During the years I served as director of missions for the Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, I must have received a hundred or more resumes from aspiring pastors. Some simply wanted to relocate, but most planned to attend our Baptist seminary and hoped to find a local church to pastor.
The resumes ran the gamut–everything from multi-paged mini-biographies to one-page skeletons. When I responded with a suggestion or two on how to make the bio more helpful to a search committee, the minister would sometimes answer that this is how he was taught to prepare a resume.
My response was: In the business world, maybe so. But sending a resume’ to a church is a different ball game.
Pastor search committees are rarely composed of professionals with a great deal of experience in combing through stacks of resumes. Most are salt-of-the-earth laypeople who do not understand the complexities of denominational abbreviations or the different types of seminaries and theological degrees. They are often easily misled by the unscrupulous.
You will want to be crystal clear, absolutely honest, and as helpful as possible in the way you compose your resume.
The “Jobs” section of our local Sunday paper frequently runs hints on preparing effective resumes. This week, the suggestions ran along the lines of: Length (one page is preferable), Priorities (leave out the insignificant stuff), Keep it Professional (do not list hobbies, numbers of children, etc), and Prepare Multiple Versions for different companies.
Almost none of that is applicable to a minister.
No doubt someone somewhere is advising young ministers on how to prepare helpful resumes. But knowing none of them personally, I will offer my take on the subject.
1. At the top, put your name, full address, and contact information.
Make it easy for people to see who you are and how to find you. Do not bury this key information down in the body of the bio.
2. Make it crystal clear toward the top of page one the church position you are seeking.
You cannot make things too clear for search committees. This is particularly true if you are interested in some position other than pastoring. I’ve returned resumes to ministers occasionally and asked them to state plainly what position they were seeking. If the search committee cannot tell, and if it’s not obvious in other ways, you’re hurting only yourself.
3. Attach a photo of yourself and your family.
The search committee wants to envision you as their new pastor. If you happen to be blessed by a beautiful family, all the more reason to include the photo. It’s a fact of human nature that when we see that a man has a great family, we tend to think more of him.
I’ve had young ministers come back to me with “they told us in college not to send a photo.” I answer, “My hunch is they were talking about applying for a job in the business world. But a church search committee wants to know who they are looking at.” (That’s one reason more and more people are communicating by Skype and Facebook and less by e-mail. They want to see the person they’re addressing.)
4. More information is better than less.
Start with your last (or present) position, and tell some of the positive things that occurred during your tenure. A brief paragraph is sufficient. Then, skip a line and tell the same about the previous place you served.
A one-page resume sent to a pastor search committee is practically useless. There’s no way you can tell them enough to make them want to know you better. And that should be the goal of your resume in the first place.
Two pages is best; three should be the limit.
5. Be careful with the numbers.
Question: should you tell that the Sunday School attendance went from an average of 55 to 125 during your time in that church? Answer: only if you are going to be fair and give the numbers for the other churches you served. If you say Shiloh went from 55 to 125 over 3 years, you should also be honest enough to admit that the next church, Shabuta, went from 125 to 55 (or whatever).
I suggest you proceed cautiously with citing numbers. Why not say, “During our 3 years at Shiloh, attendance increased significantly”? Then, if they ask, you can tell the numbers.
What we should never do however is to manipulate the numbers. I’ve known ministers who took the attendance on the Sunday before they arrived–that is almost always low–and contrasted it with the high attendance on the 100th anniversary when Elvis Presley showed up. On their resume they wrote, “During my years at this church, attendance went from 55 to 1,225.”
He who lives by the numbers will die by the numbers. I didn’t make that line up, but I believe it with all my heart. Remember what Jesus said about not taking the best seat in the house, but taking a poor one and then allowing the host to honor you (Luke 14:10)? Same with this. Be conservative in citing numbers. Let others tell how great you actually are (!) and your new colleagues be surprised to learn it.
6. Avoid bragging.
This is a good place to “ditto” the last line from #5.
After you’re finished a preliminary draft of your resume, let it “set” overnight, then come back and re-read it. Ask yourself the following:
–did you overuse the first-person pronoun (I, Me, My)?
