10 tips for youth pastor search committees

youth pastor search committeeI’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

  • Gabe

    Thanks so much for this!! I am just starting searching for churches and these thoughts are very helpful.

  • Great questions & responses! Some advise I'd give search committees is that they should communicate well and often. Just because you're taking a week to read through resumes doesn't mean we're not waiting to see. When I'm serious about a church I visit without letting anyone know to see how people act when they aren't faking to make the potential YP happy. If I can go to your worship and leave without feeling welcome then don't look for me to come back.

    Also, tell the potential YP the truth. It's really frustrating to a YP when not only does the story from the pastor about his church not match how the church is, but the website is way off as well. Just be honest! We know your not perfect because would use you if he thought you were.

    • But that's the thing — I'm not sure most churches either know the truth, see the truth, or are willing to admit the truth. No church will ever intentionally lie or deceive. Their hearts are always in the right place. It's just that they've been in the church for so long, sometimes they don't know what something looks like from the outside anymore. And furthermore, the "truth" becomes relative because what's true to the search committee isn't always what's true for the church board, which isn't always what's true for the former youth pastor's experience. It can become difficult to discern because truth looks like a number of different ways from different perspectives and values.

  • Tony Myles

    Now… the trick is to get search teams to read this. :)

  • Gerrard Fess

    Tim, This discussion is my passion and pet peeve – here is what I've written:
    Interview Questions for youthworker to ask and my own take on hiring process:

    Also in looking at the stats of my blog – those are the number one posts that bring people to it.

    Thanks for this. Keep being that voice for God, for youth, and fellow youthworkers.

  • Thanks Tim for posting this. As of 2 days ago, I've given up on the "traditional search method". I've been utterly disgusted at how churches go about their search process and has completely burnt me out on the whole search process. I've come to the conclusion that if God has a church in mind for me, He'll get me there one way or the other.

    • Yeah, there are definitely frustrating aspects of it and a lot of it seems so unlike the process we'd normally use to get to know someone, but ya gotta remember that it's often business people on the committee who hire for the youth ministry the same way they hire a receptionist. They're not bad people or anything — they're sincerely doing what they know and feel is best for the church. Sometimes they just don't know anything else.

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  • Be able to articulate what you're really looking for in a youth pastor. Too often, churches know they want a youth minister, but don't really have a very clear picture of what they want the youth minister to do. Sustainable Youth Ministry from Mark Devries is another great resource for teams to work through together very early in the process of hiring.

    • Yeah, or even what expectations they hold for a youth pastor. Everyone has expectations, but due to different people being different from each other in unique ways, their expectations are all different, as well. That's why I ask the same questions to many different people because when you start getting different answers from everyone, it's something you need to talk about.

      • Mike

        Clearly communicated expectations can eliminate a lot of headaches before they start. We can't assume a bullet list job description is sufficient either. Both the church and the searching youth pastor need to ask A LOT of questions.

  • Love it. The best piece of advice I got from a seminary professor while I was still in school was this: The church you're interviewing with will be doing a lot of background research on you. It's okay for you to do some background research on them.

    Take this advice seriously. Find people you trust that know a bit about the church you're interviewing with. It can be hard if you're interviewing several states away, but it's still possible if you do your homework.

    Great stuff!

  • Gerrard Fess

    That goes both ways too though Joseph. We were seriously looking at a guy and only to find out via facebook he already accepted another church without letting us know as well.

  • Last year when I was looking, my biggest two frustrations were:
    1. Churches that didn't offer to pay for travel expenses i.e. gas and hotel
    2. Follow-up…There were several churches that I had great interviews at and had to call or email me to find out that I was still in the mix for the job. This happened numerous times……
    2b. I had several churches that ended up not being interested in me and they never followed up to tell me that I did not meet what they were looking for or that they found someone else

    But great list! I would love to talk to you more about this…I am currently writing a book on this and have a couple rough draft chapters…Would love your input and possible collaboration on it…

  • There are a couple of things I would suggest on both sides, as the youth minister getting hired, and as one on the hiring committee, I've been on both.

