Problems in Church Hiring Practices: Professionalism

Failing to Follow Through on Promises

When candidates spend hours web-searching, tweaking their resumes, writing job-specific cover letters, and flexing their schedules for interviews and then church says they will call in two weeks with more information but the candidate doesn’t hear back for three or four weeks, he/she can feel deflated, anxious, desperate, frustrated, etc.  When churches don’t follow through on their promises it’s really annoying and disappointing, not to mention unprofessional.  Is this the impression you want to give your future pastor?  You’d think churches (which seem warm and personal when compared to institutions and businesses) would be more respectful of the time and informational needs of their candidates.  But in my experience, churches consistently fall short in this area. 

Alternative practice:  If you say you will make a decision by the 15th but then need extra time to make a decision, the candidates will understand.  It’s an important decision.  Simply call or email your candidates and tell them there will be a delay for X amount of time.  The candidates will be relieved to receive any kind of contact rather than extended silence.

Exclusive Language 

Churches really need a lesson in writing job descriptions.  Many use gender exclusive language to describe the desired candidate.  For some churches, descriptions like “looking for God’s man who will lead our congregation” reveal a theological bias – that they believe only men can be pastors – a theological conflict I’m not going to tackle in this article.  Conversely, I’ve read descriptions where churches looking for a children’s pastor describe the candidate as she, which reveals a cultural bias rather than a theological one.  For other churches, gender exclusive language simply shows a lack of attention to detail.  If it is unclear whether a church would hire either gender for specific positions, candidates have to spend extra time making inquiries about whether it’s worth their while to apply – inquiries to which few churches will actually respond.

Alternative practice:  If you are open to women and men, then it’s a good idea to either explicitly state that you are, to write a neutral description or to go the “he/she” route.

Not Informing Candidates upon Receipt of Their Application

One of the great advantages of the electronic age is the wide exposure given to a job opening.  A candidate in rural Maine internet access can find and apply to a job opportunity posted by a church in inner-city L.A.  Churches now have healthy and abundant candidate pools.  It’s a hopeful advantage in an economy where 9% of Americans remain unemployed.  However, the disadvantage comes when church “human resource departments” (which usually means a committee of church members with no actual HR experience) are flooded with applications.  One church sent me a rejection letter which boasted that 2,000 people applied for their position! For churches unprepared for a large influx, it seems impossible to reply to all the candidates, so they just don’t.  But imagine being one of those unemployed ministers, applying to a handful of churches every week for a year, sending off your resume into the cyber-abyss and never hearing back a peep from 99% of churches to which you apply.  Do you wait two days, two weeks, a month or two months before you assume they are not interested in you? 

Alternative practice:  Churches can set up a free email account (using Gmail, Yahoo or their own network) to which candidates can send their applications.  Then all they have to do is set up an automatic response which pings a receipt email to each candidate as their applications are received. 

Not Informing Candidates of Process/Timeline

Perhaps as equally annoying as never hearing back from a church to which you have applied is the lack of information about process and timeline.  Few churches include process information in their job descriptions or phone interviews, leaving candidates with no tangible information about what is happening.  With the popularity of “please no phone calls” statements posted with job descriptions, candidates are left at loose ends, not knowing if and when they might be called back, receive an offer or a rejection.  In the meantime, candidates may grow apathetic toward the position, resent the church, or turn down other jobs while they wait for an offer they may never get from you.

Alternative practice:  Inform your candidates of your timeline at the beginning of the application process, including how long you will take applications, dates of phone interviews, in-person interviews, the potential offer date and the job start date.  Make a special note if the timeline may be adjusted along the way.  Inform your candidates of any and all adjustments as soon as possible.  Whether you do this by phone or email, committee members may need to divide and conquer this responsibility.

Not Informing Candidates of the Close of Applications or Hiring 

My own denomination has a great on-line tool that allows candidates and churches-seeking-pastors to connect.  However, like many postings found on-line ministry job sites, search committees often fail to note when they are no longer accepting applications or when the position has been filled.  Then busy and overwhelmed candidates waste precious time applying to positions that are no longer open. 

Alternative practice: It would take only a couple of minutes for a church representative to change the application status to closed/filled.  Designate someone at your church to be the contact person for websites where you have posted your position.

3 thoughts on “Problems in Church Hiring Practices: Professionalism

  1. Thanks Court! I’m really trying to get people thinking critically about these things. I truly appreciate you passing the ideas along. I’m sure there are more than I’ve stated, but any improvements in our hiring practices will help both candidates and churches.

  2. Corrie – I encouraged a member of the Committee On Ministry from my Presbytery to check out these posts on hiring practices. The COM is that committee that walks with congregations as they seek to call a minister. This particular member is currently walking with a congregation as they search for an associate minister. Keep it up…Court

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