Ministry resumes are tricky. How do you put it together? What do you include? What do you leave out? How much detail is too much? Do you include a cover letter? If so, what should it say? Do you need recommendations? Can you send resumes to strangers? These are pressing questions for anyone looking for a new ministry position.
Building Your Resume
Let’s start with a few ground rules. First, understand that a resume is not an exhaustive account of your life. The folks who look at resumes are not interested in the details of all your life experiences. They want the big picture. Second, you must be honest, and you must not exaggerate. This doesn’t mean you have to reveal all your faults and failures, but it does mean you must not include anything that is untrue. Third, detail some of your “accomplishments,” but you need to do it with humility. Some of you will be uncomfortable “bragging” about yourself. Others will have no problem recounting your life victories. The key here is balance.
Now for specifics. Your resume should be two pages, no more, no less. One page doesn’t give you enough space to include everything required. But if your resume is more than two pages you’ve included too much and need to cut something out.
Also, the second page of your resume should include a header with your name at the top. This is a courtesy for the people who will be handling your resume. Rest assured, yours will not be the only resume in their stack. If your two pages get separated, make sure someone can match them back together without comparing paper style and font size.
One unique component of a ministry resume is your picture. Business resumes rarely include a picture of the applicant. But for ministry, you need to add a picture. It needs to be at the top of the first page. It should be a clear, color photo. And it should look professional. That doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit and tie in front of a smoky background. That does mean a selfie isn’t good enough. This picture needs to look nice. If you’re married, include your wife. If you have kids, include your children.
Some people argue that a picture is unnecessary. After all, you’re applying for a ministry position, not the Miss America Pageant. But let’s be honest. This is the age of Google and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. If you don’t include a picture, it just means someone has to look you up on the internet. They will do this eventually, which means you need to check your social media accounts. But for now, save them a trip to the web and include an excellent, color photo.
After you get your smiling face on the top of page one, you need to fill up two pages with six sections: 1) Contact information, 2) Personal information, 3) Education, 4) Experience, 5) Personal statement, 6) References.
- Your contact information should include an address, your cell phone number, and your email address.
- Your personal information should include basic facts about you and your family.
- Your education should detail the schools you attended, the degrees you received, and the years you graduated.
- Your experience should include relevant secular positions as well as ministry positions, dates worked, and responsibilities at each position.
- Your personal statement should be brief. You can share beliefs, philosophy of ministry, or your objective in sending a resume. But you need a personal touch to an impersonal piece of paper.
- Your references can be a list of names, contact information, and how these people know you. Or you may write, “References available upon request.”
In addition to your two-page resume, you need a cover letter. This letter should include a brief introduction, it should state your objective, and it should contain your contact information. This letter should not fill up more than half a page.
The last thing you need to remember is this: typos are not allowed. Not even one. This means you need to proof your resume carefully, and you probably need a friend to proof it as well.
What You Are Saying
When you send a resume to a church, you are simply saying that you are potentially interested in their ministry opening, and would like to learn more about the position. You are not committing, nor are you making a promise. Also, you are not agreeing to take the position should they eventually offer it to you. Instead, you are only expressing interest.
On that note, I advise prospective pastors to send many resumes. Understand that you will not hear a word from many churches. Remember that you can always say “no” if the church is not a good fit. Even if you’re not entirely confident that you’re interested in the position, send your resume. Maybe you think the job is too big. Send a resume anyway. Maybe you think you don’t have enough experience. Send a resume anyway. Maybe you don’t believe that it will pay enough. Send a resume anyway. You (or the church) can always say no. Sending a resume is simply the way you express interest in a position.
What To Expect
This is a tricky question because no two applicants are alike. However, you need to know that you will not hear back from most of the churches that receive your resume. Some will send a nice rejection letter in the mail. Others will send nothing. Don’t be frustrated or embarrassed. It’s all part of the process of finding a place to serve.
Like ministry resumes, search committees can be tricky. Focusing on the pastor search team, most of them have no idea what they are supposed to be doing. They want to make sure you aren’t a serial killer or a pedophile. They also want to make sure you know something about the Bible. They want to ensure you aren’t socially awkward. Beyond that, they don’t know what to do or what to ask. No one trained them for this task, and many of them have never done anything like this in their entire life.
