"Done," she said.
My wife had spent hours fine-tuning her resume, answering personality and skill questionnaires, and poring over web pages to research the employer. This wasn't the first ministry position she'd applied to since graduating from seminary—far from it—but this job just seemed right. She pressed "send" and prayed that this might be the one.
After the first few weeks without a response, she emailed, called, even wrote a letter to the ministry—anything to provoke some sign of life. But she might as well have been signaling Mars. So she moved on. Six months later they finally sent an email, a single line of text: "Thank you for your application, but we've decided not to consider you for this position." I'm sure whoever sent this email thought they were being considerate, but to my wife, it felt like ripping the bandage off a healing wound.
This might be our guy! Rick thought, after perusing the 35th application in a stack of over 50. The applications were starting to blur together, but this pastoral candidate stood out. So Rick picked up the phone and started calling the other committee members.
Three weeks later the pastor nominating committee gathered on a Wednesday night—the first time their schedules aligned, allowing enough time for a proper interview. Over the speaker phone, the candidate had a charming demeanor and answered their questions well. Finally, Rick asked, "How do you feel about pastoring our congregation of about 300?" The candidate seemed surprised: "Oh, that's much smaller than what I'm looking for." With that, the interview ended quickly, and the committee members returned home, back to their stacks of applications.
For hopeful ministry candidates, rejection is a relentless companion. To them, the job hunt represents responsibility, validation, desperation, and a chance to answer God's calling. Potential employers have different priorities to consider. With limited resources, they must serve their ministry by choosing the best employee from an ever-expanding roster of applicants. And people on both sides of the interview table must attempt to discern God's will while trusting in his providence.
To learn more about this process, I spoke with a variety of ministry aspirants—people still hunting jobs, people who had found that coveted full-time position, and the disenchanted who left the ministry job search for greener pastures. I also heard from potential employers—weary volunteer search committees, pastors who never expected to play the role of church administrator, and managers trying to keep their parachurch ministries afloat. I wanted to know, if they could say anything to the people on the other side of the application process, what would it be? The items below are the most frequent (and impassioned) answers I received.
What do job-seekers want potential employers to know?
1. Show job-seekers some empathy.
Ministry employers, try to remember what it was like when you were looking for your first job. Not a particularly cheerful memory, is it? Now consider the fact that the current ministry job market is in especially bad shape. Retired pastor Howard Childers tells this story:
Recently I visited my old dorm room at Princeton Seminary—Alexander Hall, room 404. Facing the entrance to the room is a 25-foot wall that is usually bare. But on this particular May afternoon, it was covered with a hundred or more letters. Upon closer examination, I discovered they were rejection letters from the various chairmen of Associate Pastor Nominating Committees, addressed to a cluster of that year's graduating seniors who had interviewed for positions. The students called it "the Wailing Wall."