–would others who know that church agree with what you are saying? (If you give big numbers and one of your references refutes them, I’ll tell you who the committee will believe, friend. And it won’t be you.)
–is it balanced? truthful? Do you come across as humble or boastful? As kind and gracious?
I suggest you send it to a mentor-type friend (translation: someone older, more experienced whose judgement you treasure) and seek his assessment and suggestions.
7. Include four or five references at the end.
A lot of resumes will say, “References available on request.” I read that and think, “Why make it harder for a search committee to find out about you?”
Make it easy for a committee to learn about you. List the references, tell how to contact them and what their relationship is with you. Verify the phone numbers if you’ve not been in touch with the person lately. There are few things more frustrating for a search committee than finding that the contact information you gave them is outdated.
And make sure you have their approval to include them on your resume.
If I’m a search committee and notice your resume has misspelled words or subjects and verbs that do not agree, I conclude you are not very sharp. Your resume goes into the stack of rejects unless someone on the committee has overwhelming reasons otherwise. If you need help in this area, find it. After all, a basic element in effective leadership is finding people who can do what you cannot do and enlist their support.
A few questions on the subject….
QUESTION: “What if I receive a multi-page questionnaire from a search committee which they ask me to fill out and return to them?”
If they are asking for the same information on your resume, I’d ignore their questionnaire and send them my resume.
If they are seeking information not on my resume, and if I feel led by the Lord to answer it, I would fill it out.
On the other hand, some of these questionnaires from search committees are unhealthy and indicate that the church is losing its way. Once I received one from a church in Mississippi that asked, “List all the revivals you have preached in the last five years and the number of people who were converted in each one.”
I did not have that information, but even if I did, there was no way I was answering that.
What I did, however, was something I felt a faithful brother should do. I wrote that in the first place, the Lord was not leading me to consider moving from my present church. Secondly, I pointed out, “Not only do I not have the information you are requesting, if I were you I would be suspicious of anyone who does.”
QUESTION: Should I enclose a tape or CD?
No. Wait until they ask for it. And do not ask them to return it. Some will, but you should never send the only copy you have of anything.
QUESTION: Should I list all my degrees, even if some of them are questionable?
Short answer: get the counsel of your mentor on this. Longer answer: theological schools come in such a variety these days, it’s hard to know. The issue can get complicated in a hurry.
A pastor will go on a foreign mission trip and a month later, a startup seminary in that country contacts him to say they would like to award him a “doctor of divinity” degree. Should he accept it? And if he does–it’s hard for a preacher to turn down these things, it seems–should he wear it back at home as though he has earned it?
On the other hand, a generation ago when Mississippi College awarded James Richardson (my mentor) a Doctor of Divinity degree, it was as well-earned as anything the rest of us achieved in seminary or grad school. We encouraged him to “use” the degree. James never made an issue of it, and even teased himself about it.
One wishes that every search committee understood that “doctor of divinity” is an honorary degree. No one “earns his doctor of divinity degree,” as we’ve seen some churches claim.
Some seminaries are “distance learning institutions,” meaning everything is done on-line and through the mail. Does that make them disreputable? Not at all. But degree mills have proliferated in this country over the last century offering cheap doctorates based on something they call “life experiences.” These are jokes and dishonor the ministry. Avoid them at all costs.
QUESTION: Should I expect to hear back from the pastor search committee? It can be frustrating sending out resumes and never knowing where you stand.
Search committees are all different. Some will be led by sharp, experienced and capable people who will let you know the moment they are considering you and the instant they drop your name. Most will not, however.
I suggest you not wait by the phone. Get on with your life. Keep your eyes on the Lord and not on a particular church or committee. Remember: the Lord is your Source, not any person or group of persons.
The minister must remind himself every day of his life that the Lord who called us into this work in the first place is in charge of every detail. We must stay close to Him and let Him make the decisions as to who goes where. For good reason Scripture says “it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). That pertains to the preacher as well as to the rest of us.
Look to the Lord. You can trust the One who died for you.