Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Skype Interview

I'm prepping for my very first Skype interview. I'm actually kind of excited. Skype interviews are the greatest thing to happen to job seekers in a long time. They can go a long way in overcoming the disadvantages of looking for a job in a different geographical area. Since a lot of human communication is non-verbal (experts disagree on how much), adding a visual element to a long-distance interview potentially provides an advantage over written and phone communication methods.

I do have a little bit of concern about skyping. A live video feed is similar to a snapshot, in that it can enable you to "crop out" distractions. On the other hand, being "boxed in" on camera can put the focus on something that distracts and distances interviewers, such as a hair twirling habit. Do I twirl my hair? I don't think so, but we all have habits, and sometimes we aren't very aware of them. Watch a few minutes of one of those cable TV shows that put pundits in "talking head" boxes and you will see what I mean. Some people come across as likeable and believable regardless of the content of their message, while others are instantly off-putting. Try watching it with the sound off, and then turn the sound on and close your eyes, and you will see what I mean. Communication is a combination of sight, sound and content.

There are a lot of sources of advice for Skype interviews online. I thought this brief video on was particularly valuable. The main obstacle to successful Skype interviewing for the novice can be mastering the technology itself. I'm planning to practice getting on to Skype prior to my interview. I will update you as to how the interview went.
Update: The actual Skyping went well but I was unprepared for a question about leaving my previous position that came up because this committee had received an earlier version of my Profile from their Conference office. I had informed them of my change in status but they forgot. Even though it was down to just a few applicants, it was wrong of me to expect the committee members to all remember every little detail about me. Lesson learned. I ultimately did not get the job but that was mostly because their theology tended to be much more conservative than mine. I have had no conflicts with church participants and members whose theology differed from mine, but that has always been in a context of a church with theological diversity so it might be different in a more homogeneous environment.
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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Young at Heart

Most people say that age is just a number. However, when considering two candidates for a job with roughly equal experience, who would you chose--one who is forty years old, or one who is sixty? Enough said. If you are forty-five or older, employment experts suggest that you attempt to make your age less obvious on written materials that you use to apply for a job.  They suggest things such as removing graduation dates, cutting off previous employment that is more than 20 years ago (unless you've had only one job in that time) and the like. It is important not to lie about these things, of course, but it is also important to make these things less obvious so that they are less likely to loom large in the minds of potential employers. You may think that forty years of work experience sounds better than twenty, but most people think it means you are ready for retirement. The bottom line is this: churches and religious organizations are generally held to be exempt from discrimination laws due to the current legal understanding of the First Amendment.

The other thing you need to do, if you are part of the AARP crowd (or if you are beginning to look like it), is  try and freshen up your image. Do an online search of yourself and take down or untag any images that are unflattering or that make you look old. On social media sites use a flattering photo that is more or less current for your profile photo. (Some experts say you should have a professional photo for job searching.)  If you feel you are a poor judge on these matters, ask your spouse or a stylish friend to help you. Update your hairstyle and get some more stylish (though still conservative) clothes for your job interview. Dress in age-appropriate clothing, of course, but make sure it reflects current style trends. First impressions count a great deal with some people. Consider coloring your hair--even if you are a man, and even if you've never done it before. (If you have never done it before and are afraid it will look fake, get it done professionally. If you are unemployed and money is tight, go to a local beauty school.) If you are a woman, consider getting a makeover (again, a local beauty school can help, or ask a stylish friend who looks young for her age to assist you.) Consider having your teeth whitened, or at least use over the counter whitening strips. If you are lucky enough to get a job interview, make sure you are well rested and exhibit energy and enthusiasm when you first enter the interview. If you tend to have a more low-key personality you can tone it down after the first few minutes. Just pay attention to your posture during the interview.

You may find this advice upsetting. Maybe you feel it is unnecessary. You must understand that you ignore this advice at your own peril. I personally know of a woman who was turned down to replace me because she seemed "tired" to the search committee. She also had white hair. An older friend was told point-blank by a search committee member to disguise his age when applying for clergy positions. The committee had decided to interview him over the objection of some committee members, who were worried about his age. The good news is, once they interviewed him, they decided they wanted to hire him. He learned his lesson through a close call and has been warning other clergy about this potential pitfall ever since.
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Family Matters

Steve Urkel (as played by Jaleel White) from the TV series "Family Matters"