    1. As a youth minister, I have come to the conclusion that I will never work at church that I would have not chosen as my own personal church family. Sorry to say that so often youth ministry can be looked at like a job, and it is so much more! The question needs to be, would I pick this place to be my church home? That takes more than a weekend visit. As crazy as it seems, I would visit multiple times to get a feel for the place, the people, the sermons, the attitudes, etc. Ideally, that would take a month, but usually that's not possible, especially for an out of state candidate. Technology can certainly help in this area. I would do more interviewing than the church. It isn't just a job. As a youth minister I can't go to "work" each week and then go to a different church to attend and be a part of to worship, be fed and be a part of the body. For church workers, they must go together.

    2. As the hiring committee, I think it is utterly foolish not to go see the youth pastor candidate in their environment, and on multiple levels and occasions. I think it is vital to attend their church, talk to parents, pastors, students, etc. and just watch how they interact and with ALL of the above events taking one of key youth students and/or leaders with me, people who are actually going to be very impacted by this person coming. Not only will you see the person in action and the connection they have, or lack there of, with students, but you will find out first hand the heart of their church and if there are issues with the fit of their church and the person you are interviewing. It will explain to you any complaining that may come from unhappy parents or church staff due to this lack of fit. It will give you a better understanding from the complaining parent or pastor's view and see if it's a character flaw, or allow you to see that since your church drive is very different than where they are currently at, this person would be a great fit for you! (Comments like, "He is just so outreach focused and we are all about creating a safe environment here!" Could tell you, this guy is for us!)

    Those are just a few suggestions from my experience!
    Sara G

  • Markeades

    One big one that I encourage anyone to remember is that you are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you.

  • Michael


    I think you offered some helpful points but I feel like some of the comments so far have been unrealistic (ie. going to visit a church for multiple weekends or for weeks at the time, bringing a search team to your current church to "see you" in your environment, and expecting a weekly update).

    As much as churches and search teams deserve some blame, I think they are faced with an extremely difficult task. For instance, a church I know is looking for a student pastor and received over 450 resumes. That is simply ridiculous! Too many guys are looking to leave and jump to the next thing instead of planting their lives in a church and community in order to make disciples of teenagers.

    • I agree that the task is difficult, but it doesn't have to be. It's the modern approach to hiring and staffing that makes it difficult. If you go the route the Mark Riddle suggests in the book I linked in the post, it's a much more organic approach and eliminates the huge emphasis on resumes and interviews.

      I'd argue that the entire church staffing approach sets up both the church and the candidate for a lot of issues down the road. It might be a good process for staffing a business, but probably not so much for a church. It's just that most people who run churches don't know anything different, so they default to a process that is an extremely difficult task.

      BTW, I don't think visiting for multiple weekends is unrealistic at all. It's more about the price you're willing to pay to get the right person at your church and for you, as the youth worker, to be at the right place. When it means moving my family across the country, I'm not making that decision hastily based on one or two weekend visits.

      • One of the problems that occurs is when youth pastors are at a church and they are looking "to move on". Most YP's because it is a "job", they cannot be gone multiple weekends to check out a church. Then, if they are looking at multiple churches; it gets really difficult for them.Then, if churches are coming to them and interviewing pastors, teens and parents and it is not a good fit. The YP could lose their job and have no job to go to.This opens up a bigger conversation on how he interviews should go. Then it also goes to (as mentioned above) how YP's should (maybe) be rooted to a community. I know that my track record in that area as been terrible (looking for newchallenges, needing to get to a church in part of the country that has a good hospital, not a good fit at the church.I have never not been in ministry. Thus, with each transition, I interviewed while at a church and I finished at church on one sunday and was with the new church next sunday.with all that being said, with what occurred to you and without you having weekly commitments; i fully understand how you are approaching this.It is my hope that I will not have to look again

      • David Teem

        When I was searching for a church, Multiple weekends or at minimum a 5 day stay were mandatory. There is no way I would take a job at a place I had only seen for 2 days. Plus 2 days makes the interview schedule brutal. You might do 6 interviews in 2 days. What time does that leave you to just drive around the community?

