I have twice had the privilege of helping a church who’s pastor had moved on. Such a position as the one I held we in the Reformed Church call a “supervisor.” As the supervisor of Pultneyville Reformed Church in 2009 and part of 2010, and of Lakeview Community Church from June of 2011 to September of 2012, I basically was a resource and guide for their consistories and search committees.
Because of that, I know a good deal about the minister search process in our denomination. In particular, I know a good deal about the Minister’s Profile Form. That is an instrument the RCA uses to provide some common framework in the call process. Basically, ministers complete it and search committees read it. (There’s also a form that congregations complete, but let me talk about that another time.)
I have read many minister profiles. And I have seen certain kinds of problems come up with some frequency. I hope that by naming them I’ll help a few people who are writing, or perhaps rewriting, their profiles.
Some problems apply to the whole profile. Conversely, an excellent profile is excellent throughout. Here are some pointers that cover the whole profile enterprise:
- Everything Communicates
Understand this: search committees closely examine many of the profiles they receive. If your profile isn’t rejected immediately because you don’t appear to meet certain criteria they have established (hey, it happens), then your profile will, quite likely, be subjected to intense scrutiny. Consequently, just about every thing you say and don’t say is an opportunity (taken or lost) to communicate. Which leads me to my next point.
- Allow Enough Time
You should not attempt to complete the form in one sitting. The questions in section B (“Reflection”) especially require you to think about yourself and your ministry. If you try to throw this together quickly, it will show.
- Answer the Question!
This is probably the most common problem with profiles. So often, ministers simply do not answer the question. This happens most often with the questions in section B.
When you don’t answer the question, you give the impression of being evasive or cagey. That may not be your intent. Maybe you aren’t really that way. But that is often what a search committee will assume about your character. Understand: this is not their fault.
- Don’t Write a Novel
If you would like to try the patience of a search committee, write at length. After all, their time must not be nearly so important as your imperative to win the first Pulitzer Prize for a Minister’s Profile Form.
Truly: keep it short and to the point. Consider well whether any answer needs to be longer than four paragraphs of modest size.
- Your Goal Will Be Revealed, Or Hampered
You might be wanting the best fit between you and a congregation. Or you might simply be wanting to escape where you are now. Search committees are looking for candidates who want the former. Many candidates inadvertantly convey the latter by using language that conceals rather than reveals. Don’t be that minister.
Some questions on the profile form seem to draw forth problematic answers that resemble each other. Here are my thoughts on a few of those questions and the things you should avoid when you answer them:
A.18. “Previous Experience”
List only positions in which you were an employee. Do not list positions of denominational service, such as classis or synod office or commission membership, or volunteer/community service positions. (Those could be mentioned in B.1 or B.11.)
A.19. “Formal Education”
- Tip 1: High school? Really? (I actually have seen that. More than once.)
Short answer: Just don’t.
- Tip 2: You should list all schools beyond high school, even if you didn’t complete a degree there.
This communicates something about your story. However, leave continuing ed to question A.20.
B.7. “What theologians, pastors, authors or other leaders have had the greatest influence upon your life and thought?”
- Tip 1: Have You Been to Seminary?
Yes you have! It’s not a bad thing. In fact, most search committees want you to have been there. Shouldn’t your list of “theologians, pastors, authors or other leaders” who have influenced you show that? Or are you wanting to brag that you managed to escape from seminary unscathed?
Continuing that, have you been developing in ministry, growing in your theological depth? That isn’t a bad thing, either. Actually, it’s a very good thing. Although it’s a little harder for a search committee to pick up on, it doesn’t look great if your answer here suggests that your theological education stopped when you graduated.
Of course you don’t want to come off sounding nerdy or show-offy. Let me assure you, however: very few applicants do.
- Tip 2: Don’t Give a Book Report
The purpose of this question is not to offer proof that you know the details of what these people have written. Rather, it is for you to communicate what about their work has influenced you. Search committees don’t want a book report. Rather they want to find out that you have passion and what it is that stirs your passion.
Looks aren’t everything. But the look of a document can detract from the effectiveness of your communication. Here are three basic issues of layout and typography, most relevant to section B:
- use a serif font (such as Times New Roman) for the questions in section B.
- use the same font family and size throughout
- in your long answers, either put a blank line between paragraphs or indent the first line of each paragraph
This might seem like a little thing, and I suppose it’s not earth shattering. But everything you write and how you write it will be scrutinized and interpreted. If that bothers you, too bad. Get over it. If your document looks sloppy, search committees will think that you are careless or not smart enough to have acquired basic computer skills. (Believe me, some search committees are looking for that.)
So, those are my suggestions. Do you have anything to add?