Before You Apply: The Up-Front Work

Published on: September 1, 2014

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Hiring a minister has some of the emotional and spiritual elements of a marriage as well as a job, yet it is often treated as simply the latter—on both sides! It’s not simple. There are elements of your background and personality—as intrinsic as whether your eyes are blue or brown—that will influence how successful the match with your congregation will be over the long term. Love conquers all, but knowing yourself in this area will keep you from stepping on their sacred toes, or they on yours.

Spiritual communities often want miracles in a minister; it’s the nature of things. They may want you to save them, heal them, bring them to new glories or recapture past ones. They may have healing to do as well. One way or the other, they are doing the best they can, and you need to help them.

The first part of your job is solid self-assessment.

1.    Where do you come from spiritually? Pure Fillmorian, New Thought or New Age? Not afraid of traditional Christianity or allergic to it and any mention of the Bible? Unity has a broad tent, and you at least want to be in their part of it. Educating their consciousness is fine, but trying to drag your congregation too far away from their roots will be an exercise in frustration for both of you.

2.    Where do you come from in your living style? Are you trying to transplant your New York-ness to a small town in Wyoming? Were you raised in a working class area, and your prospective congregation believes in Armani? Will you have a common ground for understanding your congregation and they you?

3.    The unmentionable: age, and some of what it might imply, including activities, levels of interest, goals in life. Are they a community of retirees who want to stay that way, or a group of dynamic people of any age who want to go out and conquer the world? What about you?

4.    Another unmentionable: culture and ethnicity. If the spiritual community where you are applying is primarily of a different culture or ethnicity than yours, know it up front. A big heart cures all, but you have to beware of cultural assumptions on both your part and theirs.

5.    The truly unthinkable: Are you a member of the LGBT community and they are unwilling to accept you as such? What about your partner/spouse? Will he or she be “expected” to participate in church activities and your partner doesn’t want to? Are they concerned if you don’t have a spouse?

6.    What are your strengths and weaknesses? Finance? Pastoral care? Speaking? Administration? As an example, if a church is in deep financial trouble, or is thinking of launching a building campaign, having financial smarts is critical unless you have your own support team with that skill.

7.    What is your leadership style? Hierarchical organization vs. team approach? Does the minister vote on the board, or does the minister in effect lead it and the board rubber-stamps it? Hopefully, they will be somewhere in between.

8.    Congregational music: The push-pull between traditional and posi-music can be difficult for a congregation, not to mention the music team. If you want to make changes here, use caution and go slow.

9.    What are your passions? Will they fit with the congregation you’re applying to? Do you love jazz and scorn country but they love two-step and line dancing? Are you very liberal but your congregation is right of the Tea Party? Differences here may not be a deal breaker for you, but if they are wide, you will have to be conscious and caring if you express them.

10. Your own financial considerations: You may have financial or healing issues to handle that may influence your decision, and lead you to accept a position that isn’t a good fit. Look at your own motives.

What I am not suggesting is hiding who you truly are. I am suggesting that you have already asked yourself these questions and can stand gently and consciously in your truth—and respect theirs. Obviously, you are going to read their packet of information and look on the Internet for their web presence, read the community newspaper, get information from local government and the local Chamber of Commerce.

The final question, to be approached with caution: Which questions are actually negotiable on your part or on theirs? Can you bring your new congregation along (gently) and can they educate you about what is important to them? Again, a heart full of love conquers a lot of differences, but know them up front. Will you both be happy? That’s the consideration that counts.

 

Gwen Meyer Pentecost
Rev Gwen Meyer is a 2014 graduate of Unity Institute and Seminary, with a background in economic development and organizations, and, concurrently, an independent career as a fine artist and gallery owner.

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