There’s an obscure Saturday Night Live skit starring Jon Lovitz that slays me every time. The bit is simple: Famous models, comedians, actors, etc., all come into frame and claim that they were once a “nobody” until they got to know Jon, and now they’re celebrities! Jon would then look into the camera and ask trivial facts about himself like, “Do you know how I chipped my tooth?” “Have I always had this much hair?” “Do you know where my secret freckle is?”

After a few questions would exclaim, “GET TO KNOW ME!”

I know. There’s a reason it was obscure. But in college my friends and I would yell the tag line any time a little-known fact was discovered (maybe someone learned you were class president) and it never seemed to lose comedic effect. Well, until I just started typing it, anyway. Or maybe we should’ve picked the clues from the girls we’d later marry who rolled their eyes every single time we did it. Either way, it was hilarious to me and my idiot friends at that life-station.

Oddly, I hadn’t thought about that skit until I entered the job market for the first time in 17 years. Most of you know the drill: Hit the web-sites. File the jobs that interest you in the specific folder. Polish the resume. Tailor it to specific jobs. Write the cover letter. Add the link to the video of you teaching. Maybe the family photo if asked for. Hit send. Granted, it’s a bit different than it was nearly two decades ago–largely because of the influence of the Internet, but the main elements of a job search are timeless…

…even when looking for a ministry position.

And it’s that very influence of the Internet that has some extremely negative consequences for churches looking to make hires. So, consider this an open letter to any church looking to make a hire. Just some friendly advice from someone on the other side of your search committee, okay?

First of word for all of us: send a reply e-mail letting us know that you’ve received the cover letter/resume and that you’ll be getting back to us. It can be a form letter and even cut-pasted a million times, but we’ve all had e-mails that were accidentally sent to a spam file or lost in cyberspace somewhere (and yes, snail mail had the same problems), right? It’s puts us job-seekers in a difficult spot when you’ve stated “absolutely no phone contact” on your listing and if we send an e-mail asking if you got ours, well, it could wind up in spam files, too, no? So, a bit of easy communication by way of response is helpful to those of us on our end. If you can, let us know your timetable, too…a little sentence about your resume deadline and when we could expect to hear a thumbs-up or thumbs-down would be nice to know.

You’d be stunned at how few churches extend this (what I thought was) most common courtesy. Just because you love Jesus doesn’t let you off the hook on this one.

And now a few insights specific to my situation:

First of all, work on the understanding that the video/audio links you’re being sent are everyone’s “A” sermons/teachings. Nobody is going to send you the “off week” they had when the lesson didn’t quite come together…so maybe asking for that really only results in making your choice more difficult, no? You’ll be listening to everyone’s best…and the limits of audio/video remove the “vibe” from the experience. It’s the same thing as watching a band’s concert on video and being at the arena. I know guys that made their DVD teaching in front of empty seats and edited out the flaws. So, what I’m saying is that you might be wasting a bit of time getting all that info in the initial contact. Wait until later in the process, and, if you can, bring us out to teach in front of one of your groups. And it’s hard for me to imagine that you’re getting 200 applicants and you’re listening to all 30-45 minutes of our talks. So, is listening to our introduction and wrap-up really all that helpful?

Second, along those lines, you might want to try to read between the lines of every resume you get. They’re all airbrushed like a model in a magazine. We all put in the really huge mission trip and leave out that moment we lost our cool, barked at parent and they left the church because of your momentary insensitivity (despite doing all we could to ask forgiveness)…even when that happened at the same event. Look for patterns…like if someone leaves a church every three years for a bigger/better ministry. What makes you think they won’t leave you for the next bigger/better ministry in three years? You need to be critical of the data you’ve been given.

What I mean is this: In every one of those glowing bullet-points, there is a negative attached to it. For the amount of money that mission trip cost, there was a behind-the-scenes tense discussion about where those funds came from. For all the students in attendance at the retreat there were some who didn’t go because they felt excluded. For all the creative initiative that one program contained, there were four significant failures the preceded it. Try to remember that when you’re glancing at the stuff we bullet-pointed.

