A better process for hiring a youth pastor (1 of 2)

Hiring a youth pastorThe comments on my post two weeks ago, “10 ways to improve your youth pastor search committee,” raised a lot of discussion about how difficult and even impractical some of my suggestions were. I beg to differ. If you take a typical search committee approach, then yes, some of my recommendations may be a bit impractical to pull off. But if you change the process to something else, especially something more organic, then no, it’s not impractical at all. In fact, I would argue that it’s much more healthy process for hiring the right person in the long run.

Typical Youth Pastor Hiring Process

Admittedly, my outline of the typical process is a bit more gnarly than how it often plays out, but yet there is still an unfortunate amount of truth here for too many churches and potential youth pastors.

  1. Form a search committee, often made up of only adults who are “representative” of the congregation (i.e. a couple youth group parents, a church board member or two, a youth leader, a long-time church member, etc.).
  2. Collect résumés from a lot of random people.
  3. Skim through 100s of résumés and pick the top 20 candidates.
  4. Send a generic email to each candidate asking them to complete a survery where you ask for more detailed information.
  5. Use the survey information to determine who your top choices are and schedule phone interviews with them.
  6. During the 1 hour interview, ask a lot of your standard questions and leave 5 minutes at the end for the candidate to ask questions.
  7. Bring in your top candidate or two for a weekend of face-to-face interviews and to check out the church and its community.
  8. Bring back your top candidate for another weekend to meet the church, answer questions from parents and teens, and observe how they interact with the congregation.
  9. The search committee makes a recommendation to the church board who presents the candidate to the congregation for a vote. If the vote passes and the candidate accepts the position, everyone is excited and filled with anticipation about all potential the future holds.


  • The process has potential to move along fairly quickly. If a church is in a hurry to hire a new youth pastor, this process is your best bet. (Side note: churches who feel a sense of urgency should raise a lot of red flags for candidates because it means something is unhealthy in the church if they can’t or don’t want to go too long without someone in that position, but that’s another post for another time.)
  • It can expose the church to a lot of different people who will develop outside perspectives on the church and its ministry. If the church is open to it, it can almost be free consulting for the ministry!
  • The Q&A approach can be helpful for finding out a lot of facts and information about a person.


  • The whole process feels a bit like using an extremely dumbed down version of eHarmony to find a compatible match.
  • As for #1, the problem with having such a spattering of people on the search committee is that the search and hiring process has been handed off to well-intentioned people who usually do not hold any authority to make decisions about the youth pastor’s responsibilities after he/she is hired. Expectations, values and especially freedoms that were communicated during the search process are not always the ones that those with authority in the church hold for the position. For example, a youth pastor came to the church because one of the moms on the search committee told him she thought it would be great for him to have her son and other youth group guys over to play shooter video games. He appreciated the freedom and flexibly that represented, but when he’s reprimanded by church leadership for it later, he feels confused and the church wonders why they hired such a guy.
  • The process doesn’t focus on things that are probably more important than learning facts about each other, like determining chemistry, values, observing each other in conflict, how personalities will mesh, etc. Those are more after-thoughts than key essentials that are investigated intentionally.
  • There’s a lot of pressure to find the “right person” and the sense of anxiety can be heighten by the risk that comes from a lack of a real, on-going relationship with the candidate. The typical hiring approach not a great process for building mutual trust, something that needs to be earned over longer period of time.
  • Total time talking and spent together in person is limited. Often it’s several hours of interviews and discussion combined with a weekend or two of in-person visits.
  • The majority of people on the hiring team have often never been trained nor served in the full-time capacity they’re hiring for. That can sometimes lead to well-intentioned ignorance about expectations for the position and the person they’re hiring for it.

The process as a whole isn’t necessarily bad. It can work great for businesses and corporations, but often not for churches because the dynamic of who you’re hiring and what you’re hiring that person for is vastly different than a normal day job.

Tomorrow I’ll write about an alternative process for hiring church staff that undoubtedly requires more time and initiative, but yields a better hire in the long run. Both the candidate and the church are proven to be a good match and together they start on the right foot for years of effective and fruitful ministry.

Much of my thinking in this area is influenced by Mark Riddle’s book, Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors: A Church Leader’s Guide to Staffing and Leading Youth Pastors. Whether you’re in a search process right now or not, I highly recommend you check it out.

QUESTION: What pros and cons do you see in the typical church hiring process?

Posted on April 20, 2011

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