Focusing on the pastor, you can expect to hear partial truths about most issues you discuss. Does this mean all search teams will lie to you? I guess that depends on your definition of “lie.” Just remember, this process is a lot like a first date. The search team wants you to be aware of their issues, but they don’t want you to see all of their dirty laundry. They’ll be quick to admit their church is not perfect, but they don’t want you to know the depth of their dysfunction. All that means is you will hear partial truths about conflict, factions, change, and money.
Suggestions for Pastors
The first thing you need to think about when meeting with a pastor search team is your attire. Churches are different, so there is no universal rule about what to wear to an interview with a search team. However, you should probably dress like you were going to preach at their church. That may mean a suit and tie, business casual, or jeans and a t-shirt. You need to do your homework on this issue, so you know what they expect.
Second, you need to be prepared to listen. Yes, in an interview you’re going to do a lot of talking, and the search team wants to hear what you have to say. But you need to be ready to listen, too. In particular, you need to listen to the questions they ask you. Especially in your initial meeting, the first questions they ask will reveal a lot. You’ll learn about the previous pastor, the condition of the church, the mindset of the members, the spoken expectations, the unspoken expectations, and even past issues they’ve dealt with.
Third, come prepared to ask questions. My suggestion is that you bring a list of questions you want to ask. After an hour or so of answering questions, your thoughts will be scattered. Write your questions down and bring them to the interview. Do some research on the church by talking to people in the community, searching the internet, and calling local pastors.
Fourth, be on time. Scratch that, be early. The people on the search team are volunteers. They are sacrificing family time, personal time, and work time to meet with you.
Fifth, be as honest as possible. Just like a first date, you don’t have to put all your cards on the table the first time you meet with a search team. But you need to be honest. You must never exaggerate or lie about your abilities or your experience or your education. Rest assured, a good search team will dig around to see if the things you tell them are true.
Sixth, treat internet interviews like real interviews. Skype, Facetime, and Zoom are excellent tools that can save search teams thousands of dollars in travel expenses. I’ve used this technology both as the one being interviewed and the one conducting the interview. But here’s my word of caution. If you are going to use the internet, treat it like a real interview. Find a quiet place, and make sure the lighting is adequate. You wouldn’t invite your two-year-old or your chihuahua to a face to face interview, so don’t invite them to a Skype interview. You wouldn’t wear your pajamas to a face to face interview, so don’t wear them in a Facetime interview.
Finally, end your time by asking the search team where they are in the process and when you should expect to hear back from them. Waiting on a team to pray and discuss your interview can take days or even weeks. When you don’t know when a search team will meet again, the waiting can drive you crazy. So just ask when they plan on meeting again, where they are in the process, and when you should expect to hear from them again.
What You Are Saying
Taking the time to meet with a pastor search team tells me you are very interested in the position and want to learn more. This is a step up from simply sending a resume, but is still not a commitment of any kind on your part (or theirs). Even if they paid money to fly you in for a visit, you are not obligated to accept the position simply because you interviewed.
One word for those who interview at one church while they are serving at another church. Because an interview is not a commitment, it is OK to be secretive about the meeting. You should never be dishonest with your current congregation, but you should also try to protect your current congregation. Many pastors go through seasons of praying for direction in ministry. When you’re in that process, your current church doesn’t need to know every pull and tug on your heart.
What to Expect
When you meet with a pastor search team, you should expect to share your testimony, talk about your family, and describe your ministry experience. You should be prepared for questions about your practice of spiritual disciplines, as well as doctrinal and theological questions.
After an initial interview, the search team should respond in one of two ways. One, they may tell you that God is not leading them in your direction, or they may want to move forward in the process. You should also remember that you need to decide if God is leading you toward this church, or if God is leading you in another direction. Be honest with a search team as you pray for wisdom.
Landon Coleman serves as the teaching pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas, where he lives with his wife Brooke. They have four children, Emma, Noelle, Amelia, and Clayton. Landon is a graduate of West Texas A&M University (BBA), and a two-time graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv and PhD). He is the author of Pastor to Pastor: Practical Advice for Regular Pastors and Pray Better: Learning to Pray Biblically, both of which were published by Rainer Publishing. Landon has pastored churches in Kentucky and Oklahoma, and he has taught for Oklahoma Baptist University and BH Carroll Theological Institute.