Many days I’m looking at resumes of 18 – 25 year olds who want to be in ministry. I’m typically doing this for Slingshot for a full-time placement at a church or for some sort of residency consideration. Some are still enrolled at undergraduate institutions or seminary, while others are graduates.
A typical story of two such candidates (I’ll call them Bill and Ted) I encounter from two different Christian universities looks much like this:
These guys are pretty rare. Both felt a call to ministry that was affirmed from their youth pastors in high school.
Both are very passionate, called, driven, love Jesus, say “yes, sir” a lot, return emails within an hour, and have had above average interactions with me.
Both are graduating in May with undergraduate Christian ministry degrees from respectable Christian universities.
The first student, “Bill" is studying online at a well-known Christian university and is graduating in May. He has been online for virtually all of his education and will actually complete his degree on a traditional timeline of 4 years in May at age 22.
The second student, “Ted” will have had four straight years at a prominent brick and mortar Christian university. He, too, will graduate in 8 semesters at the age of 22.
Both will have massive student debt that neither really want to talk about, but that’s for a different article. People much more important than me are working to address that very topic.
But, I’d like to evaluate how ready each are to serve a local church after completing their respective programs:
For the past four years, Bill has served at three different churches. All three times he began as a volunteer and was then asked to intern. He was on his own for housing and living expenses, which means getting part-time jobs, having to “figure it out.” He has stories of being given more responsibility, leading middle and high school students, growing a ministry, and being asked to stay at each location. He told stories of being led, coached, developed, and managed well by leaders at each of those churches.
Ted has been a favorite of the administration at his brick and mortar school. He traveled 2.5 years for the college as the front man for their premiere worship band. He had a good opportunity, and he did an outstanding job. He has great references from his college. They are so proud of him.
I would call both candidates above average. Both have enough "talent" to believe they are worthy of the position at a local church.
One church jumped at Bill’s resume. They are saying things like, “He has experience—he’s done this! He’s been to staff meetings, working through those relationships. He’s led a couple hundred middle/high school students every week for two years at a prevailing church. He’s done difficult things, stuck it out, and he keeps showing up.”
Unfortunately, even after four years of private Christian Education, it is difficult for a church to get excited about the prospects of hiring Ted. He’s actually just now ready for a residency that Bill was doing during his sophomore year of college.
Both sets of parents would be thrilled for their 22-year-old kids to land this ministry position. It’s a great “starter ministry job” with 44k salary and benefits. Bill or Ted could probably spend a long time at this church. There is a proven developmental path, a commitment to hiring millennials, and long-run staff leaders ready to turn this over to the next generation.
I don’t tell this story to pick on the brick and mortar institution, nor to promote the national Christian university online program. I don’t think either school is better than the other. You’ve heard of both. Both are nationally recognized major Christian universities.
There’s no one size fits all when it comes to developmental paths for 18 – 25-year-olds. They are as unique as snowflakes and thumbprints.
There are trends we simply cannot ignore. Those of us who are guiding, coaching, leading 18 – 25-year-olds who desire ministry must realize a few things, in particular.
- Accelerated experiences, sooner, rather than later, that mimic and mirror eventual reality are best every time. In other words, embed freshman into servant/leadership roles on church staffs. Do this early, in a culture of feedback and evaluation with a trusted and developer leader on that church staff.
- Opportunities are not enough. An “opportunity" used to be "enough to prepare. It (sorta kinda) worked for me in the late 80’s / early 90’s, but we now have to elevate this beyond just an opportunity into developmental activity. And there’s a huge difference between the two. Playing football at the park is an opportunity. Joining a team and having a coach make you better is developmental activity.
- It's about deeds done. Churches that are the ideal places to begin in ministry are hiring “deeds done.” Without real, developmental experience and good references, a college nor seminary graduate is NOT hirable at the right local church where development will continue.
Bill and Ted are both awesome people, and I believe they both could have a long run of ministry ahead of them. But only one is ready today at graduation, and it’s because of his prior experiences.
These two stories are quite common, and this reality drives me to serve 18 – 25-year-olds and the local church, in a continued and evolving way.
Churches probably won’t ask about GPA, but they will always inquire about:
- Skill level (building teams, discipling others, doing ministry, showing up on time, work ethic, and other character traits)
- How much practical experience did this student have on a healthy and growing church staff, and what does that “intern boss” say about him?
The Lord has had me embedded for the last 11 years helping churches in one way or another. From this perspective, great churches cannot find the “Bills,” and the gap between preparation and “highly desired and hirable” is broadening. It’s getting worse, not better.
Finally, I don’t own this conversation; a consultant group doesn’t own it, and neither does higher education, seminaries, or a favorite residency program. The Church owns it. It’s Hers. Sometimes she takes enough time to verbalize it, but mainly for the last few decades the Church has told us through whom she hires, fires, develops, and advances.
So if you are investing in 18 - 25-year-olds who are preparing for ministry, please keep investing. The innovation of how we prepare students cannot stop and if anything, needs to accelerate. And when we notice little wins, we need to share them with others who don’t understand why their version of a Christian college graduate cannot seem to find a ministry job. I know “disruption” is a buzzword, but I encourage all of us in positions of influence to be as disruptive as possible on this topic. Those of us in influential positions around 18 - 25-year-olds must continue to serve them in such a way they can someday actually serve the Church by leading more effectively in ministry long-term.