So, you believe that God has called you to invest your life into loving and leading teenagers? Awesome! The rewards of a job as a youth worker are great, but so are the challenges. On top of working long hours for a meager salary which forces you to survive on pizza and Mountain Dew, you’ll also have to contend with budgets, parents, and teenage mood swings. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
First, before you enter this “Promised Land,” you’ll have to face the search committee. The following are just a few “lessons learned” from the daunting process of finding and landing a job in the crazy world of youth ministry.
Know Where You Should Be
It may sound incredibly obvious, but it’s a great reminder nonetheless. There are tons of options under the umbrella of youth ministry, and you should invest some time in carefully determining not only where your passions are, but where your giftedness lies.
For example, do you want to work in the local church, at a camp, with a para-church organization, or something else? Do you want to work with high school students, middle school students, or both? Are you comfortable combining the role of youth pastor with children’s ministry or worship leading? Where are your gifts? Which of your gifts have others noticed?
These are some of the questions you will have to ask yourself – and take the time to answer – as you enter the field. A great place to start this process is on your knees asking God to direct you. God gives each one of us gifts and wants to see us use them. Take time discovering your gifts and passions. Those who try to hurry the process along, or are willing to settle for something that doesn’t fit them well, usually wind up miserable… until they quit, or are fired.
We won’t bore you with countless stories of youth workers whose hearts burned for middle school, but settled for a high school ministry job, only to quit within the first year or two. Many of you might be able to tell those stories better than us.
Ministry isn’t a place to settle—the cost is too great. Don’t steer away from where God is leading you.
Know Where to Look
Going to a “Career Day” or “Job Fair” isn’t necessarily going to help you find a job in youth ministry. It’s a specialized occupation, and thus, you will have to look in unique places for these kinds of opportunities. Here’s a short list of great places to start.
- YouthSpecialties.com has a massive job bank on their website. Not only can you look for job openings, but you can also post your resume online for other churches/ministries to peruse.
- YouthMinistry.com is another big name in the business. Their job board is strictly for youth pastors.
- ChurchJobs.net also has a database for youth workers to use.
- MinisterSearch.com is another site where youth workers can find listings for youth ministry jobs. (You will have to build a profile for this site.)
- ChurchStaffing.com is also a reputable site youth workers can explore for positions in youth ministry.
- PastorFinder.com calls themselves “the largest free church job site.” Their collection of jobs allows you to apply various filters to your search.
Denominational Websites simply cannot be overlooked, especially if you have a particular affiliation. Most denominations have websites that allow you to search for youth ministry jobs by state. And don’t forget about the cafeteria at Christian colleges and theological seminaries; they often have job openings posted on a board.
First Impressions: Resumes and Interviews
OK, so you found the “perfect fit” for you (and your family). Now what?
The old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a great first impression,” is never truer than in this instance. Their first glimpse of you will probably be your resume and your first interview. If you mess up either of those, you won’t get a second chance at anything!
A few months ago I passed a friend’s resume to a church looking for a youth pastor. When he first sent it to me, it was full of misspellings and grammatical errors. I asked him if he proofed it and he said, “My wife proofed it.”
Even if your spouse is an English teacher, don’t just have your spouse proof it. Put your resume in front of several sets of eyes. Include a pastor and an English teacher in the mix. Your resume is your FIRST impression.
Interviews are just as vital. Don’t walk into an interview without considerable preparation. First, know yourself and the organization. Before meeting with the search committee, read up on the church’s/ministry’s mission statement and/or core values. Do you even meet their criteria? Are you aligned with their doctrine? There’s no sense in trying to get a job at a Presbyterian Church if you’re not predestined! And you can kiss that Baptist job goodbye if you spilled your beer last time you went dancing.
Second, practice the interview with friends or colleagues. Not only does this give you a chance to get feedback on your answers, it also allows you a “heads up” peek at some of the standard questions often asked in a ministry interview. TheSource4YM.com has a fantastic sample youth ministry job description, a sample job interview guide, and similar resources on its Logistical Crud page.
Third, and most important, maintain integrity. It’s unfortunate, but too many people vying for ministry positions intentionally misrepresent themselves to get the job. You’re not Doug Fields; don’t turn in a resume that looks like it! Just last week we looked at a youth worker’s resume that was full of misrepresentations. This individual documented himself as “Assistant Youth Pastor” for four years at a church. When we called his old “boss,” we found out that he was actually a Wednesday night volunteer… not even a very dedicated one at that. Don’t stretch the truth. Authenticity shines. Be mindful of balancing genuine humility with personal confidence.
Last, interview back. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of THEM! “Do you have any expectations as to what percentage of my time should be devoted to outreach and what percentage devoted to spiritual growth?” “Do you have a job description?” “Do you like to see youth in ‘big church’ on Sunday, or at their own youth service?” “How would this church respond if we started reaching out to skaters and they started attending on Sunday morning?” “What happened to the last youth pastor?” “What does the job pay?” “What are the benefits, if any?” “Who does the position report to?” This helps eliminate those “nasty” little surprises that might arise after a hire.
Make a Plan for Making the Decision
Let’s assume you’ve done everything correctly up to this point. Moreover, you’ve done so well that you’ve been contacted by the church/ministry with the news that they want you.
Don’t blurt out, “Yes!” when they offer you the job. Don’t even back yourself into a corner by telling them you’ll have an answer to them by the end of the day. Take some time…some real time. You’re making a big decision; treat it like one!
Hopefully, you’ve been prayerful about the process to this point. Continue to ask God for discernment in your situation. It also helps to have several other people, preferably some godly mentors, praying with you. Get with them and ask them what they are hearing from God.
Whatever you do, base your decision on something more than just a “feeling.” Feelings change. By taking the job, you are making a commitment to a church and a community that are both full of families who need your help.
Beyond the Search
Youth ministry is a fantastic calling, and many of the people who do it wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. Hopefully, these ideas and pointers will not only help you find the fit God has crafted for you, but will also serve you well by catapulting you into a strong launch at the church or ministry you’ve chosen to serve.
Now get to work.
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.