A clergy job change can be a strain on the family members of a clergy person, even in the best-case scenario. If the Pastor in question is quietly searching for a new job, the children in the family might be asked to keep that a secret. That can be tough, as the children of Pastors often have friends within the congregation. If a clergy person quits a job before finding a new one, financial woes can materialize. A new job often requires relocation, and all the disruption involved in that.  And even if a job search results in a much-wanted new position that doesn't require the family to move or the clergy spouse to change jobs and the kids to change schools, getting used to one of the adult family members being in a new Pastoral position is disruptive to family life.  These factors also apply to career changes in other fields as well, but clergy folk are often described as living "in a fishbowl" for good reason. Sometimes they even live in a house owned by the church. Any job change is bound to result in stresses and strains in a family--there are nearly always some raised voices and acting out by kids involved--but if you work at GE, your employer doesn't bear witness to it very often.

As a clergy woman married to a non-clergy man, I've found it best not to pretend to the congregation that things are perfect in my marriage and family life, and not to pressure my husband and kids to act a certain way. On the other hand, I've also learned not to involve the congregation too much in family business. If the whole job search process or the acceptance of a new job is putting a strain on you as a Pastor, it is important to find some place other than through the people who employ you at your Pastoral job to help you sort through your problems. On the one hand, they are likely to outwardly offer sympathy, but on the other hand, they may start questioning your leadership abilities, e.g., "The Pastor can't even handle his own kids. How can we expect him to take handle conflict within the congregation?"
I blog, therefore I am. If you liked this post and want some food for thought about church ministry, check out If you or anyone you know is looking to hire a new Pastor, check out my professional profile blog at
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Monday, September 23, 2013

Continuing Education for Pastors

Me, loaded down with a study Bible and lots of textbooks, back when I was in seminary getting my initial theological education and there was no such thing as an e-book or online learning.
To some extent, the church has professionalized the role of Pastor. This isn't strictly true, across the board. There are many folks out there who feel called to start preaching the gospel one day and get right to it the next day. Some of these folks are enormously successful, in terms of sheer numbers of people who want to hear them preach and teach in Christ's name. And some of them do an impressive amount of good in the world. I think it is fair to say that some of them do more harm than good, but then, that is true of some Pastors who have impressive academic qualifications as well.

The bottom line in seeking a call to Pastor an established congregation is that in most cases (maybe even in all cases), education in the art of ministry is a plus. Different churches have different preferences in the education that they want their Pastors to have. Some churches don't care about the Pastor's education level, as long as the sermons are inspiring and the Pastor is an able administrator. Some churches want a warm and caring Pastor and some don't care as long as the sermons inspire. Other churches don't mind lukewarm sermons as long as the Pastor loves and cares for them and keeps the engine of the church running smoothly. Obviously the best approach in getting a Pastoral job is to pay attention to both educational qualifications as well as administrative and people skills.

There are many degree and certificate programs that profess to aid a person in becoming a Pastor. Perhaps there is one that provides all the skills that a Pastor will need, but I don't know of it. Ministry is a job that is widely regarded as something that requires on the job, practical training. As a general rule, Master of Divinity programs are great at teaching the latest in scholarship about the Bible and church history, but traditionally these programs been a bit too light on teaching important skills such as evangelism. Some non-degree and unaccredited programs emphasize evangelism, but neglect teaching students things such as church history and learning about the Bible in the context in which it was written.  I believe that this is changing in a direction that provides for a more well-rounded education for Pastors regardless of the educational path they chose, but people preparing for ministry or seeking a new position in ministry need to carefully examine their own skills and knowledge and actively seek to overcome any deficiencies and also to "beef up" their positive qualifications.

Ministry education can cost a significant amount of money, but it doesn't have to cost a lot. Many seeking Pastoral education will discover that they have access to theological libraries locally. Sometimes the libraries charge a fee for checking out books, but not all do. Most will allow you to study in the library for free. Sometimes local denominational offices have a resource library open to all seekers. In addition, often Roman Catholic institutions have resources available of interest to all Christians.

In addition, there are a number of low or no cost online educational resources for ministry education. The Center for Progressive Renewal offers coaching, seminars, online and regional classes and certificate programs. The Text this Week offers links to resources to help in preparing sermons and worship experiences. The Louisville Institute provides grants for Pastor's sabbaticals, with an emphasis on study. The Christian Theological Seminary currently has a similar program.
I blog, therefore I am. If you liked this post and want some food for thought about church ministry, check out If you or anyone you know is looking to hire a new Pastor, check out my professional profile blog at
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Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Clergy Job Interview

This is yet another aspect of searching for a clergy job that differs a great deal from most other job searches. Clergy job interviews sometimes unfold over a period of days, during which time the prospective Pastor socializes with church members, preaches a sermon to an unfamiliar crowd, and (generally) participates in an interview by a committee. If the clergy person has a family, they may participate in the social aspects of the interview process.  It is vital for the clergy person  to "be him/her self" throughout the entire process, but even if things don't feel quite right, she/he needs to make it through the whole marathon and keep his/her ego intact if the church turns them down for the position. Meanwhile, the stakes are high, and these sorts of stakes tend to throw someone off his/her game.

