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Ministry Placement – 4 Trends in Full-Time Vocational Ministry

Vocational ministry placement offices must take into account that there are changes in the roles of our graduates.

As our students' ministry aspirations change, so must ministry placement initiatives.

As our students’ ministry aspirations change, so must ministry placement initiatives.

In my role as Director of Placement at Dallas Theological Seminary, I’ve observed recent trends develop in the hiring processes of evangelical churches of various shapes, sizes, and denominations.

Obviously, prayer, character development, and giftedness are at the top of the list for candidates looking to serve full-time in a vocational Christian ministry.

Additionally, I’ve noticed four recent developments in the hiring of church staff.

I’ve employed the acronym S.T.A.R. to describe them:

  • Specialization and Ministry Placement
  • Technology and Ministry Placement
  • Accreditation and Ministry Placement
  • Residencies and Ministry Placement

S – Specialization and Ministry Placement

A generation ago there were just a handful of “slots” to fill in local church ministry staff: a senior pastor, worship pastor, youth pastor, and maybe a pastor of adult education completed a staff. After these positions were filled, volunteers manned the missions committee or provided service in the church nursery.

Today, in addition to the positions mentioned above, it is not unusual to see outreach ministers with titles such as Grow Pastor, Pastor of Assimilation, Pastor of Outreach, Connect Pastor, or Local Missional Pastor on church staffs.

I’ve had candidates tell me they could settle for a position as Children’s Pastor. This really upsets my long-time colleague Dr. Jerry Lawrence, an expert in training those who labor in the field with children and teens.  She often mentions that ministers who work with youth today must be well-versed on a wide range of issues, such as police background checks, being able to spot signs of physical or sexual abuse, working with blended families, helping parents discuss adoption and foster children, recognizing learning differences, and even international issues surrounding child labor laws and sex trafficking.

Therefore, specialization and customized training is becoming the norm in today’s seminaries and Christian graduate schools. Church specialty positions now include Pastor of Spiritual Formation, Minister of Divorce Care, Teaching Pastor, Campus Pastor, Pastor of Recovery, and myriad others.

T – Technology and Ministry Placement

Growing churches currently struggle with whether to birth a daughter church, add an off-site campus, or continue to add buildings while offering additional services. These trends have resulted in the need for excellence in technological areas.

Today, a church might post an opening for an Online Pastor to meet the needs of their iChurch campus. Volunteers are asked to serve on the Social Media Team. Ministers are needed who know how to run 64-channel sound boards, complicated lighting systems, and professional video cameras.

It is not unusual today to have curriculum posted online, which volunteer teachers can download anywhere … anytime. Many churches have their own phone apps. Pastors and staff can now Skype or iMeet with missionaries they support around the world. Technology also allows some ministers to work part-time at churches. Our placement office is hearing from bi-vocational candidates who plan on working part-time in the marketplace and part-time at a church or para-church ministry.

A – Accreditation and Ministry Placement

A dental school sits just down the street from the seminary. I often ask our students if they would visit a dentist who had completed their training at an unaccredited school. Would it matter to them whether their dentist passed required state exams and underwent all requisite training?

Just like those in the IT industry look for educational degrees from accredited institutions and additional certification training from Microsoft or Oracle, churches and parachurch ministries seek credentialed ministry training from seminaries and Christian graduate schools with strong reputations.

At a minimum, many churches desire candidates who are licensed or ordained. It is no longer enough to hire someone who is “a pretty good small group leader” or a person who “seems to be good with kids.”

R – Residencies and Ministry Placement

Increasingly, churches are seeking ministerial candidates who hold a master’s degree from an accredited institution, plus additional time spent “on site” serving in a church ministry under qualified supervision in an internship or residency. Search committees ask candidates, “Have you ever performed a wedding? Have you ever conducted a funeral? Have you ever baptized someone?” The interview may not end well if the answer to all of these questions is “no.”

The additional training offered from time spent in healthy leadership development or strategic gap-year programs can be invaluable. Larger churches, much like hospitals and businesses, are opening up one and two-year residencies then offering full-time positions to those who best match the values and goals of the church.

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Paul Pettit, Th.M, D.Min is Director of Placement and also serves as Adjunct Faculty at Dallas Theological Seminary

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