By David Fincher
Will your church hire a recent Christian college graduate?
Be careful! In my experience working at a Christian college and knowing many Christian college leaders, I’ve heard some sad stories. Unfortunate hiring decisions have hurt both the church and the young minister.
In many cases, the student’s Christian college experience contained warnings. But Christian college faculty can give a reference or warning only if the student has given express written permission. Privacy laws protect a student’s official records, and so employees may not offer completely transparent advice.
While attending a Christian college can provide many experiences parallel to a career in ministry, you won’t discover those similarities unless you ask the right questions.
Here’s my list of 10 questions every hiring committee should ask when interviewing a recent Christian college graduate. You’ll discover insight even from answers to questions here you may at first think irrelevant. You’ll draw helpful conclusions not only from the candidate’s answers, but also from whether he or she answers freely or evasively.
So ask all of these, and think carefully about the answers you receive.
1. May we have access to your college disciplinary records? What would they show?
If the graduate is willing to give you access to these records, you probably don’t even need to see them. For a candidate to voluntarily admit his or her past failings is a good sign of integrity and personal growth. Those graduates who refuse to release these records make an equally valuable statement that should not be ignored.
2. Which professor did you have the most difficulty with and why?
Many graduates are eager to talk about their favorite professors but are not inclined to admit they struggled with one particular person. Every student has at least one professor whose personality, expectations, or habits make it hard to succeed.
An extroverted graduate who had a hard time connecting with her introverted professor may have the same problem with a supervisor or sponsor that shares the same characteristics. At the least, this can help address the risk and may possibly prevent an insurmountable challenge.
3. What were your attendance struggles and what have they taught you about yourself?
Some students have a hard time getting up in the morning, and others are habitually three minutes late to class. If the candidate struggled to protect his classroom schedule by creating conflicting calendar commitments, those lessons should be learned well. It is likely that if a graduate failed a course for excessive absences, he may need to be careful in order to avoid a ministry failure for the same reasons.
4. With which church(es) did you consistently serve during your time at Christian college and what did you learn from working with others there?
A student who visited a variety of different churches may have never become involved enough to see ministry from the perspective of the people. Consistent service not only confirms giftedness and calling, but it also prepares a student to work with a variety of different church members.
As a graduate describes these events, a search committee can easily imagine how those gifts and relationships can transfer into their church’s ministry plan. At the same time, committee members can visualize how the graduate’s ministry might include equipping others to use their gifts together for productive ministry.
5. What are the service opportunities you declined to pursue while in college and why?
Christian colleges offer a multitude of opportunities for students to discover their gifts and work with a team. Many graduates are excited to talk about the various groups and activities they volunteered with or led. Instead of focusing only on the favorite activities during their college career, it may be more valuable to know the opportunities that were avoided. Whether attributed to financial considerations, personal preferences, or lack of initiative, this information may reveal a graduate’s approach to unrewarding and challenging ministry tasks.
6. What was your community involvement where you attended Christian college?
Almost every Christian college is described as a “bubble,” where students are hidden or protected from the real world. In reality, students have multiple opportunities to get plugged into the communities where their colleges are located.
Working with community service organizations or local businesses is an indicator that the student can build relationships outside of the body of Christ. The consistency of being involved in community relationships while in college will demonstrate openness to representing the church outside of its walls.
7. What jobs were you employed at and how did you end each one?
A student who is employed while in college demonstrates the ability to manage a schedule and keep commitments. Whether that job was in a factory, service industry, retail, or even as a telemarketer will help the committee evaluate the work ethic of the student and their ability to relate to church members who are also employed in these areas.
As important as the jobs held is the respect shown as employment comes to an end. Professionalism and responsibility are as important in the church setting as in secular employment, and can be anticipated based on past experiences.
8. How much are your student loans and what will the monthly payments be?
Most of us are not comfortable asking questions about debt, but an honest graduate should be willing to explain how much she had to borrow for college and what it will cost to repay. If the candidate doesn’t know either number, it may be a sign of financial irresponsibility.
To be clear, borrowing money for a Christian college education should not disqualify a person from ministry. In fact, it may demonstrate a higher degree of commitment to his studies and more time spent volunteering instead of working a low-wage job. But the graduate’s payment amount tells the search committee how much salary might be needed.
Since student loan payments normally begin six months after graduation, the leadership can schedule a job evaluation and salary review to help the minister prepare. Many companies now offer the benefit of student loan repayment for those who commit to a lengthy contract. An informed church may be able to reward a graduate’s long commitment.
9. What institutional policy did you most disagree with and how did you handle the issue?
Every Christian college student is frustrated by at least one rule or policy. Whether it involves dress code, curfew, or something more important, a student’s approach to the issue is more revealing than the issue itself. The ability to comply while disagreeing is a sign of a submissive spirit. The willingness to discuss a disagreement in a productive manner with the appropriate employee shows peacemaking potential.
Someone who constantly complains or intentionally disobeys a policy while in college may struggle with a similar situation in ministry.
10. What doctrinal issue(s) did you find yourself resisting or allowing to change your own beliefs?
Most churches will ask a graduate to explain his position on a key doctrinal issue like baptism, creation, or spiritual gifts. Those are very valuable insights for a search committee to gain in order to ensure a good fit with the church’s doctrinal positions. Equally valuable is to learn how the student modified his doctrinal positions and why.
For instance, during Bible college I changed my perspective on prophecy and the Second Coming. My classes and studies helped me sort through those issues and reach conclusions that were more clear and biblical. A graduate’s willingness to study Scripture on his own and with others will set a good example for dealing with church members or visitors who have doctrinal questions.
There may be other questions that will help a search committee learn what they need to know in order to make a successful hire. But these 10 questions are a valuable starting point to bring wisdom and clarity to the important decisions that need to be made by the church and the Christian college graduate.
David Fincher serves as president of Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Missouri. He has served as a worship leader, elder, deacon, and teacher at Timber Lake Christian Church.