Seeking and Hiring - the good, bad and ugly

This May, (barring any unforseen snafus) I'll be walking across the stage of a large church, accepting a diploma from Dallas Theological Seminary, and saying "goodbye" to more than 20 years of formal education. It's an exciting time in the Freeland household - full of praying, planning, studying, and sending out resumes.

I've been on both sides of the hiring process. Twice I've been the person preparing and mailing out resumes to prospective ministries. Twice I've been the person reviewing resumes in hopes of hiring a person to fill a ministry vacancy. Both sides are tough, and both sides demand a realization that no matter which side of the hiring process you're on, Christian decency demands a ministry-oriented and sensitive heart.

You see, candidating for churches is a lot like dating. You want to find a place where you're compatible or a candidate that will be compatible with your ministry - and doing so means an element of vulnerability. That vulnerability starts with the resume. Sending a resume is like asking a girl out. The chances are, you've looked over the profile, like what you see, and think there's at least a chance that the two of you could be compatible.

You would be amazed at the cover letters and resumes I've received from well-educated men who look like they put together their resume in five minutes, and spilled their breakfast on it on the way to the post office. The resume is your first and only opportunity to make a good impression with a church. God created spell-check for a reason.

From the other perspective, you'd be amazed at how many times I've sent carefully prepared cover letters and resumes to churches to be completely blown off. In fact, the majority of guys I talk to who have applied for ministry positions report similar results to mine - for every ten resumes you send out, you can expect that you will hear precisely nothing from eight of those churches. That's pretty sad. At least when I was in college and was turned down for a date, most girls had the decency to tell me so.

In contrast, I received the nicest note from a search committee the other day. It was hand written on church stationary and said, "Thanks for taking the time to apply to be our next senior pastor. We will be accepting resumes until November 5th, after which you can expect communication from us either way. Please continue to pray for us as we seek God's man for this church." I sincerely hope something works out there, because that's the kind of ministry I want to be a part of.

They say that breaking up is hard to do. They're right. When you have to face the music that a church doesn't think you're a good fit for the opportunity you've built up in your mind, it's hard. It's particularly hard when that news comes as a form letter that doesn't even have your name spelled correctly. Or, when the letter only says "Dear Mr. Freeland, We have decided to seek other candidates in our search for a senior pastor. Sincerely, Pastor Search committee." When I was in high school, I had a girl break up with me on my answering machine. She had more tact than some of the letters churches send out to candidates who are not good fits for their ministry.
I received a "break up letter" a few years ago from a church that read, "Dear Mr. Freeland, We have reviewed your resume and prayerfully decided that your level of experience is not a good fit for the position we are seeking to fill. Please know that our search committee prayed for you by name tonight and asked that God would provide you with a position that will be an excellent mutual fit. Thank you for your interest in ______ Church." They let me down easily, told me the grounds for their decision, and did it in an extremely edifying way. Much better than "I think we should see other people."

Search Committees are filled with busy people - people who give up hours out of their week to filter through resumes, contact candidates, and discuss the future of the church, all while trying to stay above water at their "real jobs," and spending time with their families. It's hard to take the time to do the little things, like ensuring that every applicant receives some sort of communication from the church. But the small touches can make the difference between encouraging a candidate in his ministry - even if you don't want to hire him - and discouraging him more than you can imagine.

Similarly, applicants are busy people. Most of them are involved in trying to finish strong where they're currently serving, and are helping families through times of transition. But that's no excuse to demonstrate anything less than excellence and professionalism from your side. If you can't handle stress with professionalism and grace now, why would anyone think you'll be able to when you arrive at a new ministry?

Like I said earlier, finding the right fit for a ministry is a lot like dating. And in both cases, if both sides did a better job at it, perhaps the divorce rate would be much different.

PS - Happy Birthday to my wife. When the dating process works, it works, and I got a good one.


Darlene said...

Hi and Happy Birthday to your lovely wife!

davis55 said...
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