Monday, March 12, 2007

What do you do first?

When I taught my very small portion of the Candidating and Transition into Ministry class last week, one of the students asked, "What do I do to get started in the candidacy process?"

This is a great question; after he asked, I wondered how many candidates get stalled on this, and never gain (or regain) the momentum they need to candidate well. Here's how I would get started if I were starting today:
  1. Make sure my resume, Data Form(s), Reference List, Bio, and Philosophy of Ministry are current. These are the documents that I typically offer to send any church I contact, and all of them deserve a look. Do I need to add or change any of the titles or descriptions on my resume? Does my Data Form accurately reflect what it should? Have any of my references moved or changed jobs? Should I add anything to my bio? Do I still hold to that Philosophy of Ministry? Since I already have these documents prepared, it might take me a couple of hours to ensure they are current; starting from scratch, however, it could take days or even weeks to get them to "final draft" status. This is first priority, since you want to be able to get these out the door (or sent in an e-mail) right away when the time comes.
  2. Contact my "network." I would send an e-mail to 30-50 people who I trust are interested in seeing me well-placed, and ask them if they know of any positions that would be a good fit. I would also ask them to ask their network if they know about any opportunities. And I would start making intentional individual contact with my network, either by phone or in person, to check in with them in a more personal way. These people are my best bet for getting a good placement, so I need to take the relationships seriously. (2a. Also at this point I would contact my closest 5-10 friends and ask that they be praying regularly and specifically for me; I'll begin to send them periodic e-mails that give them updates on my search.)
  3. Research any opportunities produced by #2. I expect that my first round of contact might give me a lead or two-- maybe even as many as five or six-- and now its time to look into these opportunities a bit more. Have I checked to see if these churches have websites? What does a little demographic research tell me about the area and its ministry potential? Do I know anyone who is or has been on staff at that church? Is this opportunity listed on any of the many websites-- and if so, what does that listing tell me about the job description? I'm looking for confirmation that this position would, in fact, be a good fit for me; there's no sense in pursuing something that I won't consider, and I'll protect their time and mine by doing a good job with this step.
  4. Contact those opportunities that rise to the top with #3. Chances are, one or two of these might be very exciting, and I'll start by making a phone call. If I've found a contact person listed, I'll try to contact them; this may be through a provided phone number, or by calling the church's number and asking for some help with this. If it is an Assistant or Associate Pastor role, I might call the Senior Pastor. If all I have is an e-mail address, I'll send a brief (as in, 2-3 short paragraphs) message introducing myself and asking if I may telephone the contact person; I'll ask them to respond with a number where I can call them. If even this doesn't pan out-- if I get no response to this request, or the response simply asks that I "send my data form through e-mail"-- I'll downgrade this opportunity to a last-hope level (unless I later hear something more from them). Those that I do talk to will get asked the same questions: how is the search going (and are you still considering new candidates)? What can you tell me about the church? Can you tell me anything about what you are seeking for this position? These questions will tell me lots that the paperwork I might receive won't.
  5. Send my information to those opportunities that request it. I won't take for granted that, just because I've done a little ground work and bothered to call, the guy on the other end will automatically want my resume. He (or she) will probably ask me a few questions to gauge whether they would be interested in me as a candidate. At a certain point in the conversation, I'll have a sense about whether he is interested or not and will ask if I may send my information-- then ask what they would like to receive. I usually offer my resume, Data Form, and bio the first time around; there will be plenty of time to send the rest.
  6. Check the vacancy lists. This is the first stop for a lot of guys, but notice that it is far down the list for me. After I've worked over all of the opportunities generated by real relationships that I already have, I'll start to look for new opportunities. Those that look promising will be filtered through #2a (my close friends), #3, and #4: I'll ask my friends if they know anything about this opportunity, do some research about it, then start making phone calls. This part is exhausting to me, because as an introvert I'll spend an enormous amount of energy trying to build a new relationship on a cold-call. Still, This is THE WAY to get a foot in the door at a church on one of these lists; otherwise, I'm just one more resume in a stack of 70 others. When I've gotten to the phone calls, #5 kicks in again, and I'll start sending out information again.
  7. Follow-up in a timely way. I don't want to become a pest, and care is required to avoid being one. Nevertheless, I am trying to build a relationship with this person and the search team they are a part of, so I will regularly make follow-up contact with the point person on the search. This may be a quick e-mail, a phone call, or both. When I contact them, I assure them that I am praying for them and their search, ask how I might be praying more specifically, and ask if there has been any progress that they can share with me. (By the way, this is not just a tactful way of probing them for updates; I genuinely mean all of this, and would discourage anyone from saying something like this if they don't mean it.) Typically, they are happy to give me an update if there is something to tell, and I slowly get the opportunity to know at least one member of the search team.
  8. Respond promptly to their requests for information. If things go well, one or more churches may ask me to provide more information-- either something I already have prepared, or something that they have prepared in the form of a questionnaire. Do they want a CD of some sermons? Would they like my reference list? Could I fill out this profile form they have designed? Whatever their requests, get your response turned around as quickly as you can, while attending to accuracy and precision. For things that I have already prepared (or should be able to get together quickly)-- such as reference lists or sermon recordings-- 2-3 days is reasonable; for things like a questionnaire, 7-10 days is fine. If I'm unsure, I'll ask them how quickly they need it; they may be meeting in a week and want to consider my answers at that meeting, if possible.
In each of these steps, I would do my utmost to be gracious, tactful, and appreciative. I would remember that my ministry to my future church could be starting with this phone call, and would work to put their priorities in front of my own if at all possible.

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