Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An Open Letter to Youth Minister Search Teams

(Though this particular letter is written specifically for youth minister search teams, most of the content will work for any search team.)

Dear Search Team or Committee

I have applied to your open youth minister position and would like to pass on some information from my perspective of the search. Before I begin by giving you some advice to improve your communication with those of us who have applied for your position; allow me to share these thoughts. First off, thank you for being a part of the group who will determine the next minister to the students. I understand you have a big decision ahead of you and it should not be taken lightly. I appreciate all of the extra time, effort and energy you have put into the process (not to mention all of the meetings). One last thing you should know about me - I am praying for you as much as you are praying for me. I pray God gives you wisdom, strength and the ability to discern the right choice.

As a search team moving along in the search process, I would suggest you keep these few things in mind. (In no particular order) You will notice that throughout this list I will use the word "appreciate" often; because none of these ideas are requirements for you, they are just things I would appreciate.

1. Use Technology.
You do not have to waste a stamp. Since we are living in an age of technology, with email and text messaging being more prevalent than snail mail, you do not have to send me a letter. You can send me an email letting me know you are not pursuing me any longer. This is especially true if all of our communication has been done via email.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
At the beginning of the process, I understand it might take months for you to make any sort of decision. I do not expect a weekly email letting me know what number I am on your list of potential youth workers, but I would appreciate notification when the process moves forward. As we move farther down the process, I would appreciate knowing what is going on. As the list of potential youth ministers is narrowed, and I'm still on it, I would expect to be informed on the progress. Even if the search team has not met for a month, I would appreciate knowing.

If I end up being the "chosen" youth minister, I am learning a lot about the way the leadership in the church works. If there is a pattern of poor communication during the search process, I will be more likely to decline your offer to be youth minister. Why would I willingly walk into a situation where communication is not a strength for the leadership? On the other hand, when a search team communicates well during the search process, I will willingly join that team.

3. Honesty is a must!
For me, this is a huge issue. In fact, this might be the biggest issue I consider. And as much as you are deciding if I am the right person for this position, I am deciding if you are the right congregation for me. I do not want to work with a group of people who are not completely honest. When it comes to the search process, do not lie to me. If you are interviewing two other people, tell me. If you are worried that I will not work well with the senior minister, let me know. The worst thing you can do is make me feel that I am the person for the job while I am visiting, when you know that I am not.

There is no reason to drag me along, just to keep me as a "back-up" if the real #1 choice doesn't work out. If you want to pursue one candidate at a time, then be honest and let me know that at the beginning of the process. I will not be offended if you want to be specific and strategic in your search, even if it means I am not going through the first round of the interview process. I would rather know from the beginning what the search teams intentions are, then to believe a lie about where I stand. Being honest is one of those qualities Christians are supposed to possess, so it needs to be a quality the search team possesses as well.

4. Silence conveys a message.
I have found that when a youth ministry search team is silent for an extended period of time, it usually is not a good sign. Silence from your team conveys one main thing - I (as a youth ministry candidate) am no longer being considered for the position. I understand this is not always the case, but it is the conclusion I will come to when I do not hear anything from a search team for an extended period of time. Silence also conveys the message that your team is not willing to honestly tell me what you think about my ability to minister to the students in your congregation.

As I am patiently waiting to hear back from your committee, I would appreciate an occasional (at the least) update. Even if the search team is hesitant to have a difficult discussion with one of the candidates that is no reason to avoid communication. Some conversations will be difficult, but you should have known that when you signed up to be on the team - even in the church the hiring process is difficult. You need to know that I am not going to talk/think negatively about you if you phone and tell me I am not the right person for the position. I will respect your team and appreciate the manner in which you handled the situation.

If you are silent after I have already interviewed, I believe one of two things is happening: you are calling another candidate back and you are hoping if that candidate says "no" then I'll still be willing to come for another interview. Or you do not know how to tell me that I am not the right candidate and hope I'll find another position before you have to tell me.

5. Respect my time.
This comment goes along with the silence one - as you are going through your process remember that the candidates are waiting to hear back from you. Just because you only want to meet once a month does not make it appropriate to only contact the applicants every other time you meet. Do not drag out the process for any candidate longer than necessary - as soon as you know a candidate is not going to be the right person for the ministry the best thing you can do is let them know.

We, the candidates, are not just waiting to hear back about a job. We are waiting to hear back about the city we will live in, the church our family will attend, and the people we will become friends with. Taking on a new youth ministry position entails all of our life and family. So, as you are considering your decision, please keep this in mind as you keep us abreast of the situation. And please try to meet as a group more than once a month.

Thank you for reading this letter. I hope it helps you have a better understanding of what the youth minister candidates are feeling and thinking during this search process. I pray God gives you wisdom and discernment in your search and you find the right minister for the students.


A youth minister candidate

ps. I would like to suggest two books for you to read, if you have time. The first book is "Inside The Mind Of Youth Pastors" by Mark Riddle, published by Youth Specialties. The second book is "Sustainable Youth Ministry" by Mark DeVries, published by InterVarsity Press. Both of these books contain great insight into a better understanding what youth ministry is all about and how a congregation can help it succeed.


  1. That's why I wrote


    Ten Reasons to help with Hirign a yP. I shared alot of these frustrations when searching.

  2. I'm reading Sustainable Youth Ministry right now and would definitely echo your recommendation. Every search team should read it before they make another selection.

  3. @gman - maybe all search teams should be required to read that or something like it before they start their search. :)

    @Mike - I actually recommended it to a friend I know who is on a search team. Told him, he needs to read it before the hire.

  4. Ah, except for the book recommendations, this post would work as an open letter to Worship Pastor search teams as well (well, I might add a few points that would be less relevant here :) ). Well written post!


  5. Kevin, I'd love to read a revised version of this with added "worship minister" requests/thoughts. I'm guessing it would be something like - "I don't have to play piano/organ to be able to be a lead worshipper" :)

  6. Dude I'm half tempted to include this in my resume packets that I am sending while looking for a yp job. Great work...

  7. Thank you so much for this post. I have been in the search process for over a year and I can count on one hand the churches that have communicated well. This is some great advise and I pray search teams read this.

  8. I definitely would like to see more churches take your suggestions. It is so frustrating to go months without hearing anything and then all of a sudden get contacted and asked to do a questionnaire (and then not ever hear anything again after that).

  9. Great stuff. Absolutely great stuff. I am currently looking for a place to serve and can relate to every point you made.

  10. @jrwolfe - thanks and I'd love to hear what feedback you get if you happen to add it to your packet. It could be your "recommendations for how you would like the search to process." :)

    @josh - I feel your pain. Sadly, I too have experienced only a small percentage of churches that communicate well. But those are churches I highly respect, even though they wouldn't hire me.

    @crosseyed - I would recommend checking in on a regular basis. Some churches will still not reply to you, but for the others it helps to keep you informed and shows your interest.

    @david - I haven't talked to many youth ministers who haven't experienced at least a little of this during a search - so know you are not alone

  11. Wow. This is really good stuff. As a guy who has been searching for the right fit for a while, the thoughts you shared can be awefully frustrating. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Ben, thanks. As you continue to wait for the right fit, remember that God has the right place for you and will put you there at the right time.

  13. Sustainable Youth Ministry was a top notch book.

    Hopefully, some search committees will read this!

  14. Most Excellent! Great Insight and presentation!