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7 Steps to Writing an Effective Ministry Resume

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    Ministry Well
A resume is a self-created job application. That is, instead of answering pages of questions on an application form sent to you from a dozen different places, you get to answer many of the questions on your resume. It is the first step in getting a job, before a telephone contact, a preliminary interview or a committee/board interview. Your hope is that your resume will get you a telephone call and an interview. Indeed, one might even say the primary object of a resume is to get an interview. A church resume is not your average resume. Churches employ people on a different basis than business. So some of what you hear in standard “resume workshops” won’t fit in a church situation. The major difference is churches don’t hire resumes, they hire people. Churches are more interested in who you are, what you’ve experienced, what “your story” is and who has influenced you so far in life than they are in your credentials. Once you are older they’ll be increasingly interested in your “track record”—that is, what you’ve actually done in ministry to date. In many churches, your credentials (licensing, ordination, college GPA, awards and honors, graduate work) will be assumed or expected, and they’ll focus more on you than your credentials. You want to be accurate and honest on the resume so that they are not disappointed when they actually interview you. At the same time, you want to put the best side forward so they are impressed with you. A difficult line to walk.


It should include the answers to the questions they are asking.

    Your name, address, phone, email. Usually at the top of the first page.

    Usually right off under your name you need to tell them what kind of job you are looking for. This is traditionally called “Objective,” but sometimes church resumes use Ministry Objective, Ministry Focus, Ministry Direction, Calling or another more church-friendly term. You pick it. District superintendents and churches looking through a pile of resumes often look here first to keep or cut resumes. That is, if they are looking for a worship leader and your objective statement says, “I am looking for a youth pastor job with either senior high or junior high youth” you’ll get tossed on the “cut” pile. Most younger ministers and just about all students try to keep from shutting out options in this section. They might say something like, “I’m open to any staff or solo pastor ministry where I can serve, but am especially interested in serving as a youth pastor and/or a worship leader.” That is, they try to stay open to anything, but still reveal their “dream job.” If you are a student, be aware that pastors and district leaders dislike reading narrow objective statements like, “I am seeking a ministry as a youth pastor in a state where the weather is nice and mountains are nearby and I do not have to divide my focus with responsibilities beyond teens.” (OK, nobody would be that dumb, but you get the idea … generally it is good to be “open to whatever ministry God calls me to do,” then highlight your specialized abilities such as youth work, evangelism, music, worship leading, discipleship, Christian education, administration, visitation or whatever components of a ministry you might do. This first section is small, and includes only three to five of your primary interests.

    Churches hire people. Who are you? What is ‘your story?” You might even call this your “personal testimony.” Some ministers start off with this (right under the name), thinking that the first thing church people want to know is who you are, even before they learn what you want to do (what do you think?). In this section the employer finds out what church you grew up in, what state you came from, who your pastors were, if you are married or single, when you were saved, other spiritual commitments and experiences in your life, and what experiences and people molded you. When they are done reading this section, they have a pretty good picture of your background. Most students try to put plenty of names (people, events and churches) here so the reader has a good grasp of the spiritual and people influence on you. But this is not a listing of what you’ve done (that comes later)—but who you are. In your interview they’ll ask you to give it from memory, usually by a question like, “Tell us about your faith journey to date.” This section can be either a paragraph or a list. Frequent titles for this section include Testimony, Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Journey, Spiritual Foundations, Personal Sketch. Which sounds best to you? Some students who can’t work it into their testimony add a separate section called “FAMILY” to tell about their spouse and children. Others tell if they are engaged or planning to be engaged so the church will know if they are hiring a single person or not. (Again, here is a place where a church resume differs.) A business can’t legally ask you questions like this (or even ask for a picture, which might show your race or how you wear your hair). However that does not apply to churches. If you consider your face, fiancée, spouse or kids an asset, you are free to include information on these items in your resume. The truth is (for church resumes) a picture and family information often helps get you an interview. If you leave out family information, they will assume you are single and intend on staying that way for the time being. Some churches and pastors have a policy about hiring single youth pastors for instance. You have to decide what you want to tell them.