In the past I have aced clergy job interviews, and I have sometimes also not aced them. As with other interview processes, it is good to go over the materials you have about the position for which you are interviewing, and check out the web site if they have one. My denomination provides references that the job seeker can call to learn about the church from a perspective other than that of the search committee. The sorts of interview questions you are likely to field can be found here. (Please note that this is a PDF document and you will need to scroll waaaaaay down to resource 11B.)

One thing I have noticed about most clergy jobs is that the interview committees tend to "dress down" even in a formal job interview session, so while it's always a great idea to dress for success, try to also dress in a way that you seem comfortable in your clothes. Dress the way you might on a regular Sunday morning.

As with other job interviews, it is most important to answer questions clearly but try to keep things brief. It is probably not a great idea to launch into mini-sermons or tell long stories.

The thing that helps me the most is to be well rested, well fed and to exercise the morning before the interview. A recent TED talk offered a proverbial "one weird trick" to help prep for a nerve-wracking situation, such as a job interview.
And I would be remiss not to mention bringing spiritual practice into the entire interview process, before, during, and after the interview. You can check out the resources page on this blog for online and phone-app spiritual resources.
I blog, therefore I am. If you liked this post and want some food for thought about church ministry, check out If you or anyone you know is looking to hire a new Pastor, check out my professional profile blog at
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Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Sermon Video


One of the many unusual aspects about clergy job searches is that churches often request a videotape of a sermon or even an entire worship service. Some churches settle for an audiotape, which is much easier to produce, but a great videotape of a great sermon is a key ingredient for a successful clergy job search. The difficulty is that a great videotape can be difficult to come by. People who have served on search committees have reported receiving videotapes that were so dark and unfocused that they had difficulty telling there was a person in them, and with sound quality that made it difficult to make out any words, much less follow the thread of a sermon.

I do not know of any service providers who videotape sermons professionally. I know that some seminaries have a studio for videotaping students, but I have not heard of these studios being made available to non-students.

If this post seems as though it raises questions and airs complaints more than it offers answers, that is because I don't have any definitive answers. During my most recent search I made three sermon tapes--one before a live audience with the camera located in the balcony, and two "canned" sermons during which I utilized a homemade teleprompter system (i.e., my husband scrolling furiously on his Ipad as he held it next to the camera.) In general I was pleased with the results of these sermons--at least, in terms of picture and sound quality. Fortunately I had access to a good video camera, the church that allowed me to tape my sermon during their worship service had good light, and the amateur videographer (a.k.a. my husband) did a great job of framing and focusing the shot.

Most pastors, I think, prefer to create the "tape before a live audience" to the "canned sermon" tapes. It is easier to do your best preaching when you are getting a reaction. Perhaps the best case scenario for creating a sermon videotape involves enlisting a few volunteers to act as an audience which the videographer shoots from fairly close up.

Ultimately I have elected, for now, to submit the "canned sermons" made with the improvised teleprompter. I loved the( relatively) high quality of the audio and video on this tape, and I liked how the teleprompter enabled me to look at my notes without looking down at the podium. Did I make the right choice? At this writing, God knows (but I sure don't).

Update: A church kept me in the running for a clergy position after I sent them the video on this post, so score one for the DIY teleprompter!
Second update: I have since recorded a sermon while looking directly at the camera without reading, and a sermon delivered before a live audience.  While I don't believe either of these sermons represent me at my very best, the sermon delivered before a live audience is the best sermon recording I have done thus far, in terms of both quality of the sermon and quality of the recording.
I blog, therefore I am. If you liked this post and want some food for thought about church ministry, check out If you or anyone you know is looking to hire a new Pastor, check out my professional profile blog at
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Friday, September 20, 2013

The Unemployment Office

Most clergy have never been in an unemployment office, because even if we are not working, most clergy do not qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. However, in many states, unemployment offices offer services that can be quite useful for clergy job seekers. In Connecticut, where I live, the regional unemployment offices offer free access to a library of self-help books for job seekers, and free seminars designed to help job seekers that are open to the public. Online tools are also available. While not all of these services are helpful to clergy, some of them are. For example, I feel I gained some valuable tips from a free seminar I attended that offered tips for acing a job interview.
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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Starting with Why

Clergy job searches are different from regular job searches, in that we don't generally get to write a new cover letter for each position. In my denomination, we write a generic cover letter called a "profile essay."  If churches express interest after seeing the profile essay, it is often possible to provide them with more information, but writing a compelling profile essay is key. It is also daunting. Churches have specific needs, but profile essays need to be general. What to do?

