Wednesday, March 15, 2006

On Pastor Resumes

In response to my posting of a particularly bad resume cover letter, Ryan asked how one should properly write a resume as a pastor. This is a fine question and touches on the broader topic of how we find, recruit and promote pastors today- a broader question which would be good to speak to in the future.

On this question, let me first say that we ought not totally ignore the pattern of men rising up from within the church itself. This is rare today and some call it impracticable, but it certainly happened in Scripture and has advantages. In a situation with multiple pastors this is even more possible. However, the question concerns our typical situation where a church is seeking an individual from outside of itself. So, let me turn to that.

Churches typically call their associational office, perhaps the state office and some seminaries to collect all the resumes they have. This results in an avalanche of resumes (of which yours would be one). I am regularly urging churches not to take this route- at least not initially. I urge them to first call pastors and leaders they respect and ask for recommendations. If they can do this then they are starting in a much better position already having some basis for confidence in the people they will talk to. Since this is my advice to churches, my advice to those seeking to pastor is to first let people who know you that you are looking to serve in this way. You will be better served by established people recommending you than by simply having a piece of paper in the avalanche.

In the end, though, it is good to have a basic resume for someone to use in recommending you. The resume need not try to ‘sell you.’ All it needs to do is give a basic portrait. As I have worked with lay leaders seeking a pastor, they have almost always been turned off by resumes which seek to highlight a man’s accomplishments. Your references can tell them good things about you- “Let another praise you and not your own mouth” (Prov 27:2). Just give them the facts.

Here is a basic outline of what I would recommend you include:

Name, Date of birth, contact info
Marital status
Ordained or not, when

Education (school, degree, date)
Experience- church and other (date)

References- some should be connected with places you have worked. You can indicate this in parentheses after the name, e.g. Joe Shmoe (supervisor at Fed Ex)

Then include these items. Many will not expect these but these are far more valuable than listing so-called accomplishments:
Personal Testimony- Tell them how you came to Christ

Philosophy of ministry- what do you understand the pastorate to be, what would be your priorities and how would you go about it (for a brief example see here)

Doctrinal Statement- Sadly I have rarely been asked doctrinal questions in interviews. It is incumbent though upon the candidate to give his basic doctrinal orientation. You need not and indeed cannot go into everything, but they need the basics. I think it is best to use a historical document so as to identify yourself with a tradition. For Southern Baptists, you could use the Baptist Faith and Message or the Abstracts of Principles, noting where you would modify anything.

This approach takes seriously the fact that paper can only tell you so much by majoring on what can be communicated in this way- ideas. If more search committees were able to consider ideas first and then pursue contact in order to learn about the person, we might be better served.


slmayes said...

Dr. Van Neste,

This is excellent advice for pastors and churches. The process that we currently use is greatly flawed and in need of serious reform. Another problem that I see is that churches are also getting in a hurry to find a pastor and are sometimes "mismatched" with a pastor - with disastrous results in the future. A much more thoughtful and thorough process is needed.

Ryan Hill said...

Dr. Van Neste,

Thanks for responding to my question with this great post. I really appreciate the guidance and help you give to people through your blog. Have a great spring break
~Ryan Hill

Anonymous said...


I had thought maybe I ought to get a resume' professionally prepared as I contemplate a need to move on, and while I still MIGHT do that, your article I stumbled upon is great. It confirmed some things I had heard before and offers correction in other areas. Thank you!

Ginger Korljan said...

I agree with all your comments and like the general format you recommend. I am a professional resume writer who has worked with pastors and seminary students in the past and know how candidates struggle with the desire to remain humble while still letting a church know his talents, gifts and abilities. Most candidates tend to err on the side of not telling enough about themselves so it is hard for churches to distinguish one from another.

The best thing a candidate can do when applying for positions is to research the church's needs in depth, use sober judgment and prayer to determine if he could serve them well, then respond to those needs with a tailored resume and cover letter.

Thank you for writing on a topic that is not adequately addressed on the internet.

Anonymous said...

A good post on "On Pastor Resumes".An important point is a resume and cover letter should be the marketing tools that help candidate to land the position that is perfect for him.


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