Suggestions for Writing a Minister’s Profile

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.

General Guidance

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.

Question specific

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.

Typographical Matters

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?

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Author: Dan Griswold

A good life is motivated by love. My loves: the Triune God, family, music, friends, parishioners, theology.

6 thoughts on “Suggestions for Writing a Minister’s Profile”

  1. I’ve looked at a lot of profile forms in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Dan, you could have written this just as easily for us!

    All I’d add are the following (and these three points are really just variations on a single theme: be yourself):

    1. Do your own work. This means don’t copy something that sounded good in someone else’s profile or in the last book you just read. It’s about you. A search team member should learn something distinctive about you in your answer.

    2. Be honest. This should go without saying, so I’ll be more specific. Be authentic and be yourself. Don’t claim to know more than you do, but by all means don’t dumb down an answer for fear the congregation won’t understand what you mean. They read a lot of profiles, too. They can tell who’s stretching and who’s selling themselves short. You don’t have to sound like Diana Butler Bass unless you happen to be her. You do need to sound like you.

    3. Set what you’ve written aside for a few weeks. Yes, weeks. This means starting in plenty of time. Then go back and read your profile as if you are on the committee and don’t know yourself. Does the person on the page sound like the you you know? Ask people you respect in ministry to do the same. Ask them if they recognize you in what you wrote. Read for EQ as well as IQ. Is that you in there? Really? If not, fix it.

    4. Grammar. Spelling. Style. Voice. Your congregation is going to read your writing for many years. The way you write in your profile tells how you’ll write for them in blogs, newsletters, emails, devotionals, and sermons. This isn’t for a grade. It’s an invitation to a relationship. Give it the attention to detail the relationship deserves and will come to expect.

  2. Dan–I think you should send this to seminaries and whomever collects and sends profiles to churches. You mentioned some simple, but very relevant things here. This needs wider distribution than just your blog.

  3. Let me add proofreading. Spell-check does not catch everything! Confusion of form/from, there/their, your/you’re are common errors I’ve seen in profiles and almost every search committee I’ve worked with has included an astute student of English grammar. Also, don’t start every sentence with “I….” After a while that sounds egotistical and I’ve seen search committees throw out the profile with too many sentences that began with “I”. You can still claim what your have done and what you believe, but be creative in the sentence structure.

  4. Thank you for the excellent comments! The additions are warmly received. I wish I had included those points from the start. Carolyn, I also hope that this finds its way onto many computer screens.

    Yes: I, too, have seen many grammatical errors. It’s very irritating. As Phyllis says, there’s bound to be someone on the search committee who notices. It causes people to question an applicant’s competence. As I said, “everything communicates.”

    Prompted by the great additions by both David and Phyllis (who have read far more profiles than I have), let me add this: candidates should seriously consider having a trusted and competent colleague proofread the profile before it is sent anywhere.

    1. Speaking of proofreading…I just found my own error in the previous post. “what YOUR have done” should be “what YOU have done.” That’s why someone else needs to read my stuff before it goes to print!

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