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

Hiring a youth pastorYesterday I wrote about some of the pros and cons of a typical youth pastor search committee and ultimately concluded that the typical approach to hiring pastoral church staff probably doesn’t lead us to always hiring a natural and proper fit. There’s a lot the process doesn’t tell us, too many things are often left undiscovered, and in its worst case scenario can even setup both the church and the youth pastor for a lot of disillusionment and ultimately, conflict.

An Organic Youth Pastor Hiring Process

So here’s a different approach to church staffing, much of it influenced by Mark Riddle’s book, Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors: A Church Leader’s Guide to Staffing and Leading Youth Pastors. And in the video below, I had the opportunity to discuss this hiring process with him and hear his feedback about it.

A more natural and organic hiring process could look something like this:

1. First ensure that the church’s youth ministry is healthy before hiring someone to come into an unhealthy context. Of course, that begs a definition of what a healthy ministry is and what it looks like, but very simply in this hiring context it looks like a youth ministry that can function and thrive on its own without a paid staff member. In fact, after a year or two of the church body taking 100% ownership of its youth ministry, students and leaders alike should be asking the question, “Why do we even need to hire a youth pastor anymore?” That’s when it’s time to consider hiring a youth pastor because then the youth pastor is not hired as someone to outsource the ministry to and take over, but instead he/she is hired as someone to come equip the church and help the body take its ministry to teenagers to the next level. (Mark’s book talks more about this, so again, check it out. Also consider bringing him in as a consultant during this transitional period! [My shameless plug for Mark!])

2. During this time (and even before), get to know some other youth workers both locally and outside your community, not necessarily with the intention of possibly hiring the person, but to genuinely get to know them, to learn from them about youth ministry, and to build a relationship outside the pressures of a hiring process (where everyone is usually on their best behavior, similar to a new couple on their first dates). After investing into those relationships, you’ll know more about yourself, your ministry, their ministry and may even be able to hire someone through those relationships because they’ve been involved with stories surrounding your strengths and weaknesses as you have with theirs. You’ve had time to experience chemistry with people, natural connection, humor, and have observed things rather than just asked them questions about things through a standard interviewing process.

3. Form a team of people to talk about the relationships you’ve built over the past year or two with youth workers and even with people who aren’t vocational youth workers, but you feel have the heart and personality to change careers and come on staff to lead and train the church body to continue to do youth ministry better. Then prayerfully bring up the “hiring” word with the main person the team agrees upon. From there, you take your time until the Lord leads the right person to the ministry. And because the ministry is already healthy and running smoothly without a paid staff member, there is no sense of urgency to fill the position before the right personal comes along through your relationships.

Mark Riddle’s thoughts on this process

This is somewhat similar to what Mark Riddle outlines in his book, Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors: A Church Leader’s Guide to Staffing and Leading Youth Pastors, so I did a video interview with him to run some of this past him along with some objections and weaknesses it might have. Below is our discussion.

Similar to yesterday’s post about a typical hiring process, here are some pros and cons to a more organic, relational style of church staffing


  • When you hire someone, you bring them into a healthy context where there’s minimal junk to sabotage their efforts.
  • The church body not only has a clear and unified focus about their philosophy of youth ministry, expectations and values before they bring someone on board, but they’ve been living it and owning it, too.
  • They’re joining you in ministry rather than you bringing someone in to do the ministry and you helping them do it.
  • The youth pastor is free to serve primarily in whatever capacity God has gifted them. The focus becomes more about finding the right person than it is on finding someone to fulfill a vacancy because all the roles are already running smoothly.
  • Since there’s no hurry to find a youth pastor, you can take your time and make sure your next hire is the absolutely the right person.
  • It forces a church to face it’s (often unidentified) junk and to work through it before putting a youth pastor in the middle of it.
  • Because it’s a relational approach to hiring, churches who want to hire a relational guy or girl for your youth ministry will experience someone’s “relationability” first-hand, and the relational youth workers will definitely be attracted to your church.
  • There’s less anxiety in the hiring process because you’ve already been good friends for a year or two with the person you’re hiring. You feel more confident about what you’re getting and the role that person plays in your ministry.


  • It can be a long process. A typical resume/interview approach can go fairly quick, but this process takes considerably more time, prayer, growing pains and investment.
  • Families who associate the presence of a youth pastor with how much a church values its teenagers may feel unvalued and possibly leave the church.
  • Youth leaders and church members may not want to make the tremendous investment into the ministry and take the ownership that is required to serve families at a high caliber when they feel it’s easier to just hire someone else to run it instead.
  • Churches may begin to build relationships with other youth workers only with hiring in mind and later drop the relationship once they determine the person isn’t a good fit or when they hire someone else.