    When you are 30, you’ll have a long list here. If you are a student, usually you’ll list these in  reverse-chronological order (recent-to-old) and you’ll have less. Some list experience from most important and relevant to least relevant (e.g., most churches don’t really care as much about your work experience as an auto-mechanic before you came to college, but they do care about what you did in ministry-related tasks) This list can include your part-time church jobs, your practicum experiences, your volunteer-at-church work, internships and campus leadership, plus other “positions” of ministry you held. When using dates for summer most folks forget the months and say “summer 2001″ (instead of 6/2/01 - 8/15/01). Sometimes these experiences will overlap in time (e.g., if you list campus activities, you might consider lumping all four years under one heading somewhere rather than listing the four years separately). So the first question is where have you gotten experience? Then what your experience was. When you return to the list to fill in the what-I-did descriptions (in paragraph or list format) use lots of verbs. “Churches hire verbs not nouns.” Be truthful, of course, and do not exaggerate, but favor verbs that show what you did. Consider verbs like organized, led, developed, planned, operated, designed, wrote, assisted, performed, attended, sang, worked, decided, called, visited, preached, helped, mentored, taught, delegated, recruited, supervised, counseled, invented. You don’t have to list all you did, but reading this total list should give the reader a glimpse of the kinds of things you have done. (And thus they assume you could do again.)

    Where did you go to college? What was your major/minor? What degree did you/will you get? When? Some add GPA. Some tell of their do-it-yourself concentrations in electives or other areas. Some even list individual courses they were especially good in—whatever tells them who you are and what makes your heart beat faster. What is your status with your district? Which district? Are you planning to be ordained? Some put these into to different categories.

    A short list works fine here. Be careful to not look too fantastic (a resume for a 20-year-old student listing six spiritual gifts might be true, but probably will get chuckled at—it looks too-good-to-be-true. Face it, many of the employers reading your resume are not certain of their own gifts … and many might only list one “spiritual gift” themselves—looking cocky on a resume can make you appear more like a sophomore than a mature ready-for-ministry senior. Be accurate and consider occasionally reflecting the attitude that you are “developing” some of these skills and gifts and you are not a finished product just bristling with dozens of abilities and gifts. (Let your references say this.)

    Some resume advisors suggest not including references at all and saying “references available on request.” However a reference-less resume often irritates church employers. Remember that they may be looking at 20 different resumes at once—you want to “make the cut” down to the five to seven they will telephone. References are one more way to show your connections. (Like it or not, churches often hire connections and networks as much as individuals.) Select people for references who know you of course, but also consider a few who also are known by the pastors or district leaders. (To be honest many will not even call your references. And, those who do it right will call the references primarily to ask for “other names of people who would know this person” so they can call these “secondary references: to find out what you are really like.) How many? Usually four or five, often listing the best one first—someone who is a local church pastor or supervisor, not a professor (hey, we can help, but they are not hiring you to be a student). Some add “additional references available on request.” It is customary to ask a person before listing their name. When asking the potential reference, see if  they want their work phone, home phone and email address listed. Increasingly, email is the route for reference checking. Many students also list the relationship of the reference (e.g., My home church pastor” or “Professor in three courses” or “Supervisor in youth practicum”) so the reader knows the connection with you. Some students get actual letters from these people to send ahead of an actual interview, though such letters are often pretty generic and done with a cut-and-paste style so they aren’t really an added help. A few applicants go so far as to recruit people to email or call the pastor or board chair where they are interviewing “in support of” them. However, this sometimes backfires and is considered a “pressure tactic.”

Four other decisions to make about your resume:

  1. How many pages: Usually two to four. If two, try front-back of one sheet. If three consider a four-fold with name on cover. If four think about starting on the cover or editing it down. If five+ edit it down to four or less—you’re not that impressive yet.
  2. You may want several “editions” of a resume. If you are applying for a job somewhere as a R.D. and somewhere else as a CE director, you should consider two editions.
  3. Pick a quality paper stock … it is the first impression you make. Some select “quality card stock” for a two-pager. Others linen, etc. Remember they will photocopy it for a committee or board, so try that yourself to see if you are satisfied with how it looks.
  4. Will you attach or print a picture? If so, that will be the first impression.