By Larry Monroe
How we respond to an applicant for our job can help or hinder his or her future in Christian service. Nowhere is this more important than with how we handle résumés and written job applications.
It happens all too often—a résumé is sent in response to a posted position at a church or parachurch organization. The candidate eagerly awaits a reply, wondering what may lie in store for him in some exciting new ministry opportunity. The candidate waits, and waits, and waits. Soon he sends a follow-up note, and then he waits some more.
Something similar sometimes happens after a ministry applicant has a telephone interview that he believes went very well. An interviewer concludes the call by saying, “Thank you so much for your time. You’ll be hearing from us shortly.” But the contact never happens, leaving an anxious candidate to ponder, What must I have said wrong? What is wrong with me? Why don’t they at least tell me SOMETHING?
Is it any wonder so many young, promising servants of our Lord get discouraged with ministry and the Lord’s church, and eventually give up, taking a secular job somewhere?
I spent many years working in the corporate world, and I learned very early in my career that excellent customer service is always an element of success. Effective managers and the organizations they serve practice excellent customer service with everyone they come in contact with, and job applicants are no exception.
When it comes to the church, it should be about much more than good customer service. It’s about Christian responsibility and our witness.
I wish I had a dollar for every person I interviewed, but did not hire, through the years who later resurfaced at a competitor organization in a responsible, successful position of leadership. These are individuals with whom I later interfaced in business, and many times benefitted from. Some of my rejected candidates even ended up in positions of influence as vendors or industry regulators, placing them in roles with direct impact on my own business success.
Remember the old saying, “Be kind to the people you meet on the way up, because you may meet the very same people on the way down.” Common courtesy and dignity are hallmarks in the human resource practices of successful companies. These professionals always make sure that unsuccessful job applicants were communicated with as quickly as possible regarding the disposition of their inquiry into an open position or the status of a completed interview.
So why do we hear so many horror stories about the way churches treat employment applicants? I don’t think most churches mean to be rude. I suggest there could be several logical reasons for the neglect, and the good news is it can be easily corrected if there is a genuine desire and willingness to do so.
A Lack of Awareness
Several years ago I was serving as an elder in a congregation looking for a new minister. The elders served as the search committee, and we received many résumés for the open position.
During one particular meeting, we began to speculate about the kinds of circumstances our applicants might be dealing with. We tried to place ourselves in the shoes of the applicants. Some may have been in dire circumstances, while others may have desperately needed a change in order to better support their families. It was possible some of the candidates were bruised and battered as a result of difficult situations they were anxious to leave behind.
We were convicted that how we handled these men could be a great blessing to them, or it could hurt them and add to their grief and anxiety. We decided to call the men we clearly were not going to invite for an interview; we expressed our Christian love for them, and we prayed with them over the phone, asking God to bless them in their employment search.
I recall that some of those men cried with us on the phone. All expressed deep appreciation for the kindness we showed them.
I was thankful we took the time to consider the needs of those applicants. The awareness we gained from that exercise made a big difference in our lives, and I believe God used our experience to make a positive impact on the way we treated our applicants.
A Focus on Efficiency
The task of sorting through résumés can be daunting, and juggling schedules to get committee members together to discuss candidates can also be a challenge So when a candidate clearly does not match the criteria developed for a position, a committee may quickly move on to other candidates without responding to those who have been eliminated from consideration.
I understand time can be a precious commodity, but communicating with all applicants is the right thing to do. Let’s take whatever time is necessary to handle each job applicant in ways that reflect Christian character, kindness, and love. After all, how much time does it really take to send an e-mail or make a telephone call?
Fear of Confrontation
I suspect, at times, search committee members are concerned where a conversation might go after a candidate is informed he has been eliminated from consideration. What if the applicant asks for specific reasons for that decision? A properly stated explanation to an unsuccessful candidate would include some version of the following:
“After careful review of the information contained in the materials you sent us, we have determined your background and interests are not a close enough match to our job qualifications to advance you in the process. We want to thank you for your interest and express our Christian love for you in the Lord.”
As stated above, offering to pray for the candidate’s search will mean the world to him, and will leave a lasting positive memory of your church and its leadership.
A Lack of Control
I have served on several search committees, and oftentimes the applicants’ résumés were distributed with the request that members review each one and report back later with comments and recommendations. I wonder how many résumés unintentionally ended up on the floorboard or in the trunk of a vehicle, or shuffled among other papers at someone’s home, only to be unintentionally discarded. I wonder how many candidates were never called or seriously considered.
I think it is best that all résumés and letters of interest remain in the possession of one person, logically the chair of the search committee. However, if for some reason this is not practical, I would encourage search committee chairs to implement whatever controls are necessary to account for every résumé received. If résumés leave your possession, retain a copy of every one. This will help assure that all appropriate follow-up contacts have been made.
A Lack of Resources
Some churches aren’t able to find enough people to serve on search committees. When one or two individuals are trying to do the work of a committee, they may be overwhelmed by the task of getting back in touch with every candidate. In this case, ask for help! Find responsible individuals who were not comfortable committing to membership on the committee but would be glad to help with this specific task.
Some situations tend to be more egregious than others. I’m aware of a young couple who drove several hours to a youth ministry interview; afterwards, they were sent back home without even an offer to buy them a meal or reimburse them for their gas expense. I believe responsible churches should be thoughtful and generous with those applying for ministry employment positions. Applicants should be reimbursed for their expenses.
Some thoughtful reflection on our responsibilities to applicants for our church ministry positions will go a long way. How we handle job applicants will encourage or discourage them in their ministry (and life) journey. The application and interview process always says something about our church, its leadership, and our Christian witness.
Larry Monroe serves as CEO of the Christian Benevolent Association, Mason, Ohio. His background includes more than 20 years as a corporate insurance executive for several Fortune 500 companies.