I’ve been talking with quite a few of these over the past couple months. Some have been delightful. Some not so much. Based on my recent experiences, here’s a couple tips for churches who are searching for a youth pastor.
1. Tell me about your struggles. I already know you’re not perfect. I’m pretty transparent about my weaknesses. I’d appreciate if you are, too. If I don’t hear about some kind of actual blind spot in your church, I’m likely to move on to conversations with a different church.
2. Pursue, or don’t pursue. Don’t assume every unemployed youth pastor wants to work at your church. Approach us humbly and remember we’re real people who are trying to figure out God’s next step in our lives, too. We need information from you so we can discern if we sense it’s going to be a good fit or not. It’s not one-sided.
3. I’m listening carefully to your questions. I know traditionally the church starts off with the interviewing questions, but remember that the questions you ask will tell me a lot about your values. (If you are using someone else’s questions instead of your own, I may misread you, so try to use your own questions.) Sometimes I don’t feel like I need to ask any questions in our remaining 5 minutes because your questions can make it apparent that we’re not a good fit.
4. If you want to hire a relational youth worker, show the candidate that you are a relational church. Relational people are drawn to other relational people. If we feel like we’re being pushed through an impersonal system with 100 other candidates and a lot of “copy and paste” emails, we’re likely to bow out of your process. We’re not into resumé speed dating.
5. Adjust your expectations from “all applicants” to “our applicants.” Instead of using mass communication to impersonally contact 30 potential candidates with your follow-up survey, pick your top 5 and make personal contact with each of them through a phone call. If you’re serious about discerning the potential fit that person might have with your church, I guarantee it’ll be much more worthwhile for both you and the candidate to talk through your questions on the phone.
6. The search process should not be one-sided. Give us plenty of time to ask you questions. In fact, you might get to know more about us by the questions we ask than you would by controlling the conversation to go where you want it to go. It’s kind of the reverse of #3. And when you answer questions, remember #1.
7. A week is longer than a weekend. Base your decision to hire us on more than a weekend (or even two weekends) of visiting at your church and some interview conversations. Both of us can be anyone we want to be for one weekend. You’d never let your daughter pick a husband with this kind of interviewing approach because there’s so much that’s intangible that needs to be accounted for, like chemistry, sense of humor, and if we even genuinely like each other. Don’t lower your standards for the process that determines who you’ll unleash on your teenagers to be a spiritual influence on them for the next several years. If it’s possible, have the candidate and his/her family come visit for a week or two so you can get to know each other, see how personalities mesh, have plenty of opportunities to observe things and have conversations about other things than ministry.
8. Let me talk to people who aren’t there anymore. I’m going to want to have confidential conversations with your previous youth pastors sometime along the process. I may also want to know why key families have left the church. Don’t be offended. Again, see #1. I trust you’ll be calling my former employers, too, right?
9. Have teens on your search committee. I find it odd that most churches prefer to just hand a youth pastor to the teens. Find a couple solid, emotionally mature, kids to be an integral part of the search committee.
10. Think about your timeline through an applicant’s eyes. When you cancel a search team meeting on your end, that extra week or more we have to wait by the phone means something. Let us know you’re still interested if something has created a delay, or if you’re not really interested. Also, please don’t bring me and others in one week after another. Otherwise it feels like you’re comparing us to each other instead of comparing us to what God has asked of your church.
Bonus tip: I listen for the stories you share when you talk about your ministry because they tell me what you value most. Same for the stories I don’t hear.
I highly recommend that any search committee who is looking for a youth pastor or a youth worker who’s looking for a church read Mark Riddle’s book, “Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors: A Church Leader’s Guide to Staffing and Leading Youth Pastors.” It’s an outstanding book on church staffing that everyone should read. And even if you’re already in a church, it can help both churches and youth workers figure out some of the issues they’re having based on the process they took for hiring. Very good stuff!
QUESTION: Based on your experiences with youth pastor search committees, what advice do you have to give?
Posted on April 6, 2011