It's an age-old pattern in youth ministry. It happens in the theaters of hip, urban churches, in rural chapels, in storefront communities, and in megachurches.
Leaders decide that the needs of their ministries to children and adolescents have outpaced their current capacity, and they move to hire a professional youth leader. And so the search begins with a thoughtful copy-and-paste of a good-looking job description from another church. The church hires their desired candidate. The relationship usually ends 18 months to 3 years later—often because the professional youth leader is responsible for a job that turned out to be something different than what was advertised. “Other duties as assigned” became the primary set of expectations.
Over the last 20 years, I have interviewed dozens of applicants. I’ve made some wonderful hires and a few mistakes along the way. As we begin to see and respond to the long-term effects of a global pandemic, researchers are observing that, for millions of people, priority shifts are leading them to consider transitioning to new jobs and careers. If the newly-labeled “Great Resignation” is impacting your church or ministry, I’d love to offer you a few critical pieces that are foundational to best hiring practices, especially when including students.
The classic Max De Pree adage, “The first responsibility of leaders is to define reality,” is significant in the process of hiring. Take an inventory of the job that you need done. Define your essentials for up to 5 years ahead. If you are using the phrase “other duties as assigned” on your job description, you haven’t done a good job of defining reality.
Spend time with that document because it is part road map, part vision, and part benchmark. A good job description should reflect your particular congregation. It should help you and the candidate dream about what is possible. It should also hold you and the candidate accountable to making the job function well.
Tweet this: If you are using the phrase “other duties as assigned” on a job description, you haven’t done a good job of defining reality. Here are 5 vitalizing practices for hiring your next youth ministry leader.
Set the pace
Appointing someone to lead evangelism and discipleship for young people in your church is significant; so should the process be. Leadership guru Patrick Lencioni encourages leaders to resist being generic in the interview process. He asserts, “being specific about targeted behaviors and attributes is critical.” I would expand on his advice to say: take the appropriate time to define the job, post, search, interview, onboard, and train your new hire. It should be the rare occasion that your hiring process progresses at an emergency pace. A good process and healthy discernment will increase your chances of hiring a quality candidate.
A few years back, our team was searching for someone to lead one of our age-group ministries. We had leaned into our process, taken our time, and prayed to the Lord of the Harvest. After a few months of searching, we were left with two candidates and a decision. We decided to start the process over because we did not have who we needed according to the definition of the job, needs of our community, and leading of the Holy Spirit. Six months later we onboarded a new candidate, and we could not be more pleased with the way that God led us through that process.
Gather a great team
No matter who you are hiring, the process of recruiting, selecting, and hiring the correct person for the job requires more than just one person’s eyes. At the very least you need two other people, and they all need to be in the same room. I would recommend that you include five:
- Church staff member. Depending on your structure this could be the pastor, HR director, or the person who will be overseeing the position.
- Church leader. You should involve the lay leadership of the church. This could be a board member, Youth Committee Chair, or elected leader. Among other benefits, their presence will be helpful in communicating the team’s decisions to the broader congregation.
- Volunteer leader. Having one of your volunteers involved will help you discern leadership. Those who are most engaged with the children or students will have a good sense of the students, the volunteer team, and their capacities.
- Parent. DO NOT skip this. There are multiple reasons to include at least one parent, if not two. Parents are some of the most invested stakeholders in youth ministry. Choose a parent who is able to look out for the interests of students beyond their own.
- Student. It is really helpful to get some sense of candidates’ ability to connect with actual young people. (If inviting a pre-teen student to take part, think about involving one of their parents as well.)
Involve students in the process
When placing a student on the search team, here are a few questions that I process before I invite a student to serve:
- Do students have equal say in the process (and aren’t just window-dressing)? In that way you’ve encouraged them to help the applicant succeed and you’ve invested some keys into the life of a young person.
- Who are the students invested enough to give us good feedback?
- Who are the students we are trying to reach, attending on the margins, who might be helpful in the process?
- Who is going to be most affected by this hire? Make sure that someone representing that age group is on the team.
- Who might represent the future of that ministry 3-5 years out? For example, if hiring for high school, have a middle schooler and their parent on the team.
- While in the interview, does the applicant intentionally connect with the students while answering questions?
- Can they interpret hard concepts or church lingo so that kids will understand?
- Do they ask young people questions or engage the students well?
Change the setting
If you want to see how well your candidate interacts with students, then consider providing a different setting than an interview. For example, I have had a small group of students take different applicants out for ice cream. The candidate who got students’ attention was the one who had learned their names by the end of the time and suggested they play a game. It was really cool to see how connected that leader was to the students when he was hired.
Spending time on the front end of your process will help your new hire thrive. And involving leaders, parents, and students in the process is key to providing support—no matter how dire your hiring situation might be.
Tweet this: Is the “Great Resignation” impacting your church or ministry? Try these 5 vitalizing practices for your next hiring process.
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