12 Tips for Presbyterian Pastors Looking for a Call

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At this week’s polity conference I went to a workshop on the care and feeding of non-parish pastors. We ventured off into a discussion around the number of unemployed or under-employed clergy. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve put together around that conversation and my own personal reflection for colleagues looking for a call.

1. Pray
Regardless of all the “What Color is Your Parachute?” techniques to job hunting. In the church we believe that the Holy Spirit is central in the call process. So, the first step is always prayer. It’s ok to tell God what you’re hoping for, but also give yourself plenty of opportunity to listen for what God is saying to you.

2. Discern Your Call
Pastors are not “hired” by churches and they don’t merely look for a job. We discern our call. I talk with many pastors searching for a call, and I’m surprised how few of them can articulate the kind of call they are looking for or the gifts and skills they bring to ministry. “Frankly,” more than one has confessed to me, “I’ll take any job that pays.” I find that sad. Understandable, but sad. Discerning a call is not just semantics. Employment is often a by-product of a pastor’s call, but the call is separate from paycheck. It’s important to do your homework — know who you are and what you do best. What is it that God wants to do through you? Try writing out a dream/fantasy job description. What excites you about that work? If you’re interested in a church position, describe the characteristics of the church that would most excite you, most match your personality, your leadership style, your passions.

3. Write Multiple Resumés
In the PCUSA we call them PIF’s or Personal Information Forms. The CLC (our denominational “matchmaking” computer platform) allows a person to have three different forms on file. Part 1, your general information, is the same for each; but you can customize Part 2 for up to three different types of positions. Use this if you are thinking of looking for a position as a Christian Educator or
Associate Pastor, a Head of Staff or Middle Governing Body position, an Associate Pastor or Solo Pastor Position. Since the number of characters is limited, use the essay space in each version of your PIF to share specifically what you’re looking for in that kind of job.

4. Get Your References Involved
First, be sure to choose good references. Talk with them before listing them on your PIF. Talk about your discernment process, about your ideal positions, about what you’ve done well. Have your references (and some others) read your PIF and offer feedback. Ask your references what they will say are your strong points and your weaknesses. Do this proactively, and it will pay off. Choose different references for different kinds of positions. And keep in touch with them throughout your search process; keep them informed about places you’ve applied, when you’ve been contacted, etc. Ask them to pray for you during the search process.

5. Reasonable Minimum Salary
Probably the most frustrating part of filling out the PIF for pastors is deciding what to list as their minimum salary requirements. There is no magic formula for deciding what to put down. Be aware, though, that the Church Leadership Connection (CLC) includes salary requirements when it matches pastors to churches, people to positions. If you list a salary too high, there will be fewer matches. If you list it too low, you may not be offered a higher salary. I suggest you research the salary levels of positions you would be interested in. Look at MIF’s, talk to colleagues, ask COMs. Think about that dream job. Think, too, about what it reasonably costs for your family to pay the bills.

6. Use Links
The new PIF allows applicants to list links to websites. It’s designed to allow you to include a link to your preaching video on YouTube. The space will accept any text, though, so use it to list information you think is pertinent to your call. When I graduated seminary in 1987 we were expected to have an audio tape of us preaching. A decade ago, the norm was to send VHS video tapes. Now prospective pastors upload worship and sermon videos, video résumés, etc. to the internet. If you don’t know how to do this, ask! Consider, too, creating a professional website or ePortfolio of your sermons, newsletter articles, teaching/preaching philosophy, curriculums, statement of faith, etc. These links should be included in your link section.

7. Check Your Social Media Profile
If you’re on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. check your profile, status updates, links and photos, to be sure they reflect the person/pastor you want to project to a church or a search committee. In fact, you might ask your references or a good friend to do this for you as well. Do a Google search of yourself and see what comes up. A search committee may Google you before you even know your PIF was referred to them. If you don’t have a social media presence, you might think of starting one.

8. Don’t Limit Yourself to “The System”
The Presbyterian Church is not unlike other employers where most jobs are filled before they’re posted. Many non-installed pastoral and church staff positions never make it to the CLC. Interims are handled differently in different presbyteries, sometimes it’s different processes within a presbytery depending on the context. Occasionally a church creates a staff position for a person who has been actively working with the congregation in one way or another. This has been and sometimes still is considered an “improper” way of getting a call, but, in reality, it happens more than we think. The truth is, that a congregation might never consider a particular staff position, except when a pastor or church leader lives into their call in their midst.

9. Meet with your EP
When you begin your search process, I believe it is a good idea to contact your Presbytery Leader (EP, GP, etc). Presbyteries do “executive checks” or EP to EP checks on pastors. When a congregation is considering a candidate, there will be a call to the EP to find out if there is any remedial or judicial complaint against a candidate, but they will also ask about “fit” and strengths of a candidate. It is especially frustrating for me when my answer to another EP is, “hmmm, I don’t know that person.” On the one hand, it’s good … There is no current judicial action against the candidate. But on the other hand, I cannot speak about the call or strengths of the pastor, the context in which they are currently serving, or how they are involved in the larger church. When a candidate calls me and asks for an appointment or lunch together, we can discuss all of these things, I can offer advice, share possibilities, keep them in mind for non-posted positions or when an EP colleague calls asking for help recruiting for a position … and, we can discuss the reference I will give …

10. Patience
No one likes to hear the advice to be patient, but it is never truer than in the call process. We have to remember that God doesn’t always work on our schedule, but it will come to be “in God’s time.” The call process on the PCUSA is slow, slower than most pastors and congregations want it to be. The quickest moves are 6 months, some search for years. My search for a presbytery leader position took nearly four years. But, when we’re patient … the results are god-ordained.

11. The Process is Ministry
One of the best words of advice I received was that I should model the type of leader/pastor I am in the whole search process. That meant that often the interviews I went on were learning experiences and times of spiritual growth for me, committee members or both. God has a purpose in your being there.  The process itself is intentional.  Every time someone reads your PIF, they may be challenged or comforted by something you say.  Every time you read a MIF, you to may be challenged.  Every phone call, every interview … remember, God wants to do something through you where you are. Don’t believe it? I have stories, but they should be another post.

12. Pray
I can never overestimate the power of prayer.  I begin and end this list with prayer, not because the process should be bookended by prayer, but because it should be infused with prayer.  Pray for your colleagues who are also seeking calls, pray for the search committees looking for pastors and other church leaders, pray for the congregations.  And spend time, not just speaking to God … but in meditation and contemplation … sit with God as you wait, and opportunities will undoubtedly arise in the places you least expect them.

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