QUESTION: What are your reactions and thoughts to this process of church staffing?

Posted on April 21, 2011

  • erinhaligowski

    Tim – I've really appreciated your thoughts in these posts on the hiring process. Having JUST been through the hiring process (I just accepted a new position a week ago!), I feel like I resonated a lot with what you had to say, both in Part I and Part II.

    In the past two months, I have gone through the "traditional" interview process with four different churches in four different states, and even though they all had similarities (and were very much like you described in Part I), I really feel like the church I am landing in is a place where God has called me to serve, and despite the "traditionality" of the interview process, I have gotten to know the congregation really well (even all of the junk that I will be dealing with coming in).

    I think one of the clinchers for making the difference with the church I am landing in was that instead of putting me up in a hotel for overnight visits, they hosted me with families from the church–this gave me an opportunity to REALLY get a feel for some of the people in the congregation. Sure, I didn't have the "down time" that I had with the churches that put me up in hotel rooms, but being in people's homes can really make a difference in what you learn about a congregation.

    The thing that I appreciated most about the congregation that I'm going into was their transparency throughout the process. They recently lost their youth pastor in a split of the congregation over denominational issues, so the youth ministry was deeply wounded and affected by that split (perhaps more than if the youth pastor hadn't left with the split)–the fact that the committee and the various congregation members that I have had conversations with were SO transparent with me throughout the process gave me the freedom to be transparent about some of my own concerns.

    Even in the traditional interview process, I think it's pretty easy to tell the difference between a committee of people that is being transparent with you and one that isn't aware of their own issues.

    I guess I'm just rambling at this point. In the end, THANKS. Your thoughts in these posts are really valuable–and very true. I appreciate that.

  • The church where I served had a kind of "intentional interim" for a little more than a year before they hired me. It worked well. I think it has some of the advantages of both systems. First, it showed the parents and youth that youth ministry was a priority. But it also showed they were not going to quickly hire the first guy who gave them a good resume. Instead they could take their time and find the right fit. Second, the volunteers had an increased role but they didn't have to do all of the administrative type work. Most of the volunteers loved being with kids so that was their job sans youth pastor. The interim was more of a resource for the volunteers and a point person for events and activities. He didn't do everything, but always knew who to direct people to. Three, it also gave people time to "forget" the last guy. The connection to the former youth pastor wasn't so strong and the ministry was healthier for it. When I came in people were not panicked b/c the youth ministry had been neglected, but were happy to have me.

    • I've seen interims work well, too. I think an interim or a consultant could be great at helping the church take ownership, work out the junk, and create a healthy youth ministry before bringing a new person into the situation.

      • Most churches are too worried about rushing someone in there instead of finding the right person.

  • J white

    I like both post, but I think your cons are strong. They Canberra overcome, but not sure most churches are willing. I know of one guy that even went camping with some of the church leadership as part of the interview process. So the process is possible.

    The question I have is, will this process work for student pastors who are out of work? It does lead to someone going somewhere for support of their family where they can still exercise their passion, rather than wait on the better one. It's hard to choose between better & best & wait on best.

    I do agree with the con about value & had that happen to a church that did away with their youth ministry after a church merger. I did like the pros of being more relational & the YP coming into a healthily ministry. I pray that God shows both of your post to churches that need it &they can combine them &find a good mixture.

    Good job!

    • Will it work for pastors who are out of work? I think so because you're building relationships with people in other churches even while you still have a job. Relationships aren't built for the sake of finding a job (those churches are easy to spot after they've hired someone else and you don't hear from them again), but for the sake of mutual edification, learning, and fun. If you wait until you're unemployed to start making those connections, I think you've missed the spirit of this process.

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  • My only comment is in regards to your first step of action, where the church decides they want to get a healthy youth ministry before they bring anyone in. I see a lot of pro's and con's in that, as well, but feel like there would need to be a balance. Part of me feels like if a church can do youth ministry without a youth pastor, why should they bring someone in then after a few years of health? Or what happens if they bring in a Youth Pastor who has a different vision for where the youth ministry is going to go from that point on, and those who had been working with the youth or even the youth themselves aren't willing to see the change?

    • Yeah, as I mentioned in the post, when the YM is healthy without a YP, that's when you hire someone to come in and help the church take its ministry to teenagers to the next level by providing training, support, advice, and to ensure that all the leaders are thriving in their ministry.

      As for the vision piece, that's the strength in this — you don't hire a youth pastor until you've built a relationship with someone whose heart and vision vibes with what the church is already doing. For a church that really goes through this process, it would be very difficult for them to invest so much for so long to hire someone who doesn't fit.

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