Once upon a time, a prospective pastor could send his resume to the district minister of a particular denomination … or to the placement department of his seminary … and receive contacts from churches within a few months.
This is what happened in my case. Ten months after graduating from seminary, I sent my resume to a district minister in Northern California and:
*The chairman of a church search team called me six weeks later.
*I preached at that church the following Sunday.
*I candidated at the church the Sunday after that.
*Two months after the initial contact, my family and I moved to Silicon Valley where I began my initial pastorate.
From the day I sent in my resume to my first Sunday in that church, it took only four months … but that was 33 years ago.
I know a lot of pastors who are looking for new ministries … especially pastors who were pushed out of their previous church.
It’s natural for them to assume, “The way I secured my last pastorate is the way I’ll secure my next one.”
But times have changed, as have the rules for finding a new ministry.
Sadly, there are far more pastors than there are opportunities … it’s never been harder to find a new position … and going the conventional resume route may take a year or two before anything happens.
If a small or medium-sized church advertises that they’re looking for a pastor, it’s common for that church to receive 300+ resumes.
Know what the search team does with those resumes? It sets up criteria for tossing as many of them as possible … and if a pastor is over 55, chances are good that his resume will be discarded quickly.
But there are ways to find … or start … another ministry. Assuming that you have compiled a sharp resume, let me share seven options for finding another position:
First, network with everybody you know … through LinkedIn … Facebook … email … and personal visits.
Compose profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook. Invite as many people to connect with you as possible.
Send personal emails to people you know in ministry, telling them that you’re looking for a position. Ask them if you can send them your resume.
Identify ministry colleagues who live within several hours of you. Invite them out for a snack or a meal at your expense. Ask them, “Do you know of any ministry opportunities for someone like me?” They might not know of anything now, but they just might in a month or two.
Work your network. My second ministry position came through a cousin. My third one came from a ministry colleague, as did my last one. Networking works.
Second, place a video of you preaching or teaching on YouTube and other video sites.
In the past, search teams wanted to listen to your sermon. Now they want to see it.
If you already have a video that works, then upload it and let search teams know it’s there.
If you don’t have one at hand, find a place to preach or teach and ask someone competent to videotape you.
If a search team does view your sermon online, it probably means that you’re in their top ten or twenty prospects.
But if you don’t have one, few churches will even consider you.
Third, ask a pastor friend who lives nearby if you can assist him for six months to a year for free.
Tell your friend that you’re willing to preach … teach … lead seminars … visit the sick … counsel people … whatever he needs.
Assure him that you won’t be a threat. You just want to keep your hand in church ministry … and you promise to support him wholeheartedly.
This might only involve five to ten hours a week, but if you do well, ask the pastor if he’ll provide a reference for you … and maybe he can refer you to some open churches.
In addition, maybe you and the pastor can create a position description and a pathway into new ministry.
And if he allows you to speak one Sunday, make sure that someone videotapes your message!
Fourth, consider planting a church.
Church planting requires enormous amounts of energy. You’ll need a vision … a location … and a core group before you go public.
It’s a misnomer that you have to start in a school or a storefront. A ministry colleague told me that he once started a Bible study in his home. Before he knew it, 75 people were attending … enough to start a new church.
If you can assemble a group of fifteen or twenty people within a few weeks, you can start meeting … and remember: they know people, too.
If you do choose to plant a church … especially if you’ve never done it before … it’s essential that you receive some training at a conference or assessment center.
In fact, you’ll have to reinvent yourself to do it right … but that challenge can also give you focus and new energy.
I was involved in rebirthing a church more than twenty years ago … shutting one down, and starting a new one … and it was the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in ministry. Many people are drawn to new churches.
And you’ll get to fashion the church you’ve always dreamed of serving.
If you go this route, though, you have to be in it for the long haul, because if you falter, the church may dissipate … but it’s far easier to birth a baby than to raise the dead.
You may also need to raise money for several years from family and friends to cover part of your salary.
Fifth, consider becoming an interim pastor.
Most interim pastors are former pastors who are no longer in church ministry. My guess is that the great majority of interims were forced to resign prematurely. Some are retired ministers.
Again, most interims are in their late fifties or older. One interim organization won’t consider anybody under 62 years of age.
Because I was an interim pastor at a church in New Hampshire in the fall of 2012, I know something about the pluses and minuses of making it a career:
Pluses: you’re usually there only six months to two years; your ministry is greatly needed; you may help the search team select a pastoral candidate; the tax breaks can be astonishing.
Minuses: the pay varies; some people will resist your leadership; some interims get beat up; you’ll have to travel from place to place.
The need for interims is greatest in the Midwest and on the East Coast. If you don’t live in those regions, you’ll probably have to move near the church.
How do you find a church that needs an interim pastor?
If you send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, I can recommend you an organization that places interims in churches.
You’ll have to undergo two days of training in-person. It’s very enjoyable. And you may be placed quickly.
Sixth, if you’re older, zero in on a church reaching people older than fifty … as a pastor or associate.
Last year, I noticed that a church located in a retirement community was looking for an associate pastor. I immediately called the search team leader and discussed the position with her.
The church was composed of people fifty and up … with most people in their seventies.
My guess was that if I applied for this church, I had a good shot at being considered because I’d be one of the younger ones.
So I did apply … wrote out answers to interview questions … did a Skype interview … and made the top three.
The three of us were all invited to visit the church on consecutive weekends.
I called the search team leader and asked her two questions: where am I at on the totem pole, and what does the position pay?
She wouldn’t clearly answer either question.
So I withdrew my name … much to the relief of my family … none of whom wanted me to take the position.
But if you want to cut down the competition … and look good by comparison … apply for churches that specialize in reaching older people … often in retirement communities.
Finally, start your own non-profit ministry.
Here’s the downside to doing this:
*You won’t be able to be the family breadwinner in most cases.
*You’ll have to apply for 501(c)(3) status with the IRS.
*You’ll need to become proficient with social media.
*You’ll have to learn how to raise money.
*Many … if not most … pastors won’t give you the time of day.
But there’s a strong upside:
*You become your own boss.
*You can follow your ministry passion.
*You can become an authority in your field.
*You can redeem your ministry wounds by helping others.
*You just might become the recipient of a large gift. (A ministry colleague started a non-profit, and someone died … leaving his ministry a six-figure gift in their will.)
The Lord led me to start a non-profit ministry 40 months ago, and it’s been very fulfilling. It’s all I want to do.
If you decide to go this route … obtaining tax-exempt status is the single biggest obstacle. (I know an organization that can accelerate the process for a fee. Write me at email@example.com and I’ll share the details.)
Yes, you can send resumes to online sites like churchstaffing.com … and you can peruse the openings on your college or seminary’s placement area … and you can contact the district ministers of various denominations.
But all of those strategies place your career in the hands of people who are already extremely busy … and may only have a few seconds to look over your materials.
Even if a church calls you for a phone interview, you don’t know what they’re looking for … and they’re not going to be completely honest about telling you their struggles.
In my view, it’s far better to try something different … like the options I mentioned above.
What are your thoughts on what I’ve written?