In my previous post I shared my experience of being hired at my first church. If I had to do it all over again I would have done it differently. If I were to be sitting across the table from a guy who is about to launch out in search of his first youth ministry position I would give him the following advice:
1. Ask questions. The church, search committee, pastor will ask you questions, lots of them probably. So ask them questions:
- Why did the last youth pastor leave?
- What are the expectations of the church?
- What are the expectations of the pastor?
- What is the job description?
- How many pastors has this church had in the past 20 years? (if the church is going
- through staff like a kid through candy in a Pez dispenser I wouldn’t proceed any further)
- How will the lead pastor support your role in the church?
- Is there a committee I answer to? Who is my direct supervisor?
- What is the salary package?
- What are the benefits? (vacation time, insurance, retirement, etc)
2. Vision and Purpose. Find out the vision and the purpose of the church’s student ministry. If they have one that you can’t align with you may find your job to be a frustration rather than a joy. If they don’t have a vision and purpose statement then you have a clean slate to create one.
3. Change. How open is the church to change? Each one of us have different strengths and passions. You are different than the last guy. How will those differences impact the direction you will take the student ministry? Will you have the support of the church’s leadership? You may find that the student ministry is meeting 4 times a week and that is way too much and want to change that. Would they be open to that change? You may find they meet only once a week and feel they need a second time to get together perhaps for deeper discipleship or for outreach. Would they be open to that change? Tell them up front some things might change and be done differently and see if they are open to change.
4. Leadership. Spend time with the church’s leadership and ask probing questions. Interview them as much as they are interviewing you, if not more. If the church is led by deacons ask to meet with them and come loaded with as many questions as possible. Even ask them the same questions you ask the senior pastor, the committee, etc. to make sure the church is on the same page. Point out any discrepancies you discover if the leadership, pastor, committee aren’t all on the same page. Clarify with the leadership so you know what you are getting into.
Spend some time with the senior pastor asking questions. You have to work with and support the senior pastor’s leadership so you better make sure he is someone you can get along with work with.
Meet with the youth ministry volunteers of the church. They are vital to your success. No volunteers may be a red flag. The volunteer who plans on bailing when your hired may be a red flag. The volunteer who controls everything and runs everything without the input of the other volunteers may be a red flag.
Meet with the parents of the students. Find out their expectations. Probe them with questions to find out their level of support for you.
5. Expectations. Ask for a written job description that lists expectations. Most churches do evaluations and it’s hard to be evaluated if there are no known expectations. This protects you and the church, the job description may also throw up some red flags you may need to investigate further.
6. Be clear. Be clear with your expectations of the church, senior pastor, committee. Make sure they understand that while you know pastoring is an on call 24/7 position you also need time for yourself and your family. If you have family make sure you clarify the priority that your family comes first in ministry. You can’t help minister to families if you are neglecting your own.
7. Doctrine and theology. I’m amazed how many youth pastors take positions in churches they don’t even line up with doctrinally or theologically. “Well I just want to minister to students.” I get that, I understand that passion, but you are setting yourself up for a short term position in a church if you can’t agree with the church’s doctrine and theology. I scratch my head when I watch a youth pastor go from a Baptist church to a Methodist church to a Church of Christ to an Assemblies of God. I know those are “just denominations” but denominations believe differently about the Word of God and that’s why there are denominations. Eventually it will get to you because you disagree. You want longevity in a church? Make sure your beliefs line up with the church’s beliefs.
8. No guarantees. From talking with other youth leaders in other churches, in hearing the “war stories” I know that unfortunately there are no guarantees. If you are going to sell your house you can empty it out and paint it with a fresh coat but underneath that paint is the old paint, possibly bad wiring in the walls, plumbing issues. Fresh paint can make the house appear in great shape but digging a little deeper can expose the problems that may be lurking beneath the surface of that home’s walls.
A church can do the same thing. A church can paint a great picture, can tell you how much they want to see the church packed with students, how much they will support you. A church can make it look like the ministry position of a lifetime. Then you are there for several months and the honeymoon ends and you realize that you have no support, no volunteers (that’s what they pay you for), out on the end of the limb by yourself.
9. Don’t rush. Chances are the church has been taking months or even years to find a new youth pastor. Take the time to do the due diligence. In twenty-one years of full time ministry I have only been in 2 churches. My goal when I came to each church was longevity. I didn’t want to be that statistic of lasting only two or three years. Rushing into a position or jumping at the first one to come along may be detrimental to you, your family and even the students of that church.
The above is not an exhaustive list. I know that the more time spent thinking through a position at a church and praying about it the more likely the ministry will be successful. I have seen many with a passion to reach students jump into an unhealthy church/ministry situation in the name of "reaching students" and then find themselves miserable and then that is followed by throwing in the towel at the church or in ministry all together.