to be. We can all read up on what are the “right things” to say or ask in an interview, but what you really want to know, though, is how failure in handled in life, family, and ministry. If you end up looking for the person or church that will spice up your resume or give you a form of professional security you just might find yourself more frustrated six months down the road.
On that note, it’s not a bad idea to be sure anything critical ends up in writing. Churches need to know the intent of a pastor’s heart, whereas individuals need to know what is expected out of a typical week of work. You’d be surprised how much anger can be avoided if everyone has defined and agreed upon what “success” for this position will look like on a daily, weekly, seasonal, and yearly basis.
If you’re out there right now, don’t lose hope – God has a plan for you. Instead of waiting for tomorrow and how this will all get resolved consider pondering “who am I becoming” or “how is this season affecting our church?” Deep down in your heart you know you that the temptation to fill a role with/as another “yes man” who simply nods at the latest idea will starve the life out of the church.
Ministry is more than lip service or clever articulations that make people think they hired the right guy or gal for the job. Rather, an authentic minister of the Gospel is one who is wrestling with the Text and submitting to the Spirit of the God who doesn’t always work in nice, tidy ways. Perhaps this creates a longer resume, but at the end of the day you will be able to look in the mirror and know you have given all of who you are for all of who He is.
Bottom line? If you want a paycheck or want to hire someone with secular skills, go canvass your local mall. However, if the words below make any sense to you, though, keep praying for the future and ministering in the present.
But if I say, "I will not mention him or speak any more in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. (Jeremiah 20:9)