Networking for Pastors Who Hate Networking

When you own a car but you’re not, shall we say, a car guy, you’re often at the mercy of a mechanic.

I hate this feeling. Sure, I know the basics—you’re not getting me to buy “blinker fluid.” But when you start talking about the mechanical guts of a car, I’m lost. This is why in every city I move to I always try to find someone who knows a trustworthy mechanic. It’s a lot easier to swallow an $800 bill from a mechanic you trust because you know that bill is fair and the work is actually needed to keep the car safe for your family. Your mind is at ease because you know the mechanic is legit. And you know this because you know your friend who recommended him.

The networking process I go through to find a mechanic, is something like the process I encourage pastors to go through when they are looking for a job in ministry.

A Greasy Process?

But for whatever reason, I hate the word networking. It feels greasy. When I hear it, I think cheap suits, slick hair, gaudy gold chains, and a guy who points with his index finger as he talks (cf., Prov. 6:12–13). Even if this is a cliché, at one point or another, we’ve all had the miserable experience of being used. I call it networking after Genesis 3, east of Eden.

Recently our church magically had a new couple show up about the time we were hiring for a new position. This couple came in hot and heavy, volunteering for this, attending that. Things seemed promising but still not altogether right. After a week or so, the man applied for the job. He wasn’t the right person for the job, but we thought it respectful to let him take a shot. Besides, maybe we were wrong about him.

We weren’t.

Over the next four weeks, our initial suspicions were confirmed. We graciously relayed the news to the couple that he wouldn’t get the job, but we were still committed to finding a meaningful place for them to serve. They blew off calls and e-mails, and two weeks later they were gone, with divots needing to be replaced in the ministries they said they would serve. I found out months later that they immediately went down the road to another church—which also had a job opening—where they lied about what happened at our church and badmouthed us to that pastor (who is also a friend).

This is networking after Genesis 3. One pastor I know described his feelings about it like this: “I hate networking . . . The thought of me saying, ‘Let me form some kind of bond-relationship with you for the expressed purpose of you connecting me with a local job near you,’ is an anathema to me.” But this pastor quickly added, “And yet, of the three jobs that I’ve had, two of them came because I knew someone in the church.”

So what if networking didn’t have to be greasy? What might networking have looked like before the fall?

A Good and Godly Process

Imagine what it would be like if networking were more like buying a friend a cup of coffee than trying to sell a used car. At its best, networking should be nothing more than purposeful communication with people you care about and people who care about you. Anyone can create a list of friends and acquaintances who want to see them find a job where they’d thrive. I bet you can too. Besides, if there’s anywhere networking is appropriate, it’s among Christians. Consider how the New Testament speaks of us: the body of Christ, the household and family of God, the vine and the branches, the sheep of God’s flock. What do these all share? Interconnectedness.[1]

Make a list of everyone you think would be excited to see you in the right job. Some will be your close friends and family. Others you might hardly know, though they might know about potential jobs. Consider putting that pastor of that large church in the large city you want to move to on your list. Perhaps add someone in the placement department of a seminary or someone in an administrative role of a denomination.

If you’re in seminary, send a follow-up e-mail to outside speakers who come to your school to share chapel messages. You don’t have to send a long e-mail, just something that says thanks for coming and why you appreciated his message. One student I know asked his seminary if he could be a driver for outside chapel speakers and made many good relationships in the process.

If you’re not in seminary, you can do this when you attend conferences or denominational gatherings. If the speaker sends you a return e-mail, you’ll have a list of people who you might be able to call someday when it’s time to look for a job. Of course, the more popular the speaker and the larger the conference, the less likely you’ll be to get a reply.

The point, though, isn’t to get “big” connections but helpful ones. Often a pastor with strong regional but not national connections will be just as helpful, if not more helpful. And whether you’re in seminary or not, when a book impacts you, reach out to the author with a short note sharing why you found the work so helpful.

Statistics regarding how people land jobs are difficult to come by because job searches, especially the effective ones, incorporate multiple strategies: cold calls, online job boards, staffing firms, and networking. Moreover, where general stats from the business world can be found, it’s difficult to predict their carryover into ministry. Still, it would seem networking is by far the most fruitful strategy; some claim it’s responsible for over half of all placements.[2] If you’re looking for a job in pastoral ministry, don’t get discouraged. Stay at it. Pray. Trust God. And seek out friends who can encourage you along the way.

[1] J. E. Eubanks Jr., From M.Div. to Rev.: Making an Effective Transition from Seminary into Pastoral Ministry (Oakland, TN: Doulos Resources, 2011), 56–57.

[2] Cf., Orville Pierson, The Unwritten Rules of the Highly Effective Job Search: The Proven Program Used by the World’s Leading Career Services Company (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006), 23, 61–67, 178. Also, J. E. Eubanks found that 67 percent of the people who responded to his survey “made initial contact with the ministry they eventually accepted a call from through networking” (Eubanks, From M.Div. to Rev., 69).

This article has been adapted from Benjamin Vrbicek’s new book Don’t Just Send a Resume: How to Find the Right Job in a Local Church. If you’re considering a transition in pastoral ministry, please check out this helpful resource.

Benjamin Vrbicek is a teaching pastor at Community EFC in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Brooke, have six children. He earned an M.Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary. Benjamin blogs regularly at Fan and Flame and is the author of Don’t Just Send a Resume and the co-author of More People to Love. You can follow him on Twitter.