According to author Simon Sinek, the answer is to "start with why." Sinek's TED talk on this subject, in which he expounds convincingly on how Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King have both tapped into this particular approach with great success, became a viral hit. After watching the video I decided to download the Kindle version of the book to see if it would help me in writing a new profile essay.

 To be frank, the book was a bit of a disappointment. It mostly rehashed the material he covers in the TED talk. The book purported to contain a step-by-step plan to uncovering and articulating your own personal "why," but it was too vague for my taste. I did find the TED talk video valuable, and over the course of the next few weeks, with the help of my husband, I think I did suss out my own "why." I have attached the video to this blog post for your viewing pleasure. Even if you don't find it helpful in your own job search journey, it is certainly interesting and might provide a sermon illustration or two at the very least.
I blog, therefore I am. If you liked this post and want some food for thought about church ministry, check out If you or anyone you know is looking to hire a new Pastor, check out my professional profile blog at

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Should I stay or should I go?

In the beginning, I loved my job as the Pastor of the Riverton Church. I also loved it in the middle, but at some point in the middle I began to understand that I had fulfilled my calling to this particular church. As much as I still loved the people and the job, I needed to move on, so I initiated a job search and submitted my resignation.

Now, the conventional wisdom about job searching is that there are pluses and minuses to resigning before securing a new position, but the minuses usually outweigh the pluses.

The minuses mostly involve the financial pain of losing a steady paycheck.

The pluses are many--if, and this is a very big if--you, like me, feel able to take on the huge risk of losing a regular income and all the potential repercussions of that.

Here are what I see as the pluses of searching for a position as a pastor while you are not currently serving a church.

You have time for discernment. Let's be real--discerning what God wants for your life takes some effort. When you take the energy you have spent discerning what God is calling you to do in relation to the church that you serve out of the equation and put that energy into discerning what God requires of you, period, that is a powerful thing.

You can be totally open about your search. This is a big deal for most pastors--especially in my denomination, because we rely on references from people in congregations we have served in order to find a new position. It doesn't feel very fair--or even very smart--to tell people in our home church that we are searching for a position in a job market in which many searches end in rejection.

You can "take your act out on the road" and preach at other churches to see how your message comes across in a variety of contexts. The longer you serve in a particular church, the more likely you are to fall into a habit of preaching in a style that suits them. A really good preacher needs to connect with an audience, and if you have the same audience every week, you may come to rely too much on established relationships to make that connection.

You are free on Sunday mornings. Successful clergy job searches often come down to a few candidates, and at that point the hopefuls have to preach in a "neutral pulpit"--that is, in a congregation that is neither the one you serve nor the one you hope to serve.  This is a difficult thing to manage if you currently serve as a pastor that preaches almost every Sunday.

The ultimate decision of whether you stay in a ministry position or resign is between you and God, but because it effects so many other people, the discernment process that goes into that decision can feel pretty burdensome. Do not be afraid to ask for support before, during, and after the decision. Where I serve the denomination makes available free counseling and some financial support. In some states, if your income dips below a certain level, you may qualify for governmental help with health insurance premiums or SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps.)  In addition, you may find that family, friends and colleagues can help you by providing referrals for work that bridge the gap. Through local denominational officials you should try to get on lists of supply Pastors--pastors who fill pulpit vacancies during a vacation or extended absence of a Pastor. (In some states it is possible and advisable to get on supply lists for multiple denominations and/or clergy associations.)  You may feel too proud to ask for this sort of help, but before you reject the idea out of hand, take that to God as well. Accepting help when you are in a difficult period can be an important life lesson. It can help you learn what it is really like to be in the position of the people who have come to you as a Pastor and asked you for help over the years. That's not a bad thing.
I blog, therefore I am. If you liked this post and want some food for thought about church ministry, check out If you or anyone you know is looking to hire a new Pastor, check out my professional profile blog at
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