(Intro) I was recently handed a diploma from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Unlike the three hundred or so others who were handed this special peice of paper, I worked toward the Masters of Divinity so that I could be the best possible Youth Ministry proffessional I could be. The diploma meant two things to me other than academic success. (1) I was finished with Seminary; and (2) I was going to have to start searching for a job in my field. The first part was easy, but the second part evoked both awe, wonder, and a sense of fear of the future. I had always held down jobs during High School and College, but I’d never had to find a full time position in a specialized field that was so people centered. That scared me, because basically in my thought, I was going to have to “marry” a church that wanted me to minister. The good news was that I actually found a job. The bad news is that it took a long time, a lot of research, and tons of applications/interviews to find a church that had the same vision and values that I hold. And since I don’t actually start the job until August, I wanted to share a few thoughts with those who are still going through, or just entering the ym job searching process.
(Thought 1) Start early! I’ve been told by other youth ministers that it usually takes six months for a church to go through the selection process. Now imagine that you are not probably going to get the first job that comes along, and that you will be starting over several times in the process or doing simultaneous applications. This is a lengthy process and you need to give yourself time and remember to have patience. Don’t think that you’re going to be so awesome and amazing that every church will jump on you to get you to come (though you may be that awesome, I don’t know?). You will also need time to tell people your intent to do a job search. People get excited and want to support you when you begin your job search. Don’t assume that you’re the only person concerned with your future. The community immediately surrounding you probably has a stake in you and wants to see you succeed. Take the time to connect with others and receive their prayers and advice. Listen alot and speak when you have a question. The more people the better. You will need people to help you stay upbeat, and churches you apply to will pick up if you are searching with a positive or negative attitude. Keep your spirits up through God’s gift of community and take the time to develop it.
(Thought 2) Related to thought 1 – you need time so you can Do Research on the churches you want to go to, and looking at the region the church is in. Read some Wikipedia articles and google the church. If the church is active in the community you’ll probably find some local newspapers with articles talking about the big events and outreaches of that church. If they don’t do anything in the community you might find that the silence online and in newspapers speaks to that. Talk to people who have heard of that area and read articles about that area. Is it going to be a comfortable place for you to be in? Is it urban, suburban, rural? Does it have a Dunkin Donuts or a Starbucks? Where is there the most need in the community and what kind of ethinic diverstity is around? Also, what cultures will you go to in order to minister and reach out? Context and geography are important, and so is knowing the history of the area. This helps you make the best possible decision if the church asks you to take a job. You won’t be caught off guard.
(Thought 3) Be Prepared. This book was helpful for me: Youth Ministry Management Tools. The reason is that it has a whole section on getting a job, and gives step by step instructions, with stories that help you have a full perspective on the application process. From getting your resume in order to what kind of questions will be asked, this book gave a good foundation for seeking, and encouraged me in a time when I really was looking down a black hole. Its kind of like a small flashlight. Take advantage of it. There are other articles that really helped me that may help the ym job seeker as well, such as:
Youth Specialties: Getting a Job in Youth Ministry – Their advice on networking and finding prayer support was important and their admonitions on Resume work and their advice to be inquisitive and interested at interviews is worth a look.
YouthMinistry.com: How Not to Get a Job in Youth Ministry – This is funny, but sometimes we learn better from sarcasm.
Youthministry.com: Youth Ministry Job Search, Part 2 – The interview sections starting with part 3 are especially helpful when thinking through what you do when you start to interview the search committee after they’ve grilled you.
(Thought 4) Know Yourself. The best thing I did for the interview process was preparing a Philosophy of Youth Ministry. I compressed everything I thought Youth Ministry “is” down to two pages that could be easily seen and comprehended. I had five points with elaborations in five sections. It started with my mission statement about making lifelong disciples of Christ and my sections were; Youth Ministry is – (1) Theological/Discipling (2) Relational/Incarnational (3) Parent Equipping (4) Counseling/Life Enabling (5) Team Centered. Of course there is more, and it is infinately complex, but it gave the search committee a sense of what I value, and how I organize my thoughts about Ministry in General, but also how I will focus my time. I will teach, do contact work, enable parents, do counseling, and build teams to be ym proffessionals and grow the ministry. It was hard to write this in two pages, but I found that once I started writing it, I couldn’t stop until it was just right and I ended up staying up until 2 am one night because I genuinely enjoyed discovering my ministry on paper. I memorized my values written down by reading it over and over, and when I went to search committees I spoke with authority on who I am and what I will do. I later gave this to the search committee that selected me and I accepted the position. They know me better, and I pray that it will be a great help in dispelling any misnotion about HOW I do ministry.
(Thought 5) Don’t be Afraid of Failing. Inevitably, most of us are going to be rejected. Getting a job makes us insecure and sometimes stressed out depending on our personality. But allowing the possibility of failure and not seeing that as part of our worth is important. God created you to be the best at what you are about to do, so if you are truly prepared, called, and equipped to do youth ministry, do not be discouraged. Don’t be discouraged by search committees that don’t get you, your ministry, or youth ministry in general. Don’t be discouraged by the time between emails or the silence on phone interviews. Don’t give up when it seems like the economy is collapsing and churches all around are no longer able to support a ym. If God called you, then there is a job there, so keep running – fall every once in a while – and eventually you will find what you are looking for.
(Conclusion) Fear of God is the beginning of all Wisdom, so pray and listen as often as you can. It may take time, but remember Joshua 1:9. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” I repeated that over and over in my mind as I searched for a job. Constantly I had to remember that I’m not the one that wins the battles, it is God who wins them for us and in obedience to Him, we keep perservering, and ministering to the generations.