Dear church staff candidate:

Dear church staff candidate:

Your resumé matters. It matters so much that you ought to have a knowledgeable person proofread it before you send it out. I’ve just returned from a search committee meeting at church where a committee of lay members reviewed your resumé, and they were astonished at what they saw.

You may think you’re pitching your vital statistics to another pastor who will understand your language and style with a forgiving eye, but that’s seldom the case. In reality, your resumé most likely will be eyeballed by professionals. Here’s who was around the table in our committee meeting tonight: three lawyers, a geneticist, a professional fundraiser, a human resources manager, a former accounting firm recruiter who now is a stay-at-home mom and two engineers.

As professionals, these laypeople were shocked at the amount of personal information you included on your resumé. You told us dates of birth for you, your spouse and your children. The person on our committee who is a human resources manager for a large national firm said if she received a resumé like that at work, she would have to throw it in the trash without looking at it, due to potential age discrimination. Yes, churches are exempt from that type of hiring discrimination, but smart laypeople aren’t going to be swayed just because they’re at church and not at work. They don’t see listing your family credentials as an asset; they see you being careless with personal information.

And then there are your typos. If you’ve managed to earn a graduate degree, you ought to know the proper name of your degree. It’s a “master of divinity” degree, not a “master’s of divinity” or a “masters of divinity.” Picky? Yes. But the care you put into polishing your professional credentials offers a window into the kind of care you’ll take as a staff member in our congregation. Most churches don’t want sloppy.

When you leave off dates when your degrees were earned, you appear to be hiding something. In Baptist life today, and particularly in moderate Baptist life, dates matter a lot. For example, there’s a big difference in a degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1990 versus 2000. Our laypeople understand that the school fundamentally changed between those years. And while we’re on education, don’t try to inflate your degree. One of you tried to tell us tonight that a graduate diploma in theology is the same as a master of divinity degree. Sorry; it’s not.

And then there are the other little clues of carelessness that throw your resumé immediately into the “do not consider” pile: failing to update the resumé to reflect your current position or lack thereof; indicating a degree was anticipated to be received three years ago; telling us the names of churches where you’ve worked but not the cities or states; failing to offer a cover letter explaining noticeable gaps in your employment. One of our committee members had searched the Internet for information about you before he came to the meeting tonight. He pointed out discrepancies between your stated credentials and what was found on your current or former church’s Web site.

Finally, understand that references matter. Whoever told you to put “references available upon request” was wrong. Smart search committees immediately look at the names and positions of your references. Is there a reference listed from even one of your previous employers? Why not? Are your references all from the same place? Probably not a good idea. Have you spelled correctly the names of your references? Are any of the references people who will carry a measure of influence with the church considering you? That makes a difference. At least two people were spared the discard pile tonight based solely on the strength of their references.

And here’s a final bonus: Skip the God talk. Just because you’re applying for a church staff position doesn’t mean you need to prove your spiritual mettle in a folksy statement of personal mission. What might be endearing to your mother probably won’t translate to a group of people who haven’t yet met you.

Sadly, we’re not going to meet you, though, because these little mistakes put your resumé among the 12 out of 18 received that went straight to the recycle bin. We hoped for so much better.

Mark Wingfield

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About the Author
Mark Wingfield is associate pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and author of the book, “Staying Alive: Why the Conventional Wisdom about Traditional Churches is Wrong.”

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  • remliw

    I would just observe that there is some conflicting advice given by various people regarding the issue of listing the DATES that degrees were conferred.  While I fully understand your point, some say that providing dates for your degrees can also give people an estimate of your age and is not appropriate because of age discrimination issues.

  • statsdr

    Dear Mark,
     
    I appreciate your post and what I believe is the intent behind it.  A church staff resume (it should be either resume or résumé, never resume̒, but perhaps I’m being too professional) is important, and should be taken quite seriously.
     