Third, look holistically when you shift from the resume to the blogs and Facebook stuff. Now, I also didn’t “scrub” my blog or social media because I want you to know what you’re getting into. I’m authentic up-front because I don’t want you to feel like you were a “bait-and-switch” victim two months into the process. But others aren’t. They deleted the controversial blog posts and re-made their Facebook pages trying to put their best foot forward. But you might want to connect the dots between the resume and the social media. I mean, yes. I have long-hair and tattoos. I’m not naive by any stretch. However, before you File 13 the resume you might want to note that 24 years of youth ministry and 15 years at one church might make a significantly stronger statement than long-hair and tattoos, no?

Yes. I have blogs where I am critical of the Church or Christians. But over 3,000 entries I can assure you I also have very glowing ones about the church, too. I’ve covered a lot of ground about ministry and if you look at one entry and make a judgement, well, I’d suggest there’s a context. And, especially to the church that told me I was going to be a finalist until some moms looked at my Facebook page and noted the long-hair, well, um…you never asked me about them. It isn’t like I was sick and missed seminary the day they covered those verses in Corinthians. I’d be happy to tell you about my donation to help cancer patients every two years or the times of grief each one of my tattoos signify. I didn’t hide them (and I could’ve). I understand that in some church cultures that isn’t going to fly and I’m cool with that…but don’t spend a month telling me what a grace-oriented church you are and then fail to even ASK me about that stuff…just balance all that information you’re getting into a forest of data rather than a series of trees.

Finally, don’t fall into the trap of “specialization.” Make sure you leave room for growth or shifts in ministry focus. For example, if you’re looking for a small groups pastor and you see my resume that highlights all my small group experience but say, “Well, that was small groups in student ministry, not the whole church.” Small groups are small groups, and wouldn’t you think 24 years of running them would equal “3 years of small group experience in a large church?” If I’m applying, assume I’m truly interested in that job…not “a” job. It might be time for a change and I’m exploring that a bit, so try not to pigeon-hole the candidates, okay?

And don’t get me started on all the creative churches and ministries that were started by “former” student pastors. We might be the most natural folks to transition into pastoral roles because we spent a lot of time with the younger generations and their parents and have a very intuitive feel for serving them and meeting their needs. So, try to be open to movement outside the area of expertise. Most of the skills transfer.

I can hear some of you now.

“Stop whining. It’s a tough job market.” I’m not whining at all. In fact, I’ve been HIGHLY selective in who I’ve sent resumes to…and in my limited time doing this, I’m not discouraged. I simply see patterns that I think this might help churches as they look at candidates. I’m really not hurt if they don’t pick me, but if they took note of what I listed here, the search would go more smoothly on both sides no matter who the candidate is. Frankly, I feel pretty competitive no matter how tough the market appears to be. I can hold my own, folks.

“It paints a pretty picture, but it’s reality, so you might have to deal with it.” Since when did a living organism with the highest standards of the Church in play have to settle for the status quo? I believe in the Church and love it, and want the best/highest for it. Why not take the lead and let “reality” learn from us? Sorry. My romantic idealism gets the best of me and often leads to a scorching case of Weltschmerz, but so be it.

“You need to learn to play the business game.” Ministry is not a business. Some of the principles apply, sure. But the bottom line is that you’re looking for a family member, not filling a job slot. If it were only about money or jobs then I’d agree…but ministry life is family life. You’re looking for someone to adopt and wouldn’t that require looking in a way businesses don’t need or want to? Just because a search is run by business folks one way, well, shouldn’t a church be more creative and innovative? That’s why I don’t scrub my blog or cover the tats. What you see is what you get to the degree I can communicate via on a web site.

So, help a brother out, those of you looking to hire a pastor!

Try to take the time to GET TO KNOW ME even with the limitations of the electronic age…

…even if I choose NOT to let you know where my secret freckle is!

🙂