  • Ken

    As much as I LOVE this post, and I really do, I just don't see it as realistic. For most people running search committee's, they never got a job like this. And to them, that's what it is…it's a job. Not a relationship. Most of them view our occupation through the lens of their own experience. I think this is true for more working class churches than white-collar churches.

    Using your marriage analagy, I know there are a lot of churches that are less concerned with finding a groom, and more concerned with finding a baby sitter, or a really cute date, with thier daughter.

    • Would you want to work for people who don't understand your job nor want to take the time to hire appropriately for it?

      It's one thing if you don't know any better, it's another if you know there's a better way but dismiss it because it feels like it would take too much time or work, or dismiss it as unrealistic.

  • David Teem

    Its tough to be a search committee. There are a lot of things to get right and they sometimes get to focused on the task and forget the people.

    1. If you are going to ask theological questions in an interview, have some theologically savvy members around to hear the answers. Its important to ask those questions but if you can't understand the candidates answers and have no idea how they fit in your faith statement, its not a good thing.

    2. Tell me about your community…really. Are your kids athletes? Nerds? Drama clubbers? Often youth ministries end up with a predominant culture. What is yours?

    3. Tell me about your sacred cows. Are there events that I cannot cancel or change? This doesn't scare me as I think traditions are great. But I want to know. I may or may not be able to keep your traditions going. If cancelling your annual "battle of the bands" is going to get me in hot water, I want to know going in.

    4. Don't use language like "the next level" unless you mean it. I interviewed with a church that said this 20 or 30 times in the interview process. I called them on it and they had no idea what it looked like. And they shouldn't have. Their last youth pastor was great. The numbers were great, the sunday school and small groups were effective. The kids seemed to be eager for God and participating in spiritual activities. That church didn't need or want "the next level" they wanted someone who could do what the last guy did and put their touch on it. Saying "the next level" puts a lot of pressure on someone to change the approach and at that ministry, changing the approach would have gotten you fired.

    5. If you decide not to hire someone that you have done a few interviews with, let them know why. Its good to affirm them and tell them you believe they are talented but if they have some personality blind spot that turned your committee off, let them know. Maybe they just aren't a fit. Maybe they just aren't good at interviewing and need to work on the impression they are leaving.

    That is a lot but its stuff that would have helped me.

    • Those are good thoughts, David! Thanks for sharing them.

      It is tough being on a search committee when the search process is approached in a traditional way (i.e. collecting resumes, reading through them, determining who to contact, giving them a survey, follow-up with those whose answers you like best, initial interview, etc.). It's very impersonal and doesn't account much for chemistry, personalities, and unstated values, which are often discovered on a sub-conscious level during the interviewing process (i.e. "Oh, he made us laugh while we interviewed him. We'd probably get along great!").

      Maybe I should write a blog post outlining a better hiring process for church staff…

  • David Teem

    I would be interested in seeing that. As it goes, I imagine that the way you support is tough as well. Most of the difficulty in being on a search comittee does not come from the form but from the enormity of the process. The decision you make could be great awful or in between. An awful decision can have a number of bad consequences including causing your church to collapse or split.

    Just the possible consequence makes the job tough. Obviously then, you would want to use the best process possible to get a positive result.

    • Exactly. And a better process would alleviate the pressure and difficulty that comes from the traditional model of hiring church staff. I'll start drafting it and get it published sometime.

  • Art

    I think it is essential that a search committee go, even if it is anonymously, and see he candidates ministry at their present church.

  • This is great! It honestly is a bit of a headache trying to search for a Youth Pastor job. It is hard for me when church's want a Paul mentality in "being all things to all people". I actually wrote about this a couple weeks ago, check it out & let me know if you agree…

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  • Jackson

    Most Excellent Tim! I wish that more churches would follow your model. I’ll pass this along to some of the networks that I work with. God Bless!

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