Looking for a Job?

Tony Toth
October 3rd, 2009

You've been looking for a job for six months now. You get a hold of a job profile from a church wanting to fill a youth minister position. The profile is five pages of details—enough to interest you in an interview, which you get.

At the interview you sense something of the church's working atmosphere, begin to pick up on the pastoral staff's assumptions—some of these feelings make you feel like pursuing the job, others give you cold feet. When the interviewer is finished asking you questions, what can you ask that will bring to the surface what you've merely been sensing up to now?

The questions that go unasked at church staff interviews are often the ones that spell a short tenure at a church. Furthermore, your probing questions will probably stimulate the church leaders' thinking.

The list is not exhaustive. Add information you gather from interactions with committee members and pastoral staff, or modify the questions to suit your own situation. Don't attempt to cover the topics and questions below at one sitting—there would be no time for the committee to ask you any reciprocal questions.

Although some of the questions may appear to be of little value, they open up issues that will come up—if not before then after a candidate has been appointed. It's better to know ahead of time, for instance, if your spouse will be pressured to be your assistant for no pay because that's how the last couple operated, or if you'll be given an operating budget that's up to your programming proposals, or if it's more helpful to first persuade the lay leaders regarding your plans than it is to influence the appointed board.

When you're making a decision about future employment, don't let potential employers ask the only questions. You need to ask some questions of your own.

1. What kind of person is the church looking for? Toward which extremes in the lists below does the church want their candidate to lean?

independent dependent
active passive
leader follower
visible invisible
open closed
friend employee/worker
creator gofer
educator/teacher    trainer/manager
enabler indoctrinator
practitioner theoretician
teacher preacher
counselor prescriber
empathetic detached
flexible strict
iconoclastic traditional
on a journey arrived

2. Is the church looking for a married person? If so, how involved is the spouse expected to be in the ministry? (If you are married, will your spouse fit into the church's expectations?)

3. Describe the position that is open.

  • What is the history of the position—how long has the position been in existence?
  • What was the former person like?
  • Why did he or she leave, and how long ago?
  • What were the feelings of the congregation, the pastoral staff, and the official committees and boards about the former person's leaving?
  • What is the job description?
  • To whom does a person in this position report officially? Unofficially?
  • How static or dynamic is the job description? Will it be reviewed for change once a person has been in the position for six months, a year? Who conducts the review?
  • How often is formal evaluation made of the person in this position, and who does the evaluation? What are the criteria by which evaluations are made?
  • How many paid staff are associated under this position?
  • How many unpaid volunteers are associated with this position?
  • What is the operating budget for the program area?
  • How is the area organized? Who reports to whom, how often?

4. How has the church answered the question, “What is Christian education/Christian formation and discipleship?”

5. How does the church at large feel about the answer to the above question? Do the church members understand the answer and operate as if they agree with that answer?

6. How does the ministry/program area relate to the rest of the church? Is it organically and organizationally tied together with the rest of the church's ministries? How integral is this area to the life of the church?

7. Describe how decisions are made in the church.

  • Who are the decision makers (formal and informal), gatekeepers, legitimizers, opinion leaders?
  • Are decisions usually made informally before they are acted upon formally? If so, how are they decided?

8. Describe the church's climate, growth, and known needs.

    What is the church's vision, mission, and purpose?
  • How does the church define ministry?
  • What is the church's attitude toward evangelism, Christian nurture, and discipleship?
  • What are the known needs that the church is seeking to meet for its own people and for those in its neighborhood?
  • What is the church's doctrinal position? Are there any areas where you disagree?
  • What has been the history of the church's numerical growth in the last 20 years? (Note significant variations over this time period. Ask for explanations for any significant changes. If people hedge their answers, be wary.)
  • What indicators are there that the people of the church have grown spiritually in the last few years?
  • What is the church's socioeconomic status?
  • What is the church's position on various social behaviors (e.g., drinking alcoholic beverages, dancing at church functions or on the church property, or dancing in general, etc.)?

9. Describe relations among the pastoral staff.

  • How often does the staff meet together?
  • Who conducts the meetings, and what are they like? Reporting, supporting, planning, praying, griping, etc.?
  • Does the pastoral staff meet socially?
  • How often do pastoral and non-pastoral staff meet? for what purposes? Who conducts the meetings, and how are they conducted?
  • How often do the pastoral and non-pastoral staff meet socially?
  • What are the relationships like between the senior pastor and other pastoral and non-pastoral staff?

10. Determine personal finances (for ordained positions only). What is the total salary? Break down the total salary package into the following categories and obtain these data in writing (oral statements should be followed with a written statement):

  • basic salary (technically taxable)
  • housing allowance
  • car allowance
  • health insurance (Be sure this is sufficient, especially if a married woman of childbearing age is involved either as spouse or pastor.)
  • moving costs
  • continuing education funds and time allotted to attend courses
  • expense funds (e.g., taking high schoolers to Burger King)
  • allowances for books, periodicals, professional tools/clothing, etc.

11. Determine vacation time.

  • How many weeks?
  • When is vacation time usually taken in the church by the pastoral staff?
  • Can vacation time accrue, and if so, for how long?
  • Is vacation time flexible (one or two weeks in the spring, another later in the year)?
  • Must a person apply for vacation time or just inform her or his supervisor?

12. What view of leadership is used by church leaders, by the pastor and other pastoral staff members, and especially by official boards?

13. What day of the week is to be one's day off? Is this rigid or flexible?

14. Describe the daily schedule for this position?

  • What are the daily hours one is expected to be in the office?
  • What kind of study time is expected?
  • What is the expectation of how often and how much contact there should be with people of the congregation (children, youths, their parents, and other adults)?
  • What official meetings and church services must the person in this position attend? Of these, at which ones must this person take part in active leadership?
  • Is the person in this position expected to provide hospitality in his or her home? If so, for whom? Is there financial support for the costs involved?
Tony Toth

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.