The hiring process, for many churches, reveals the pendulum problem. They aren’t looking for the best candidate for their church. They are looking for someone who isn’t like the last person.
I’ve read thousands of descriptions over the years. And I can quickly translate a position description into a description of their previous youth pastor. Churches use a code language that they think is clever but is easily translated.
A fictional example of a position description:
First Presbyterian Church – Youth Director
FPC is a family-friendly congregation serious about the raising the next generation of believers in Anywhere, US. We are seeking an individual to oversee and direct our thriving youth ministry program of 7-12 grade students. Duties will include teaching Sunday school, overseeing midweek Bible studies, planning regular activities with the emphasis on developing the ministries effectiveness. Qualified candidates will possess at least 5 years experience in working on a multiple staff team in a youth ministry role, a Masters degree from a denominationally approved college or university, and a desire to seek ordination within the Fictional Presbyterian Church.
What we know about the previous youth director from this position description:
First Presbyterian Church – former youth director, Cindy Johnson
Cindy was single. (e.g. Not family-friendly) As a former YoungLife staff person she was passionate about students… just not the ones whose parents give a lot of money to the church. (e.g. Serious about raising the next generation at FPC’s kids) She probably did a good job teaching Sunday school, (e.g. The new person can still do that) wasn’t that involved in midweek teaching, (e.g. overseeing is code for “will be there and run it”) and Cindy’s cardinal sin was that she planned activities that were fun and easy to run… but weren’t tied together so that parents could tell what she was trying to do. (e.g. emphasis on developing the ministries effectiveness.) Cindy was focused on youth ministry and never really had her heart in staff meetings for things that weren’t about her job. And the pastor’s wife was highly offended that Cindy RSVP’d “No” to her Christmas Tea, choosing to fly home to spend the holidays with her family instead. (e.g. at least 5 years experience on a multi-staff team.) Cindy got the job right after graduating from her undergrad and left to pursue an MDiv at a non-denominational seminary. (e.g. People were always suspicious of her Baptist roots, anyway. They knew she wasn’t really Presbyterian all along because she didn’t like the bag pipes.)
That’s how the pendulum swings. And it carries right into the interview process with candidates walking away scratching their heads. “Why did they ask me so many questions about my personal finances?” Um, because the last person sucked with money. “Why did they ask me questions about my musical preferences?” Um, because they want to know if you’ll help lead the worship team. “Why did they ask me about my philosophy of parent ministry?” Um, because the parents hated the previous person and got them fired.
They aren’t interviewing you, per se. They are interviewing to make sure you aren’t anything like the previous person.
For untrained people often left to do the hiring… it’s human nature. Want something different? Bam. We’ll give you different. We had Cindy, now we have Tom and Janet and their six kids. Tom’s been a youth pastor for 15-years at various churches, is ordained in the denomination, and has an MDiv from the Presbyterian seminary as well as a Masters in Non-Profit Business Administration.
I give Tom 2 years until that pendulum turns into a wrecking ball.
What’s a better strategy?
Simple. Hire where you want to see growth. The leader a ministry hires should reflect and be prepared to take you where you can’t, don’t know how, or won’t go without them.