We’ve all heard it. Finding a job is tough in this economy when so many people are out of work. Youth Ministry is no exception. Most of us who have steady youth ministry jobs are staying put, but for a lot of us that simply isn’t an option. So while finding a good Church in this tough economic climate may seem tough, it’s not impossible. In fact, I’ve done it twice.
The first time was in 2008, when the markets first collapsed. My salary as a Youth and Children’s minister was payed out of the interest generated by an endowment. I used to joke that I was the “June Jolly Memorial Youth Pastor”. The fund stopped generating interest and my salary money evaporated over night. I walked into the office one morning and was told that I was being let go immediately. I got on my denomination’s website and there were NO youth ministry jobs in my home state of Kentucky. I had a strong sense, though, that this was my life’s purpose and that if I exhausted every effort to remain in ministry, God would honor that and make up the difference. I wound up moving to North Carolina where, until just recently, I served as a Youth and Children’s Minister at a larger Church and with a raise in salary. But that was after several months of earnest search and “loser days” sitting in our apartment watching bills pile up while my wife bore the weight.
As I write this, I am avoiding the chore of packing up my office. Next week I am moving to my new Church in Virginia. Last fall, my wife’s father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a fatal illness of the blood and bone marrow. He was given three years to live. After much prayer and soul searching, my wife and I decided that we needed to move closer to home. Seeing our family only two or three times a year was no longer right for us. Our current Church was really supportive when we decided that we would begin looking for a new Church family. I kept them in the loop early and often in my decision making process and they allowed me to remain employed while I looked for another Church. In exchange, I have been able to aid the Church in their transition to a new youth pastor. It has been a bittersweet process but we have somehow managed to keep a family here in North Carolina while acquiring a new one in Virginia. Through these experiences, I learned a couple of truths that may be helpful to anyone exploring the possibility of making a move in THIS economy.
1. Be Transparent. Let your Church know what you are thinking and feeling (assuming this is an environment that is not so toxic that this isn’t a real possibility), and let them know that you are going to begin looking for another ministry, but that for the time you remain committed to this one and will do everything in your power to aid a smooth and graceful transition. (If you are fearing your job may not be around for much longer, knowing you are leaving willingly in a couple of months may save your Church from having to make an abrupt decision).
2. Fish on the other side of the boat! There’s plenty of youth ministry jobs if you are willing to look beyond your usual spot! I didn’t want to look outside of my denomination but that meant I had to look outside my home state. Maybe you are attached to home but not to a denomination. Decide what you value and don’t get hung up on the rest! I have a Caucasian friend who is at an all African American church. They love him to death (but tease him to no end)! How many of us would overlook an opportunity we thought was for “somebody else”.
3. Distinguish yourself. If you can make a resume in the form of a comicbook (along with your real “grown up” one), a video resume with youth testimonials, or write an eloquent essay, or whatever your thing is… DO IT! You’ll get an interview.
4. Go the extra mile. My Church in North Carolina still talks about how I drove 8 hours to be present for a job interview when they offered to do it over the phone.
5. Be willing to say, “NO.” Just because a Church is open does not mean it’s where you need to be. I visited a church several months ago where the pastor was really impressed with me. I knew I would have the job if I wanted it. But as he took me around and showed me the facility, he whispered conspiratorially about all the political back and forth in the congregation: who didn’t like the gym and why, how pastor so and so toe the congregation in half, and how they had fired the youth pastor (an older man) but hired him as the janitor (awkward…). Oh, and you’ll be the latest in a line of two year youth pastors dating back to 1992 when St. Awesome left. RED FLAG!!! Driving home, I told my wife, “I know you’re in a hurry to be home, but there were definite signs of dysfunction. I think we’d be miserable there.” The next morning, the Pastor from the Church that eventually hired me called. You don’t want to be moving again in two or three years, so make sure you are moving where God wants you to move.
I hope these thought were helpful to everyone who is in a similar situation of having to pursue God’s will in the midst of a really tough market. In the end, though, this economy isn’t really different than any other economy. God always takes care of those whom He has called and if we pray in humility and follow His direction, He will show us what He has for us. Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and the other stuff will work itself out. But to be on the safe side, my mother would want you to know that you should wear a tie to your interview.
Danny Nettleton is a youth pastor and blogger who originally wrote an incredible comment on this post that turned into a request for the full guest post you just read.