For college and seminary students, spring is the season of searching, the time to look for that first full-time ministry placement. Spring might well be the season of searching for seasoned ministers as well. My blog posts this spring will offer ideas, suggestions, practical helps to those who are in the “search mode,” and this is the second post in this series.
My last post was devoted to discernment, which is the most important step in preparing for a search, but there are a few other steps that should not be neglected as you begin the search process, and these steps I offer to you in the form of advice.
As an observer and a frequent coach of those who are seeking a ministry position, the most important advice that I now give is this: “This search is yours. No one is more interested in its outcome or invested in its success than you. So take ownership of your search. Don’t ask other people to do more work, spend more time, or put more effort into it than you do. This search is yours.”
If you are about to begin the search process, you need to hear these hard words: Searching for a position is demanding, time consuming, and often labor intensive. It requires persistence and patience. The waiting will seem endless. The process can be grueling, and the disappointment can be devastating. The challenge of searching is true of most every profession. It is not unique to ministry, but the interweaving of faith, calling, and paid employment complicate ministry searches. So know going in that there will be discouraging days, weeks, and even months. Take time to prepare yourself spiritually and emotionally for the journey.
A good preparation exercise for your search is to sit down and make some lists, take some notes.
- Make a list of your gifts, skills, interests, passions.
- Review those personality inventories and assessments you have taken such as the Myers Briggs, the Enneagram, and/or Strength Finders. If you haven’t taken these inventories lately, now is a good time to do that.
- Make a list of your values. What matters the most to you? What things don’t matter as much? Your list should include ministry “must haves” as well as geographical and financial hopes and dreams.
- What is your dream ministry position? What other ministry positions are of interest to you? What are your ministry strengths and gifts? What positions are you open to considering that might not be your “dream job?”
- Where do you want to live? Where are you willing to live? The Northeast, the Southwest, only your home state? Rural, urban, or suburban? Where would you be most comfortable? Where would you be most energized? How far is too far away for you from family and friends?
- What are your assets? Yes, you financial assets. How much money do you have saved? How much educational debt do you have? How much other debt do you have? Will you need a car in the next six months or a new laptop? What monthly budget have you been accustomed to living on?
Making these lists can be a helpful exercise at the start of your search. List making can provide clarity about what is important to you, what is necessary for you, and what compromises you might be willing to make.
Another step in preparation is to schedule conversations with your mentors, professors, ministers, and friends. Ask them for help in exploring your strengths and gifts. Ask them what they see as a good place, a good position, a good fit for you in ministry. Having respected members of your community help you process your own giftedness and skill-sets can be especially helpful if you are better at verbal processing. Often times others see us more clearly than we see ourselves—especially in challenging or stressful periods of life, and by inviting others in to your search, you have opportunity to ask them to pray with you and for you during the search process.
A final step in preparation is to consider finding a coach or mentor to be part of your search process. While coaches often charge fees that “poor” college or seminary students cannot afford, finding an affordable coach can be done. People who are training as coaches often need to accumulate coaching hours and do so at no cost. Or you might find a trusted professor or mentor who would be willing to serve as a sounding board, a listening year, an advisor during your search process. And find a few friends who are willing to be part of your journey, who will listen to your complaints about slow search committees or hear your frustration about the churches who never acknowledge your resume. Don’t isolate yourself or try to do a search all by yourself. It is too challenging and sometimes too lengthy a process to do alone. Surround yourself with encouraging, helpful, and respected folks. After all, isn’t that what ministry is all about—journeying in community?
Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.