    What I did not appreciate was the incredibly arrogant and legalistic approach you describe as the process of your committee.  You begin by contrasting the ones who will read the resume between “another pastor” and “professionals,” as if pastors are something much less than professionals.  You then list the professionals on your committee, apparently with the purpose of illuminating the darkness in which we clergy exist.  As a side note, are there any members of your congregation who are not “professionals?”  If so, why are they not included on the committee?  Are the “professionals” the only members of your church qualified to consider applicants?  Would this staff member be asked to minister only to the professionals, or would they also reach out to others in the congregation, assuming there are such others?
     
    As professionals, you spent a great deal of time examining the form and typographical merit of the resume.  You do not mention whether you indulge in the mundane efforts of actually considering the credentials and qualifications of the candidate or perhaps even opting to pray about such decisions.  I realize that Fortune 500 companies are not required to pray about their applicants, but I would hope there is at least some semblance of spirituality about your process.
     
    You do mention that as a bonus (thank you so very much for giving us poor Cretans ever more than we deserve; your grace is abundant) we should skip the God talk.  What kind of talk should we supply?  We are not applying to be lawyers, geneticists, fundraisers, resource managers, recruiters, or engineers.  We are applying for a staff position in a church, which last I checked still uses God talk.  I apologize also if my “folksy” statement of personal mission offends your “professional” sense of propriety; although honestly, I believe my mother might be a better judge of mission than you.
     
    The significantly good advice you offer is lost in this manifesto of condescension.  I find myself blessing those who landed in your recycle bin, and feeling the need to pray for those who were “spared.”  I cannot imagine coming to work for a congregation that begins their process with this much contempt.  My guess is that such contempt only grows exponentially as time goes by.
     
    Since yours is a large and prominent Dallas church, you will no doubt quickly fill your position.  I am sure you will get exactly what you desire and deserve.  Sadly however, I will not be sending you a resume or getting to meet you.  I, too, had hoped for so much better.

  • MichaelPoole1

    Good to see the proposition and the rebuttal. Both are helpful. Thank you.

  • clarissa5014

    Dear Mark,
    As one who “deals in resumes” on a daily basis in my work at CBF, I agree with much of what you say — especially about typos, “gaps” in the recounting of work history, and the need to be absolutely truthful about education and experience. (Would you wish to be visited in the hospital by a chaplain who spelled the word “chaplin” three times in his resume ?)
     
    However, I think the rebuttal also makes some excellent points. What would be inappropriate in a secular resume in the way of personal information, is, I believe, more acceptable in a ministry resume. And you also seem to contradict yourself in the matter of age discrimination by decrying the inclusion of birth dates, but omitting the dates when various degrees were awarded – information which can certainly be an indicator of a candidate’s age.
     
    My prayer each day as I come to work, is that God will be in the often very mundane process of sending out resumes to churches and even in the technology we use here at CBF as a part of that process.  I try to remember that each of those resumes represents a real person who has sensed a call to ministry. They may not all express that call in the way that I might think best. And certainly, many of them will not be deemed suitable candidates for specific churches. But I also pray that search committees approach the process and the “handling” of each candidates with a measure of prayer and grace.

  • clarissa5014

    Dear Mark,
    As one who “deals in resumes” on a daily basis in my work at CBF, I agree with much of what you say — especially about typos, “gaps” in the recounting of work history, and the need to be absolutely truthful about education and experience. (Would you wish to be visited in the hospital by a chaplain who spelled the word “chaplin” three times in his resume ?)
     
    However, I think the rebuttal also makes some excellent points. What would be inappropriate in a secular resume in the way of personal information, is, I believe, more acceptable in a ministry resume. And you also seem to contradict yourself in the matter of age discrimination by decrying the inclusion of birth dates, but criticizing the  omitting of  the dates when various degrees were awarded – information which can certainly be an indicator of a candidate’s age.
     
    My prayer each day as I come to work, is that God will be in the often very mundane process of sending out resumes to churches and even in the technology we use here at CBF as a part of that process.  I try to remember that each of those resumes represents a real person who has sensed a call to ministry. They may not all express that call in the way that I might think best. And certainly, many of them will not be deemed suitable candidates for specific churches. But I also pray that search committees approach the process and the “handling” of each candidate’s resume and credentials with a measure of prayer and grace.