How to Translate Pastoral Ministry into a Business Resume

March 26, 2017

Many pastors feel they are vocationally locked in to ministry, but nothing could be further from the truth. Every pastor has skills that can land a job elsewhere. The secret is to present them in a professional business resume that makes sense to a hiring manager.

Close-up Photo Of A Businesswoman Holding Resume

Here are seven steps to telling your professional story and preparing yourself to enter the secular job market. And yes, you can do this.

1. Choose a Business Focus

Pastors are generalists. They have at least minimum competency in a range of disciplines, including speech, communications, teaching, business management, operations management, recruiting, team leadership—not to mention theology and biblical studies.

Most business, however, are looking for specialists. Narrow the focus for your job search by choosing a specialty. This may change, but you’ll need to start somewhere. Here are some ideas:

Sales – Good pastors are great at relationship building and persuasive speech, and sales generally pays well—partly because it’s difficult for those who lack the talent. If you’re outgoing and enjoy the challenge of getting to “yes,” consider sales.

Training – This may be the best skill pastor’s have, giving people the practical skills and motivation they need to perform a task.

Communications – Pastors do more of this than they realize. From social media, to blogging, newsletters, web development, and event creation, many clergy are immersed in brand building and management.

Teaching – If you have 18 graduate hours in any subject (English, sociology, Spanish, communications, you name it), you have the basic credential to teach at the college level. Most colleges, especially community colleges, need lots of adjunct professors.

Operations – Pastors hire, fire, recruit volunteers, manage a budget, create schedules, get people to show up on time. People will pay you to do this stuff in the real world.

2. Cast Your Achievements as Business Outcomes

Most people talk about what they do, and pastors tend to cast that in religious jargon. Business managers what to know what you have accomplished in business terms.

No – Prepared and delivered sermons.
Yes – Motivated staff and volunteers through multiple original presentations each week.

No – Reviewed church financial records.
Yes – Successfully operated a zero-based budget of over $1.5 million for ten years.

No – Directed a midweek youth group.
Yes – Recruited and trained a team of volunteers to deliver 500 hours of community service annually.

No – Held fundraisers.
Yes – Increased revenue by 15 percent.

You get the idea. Make sure to highlight the ministry accomplishments that bear directly on your area of focus.

3. Lose the Personal Details

Pastors have to answer highly personal questions during church job interviews, questions that would be illegal in any other context. You’ve probably been asked some of these beauties:
• How old are you?
• How many kids do you have?
• What do you do in your spare time?
• How’s your marriage going?

Do not include your date of birth, the dates of your graduations, hobbies and interests, or details about your family on your resume. This isn’t being secretive. These things are unnecessary—and out of place—in a business context.

4. Work from a template.

Resume styles change, including the types of information included. Google around for some recent examples from the industry you’re targeting.

5. Keep It Brief

Pastors, especially those with an academic background, are more used to working with a curriculum vitae (CV), which is an exhaustive list of the details of your education, experience, publishing, community service, etc. A good CV can run on for pages.

A resume is a brief document that tells your story in bullet form. It’s okay to leave things out. In fact, you’ll have to. Just the highlights, and keep it to two pages, max.

6. Include Your LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn is a social media site focused on professional networking, and it’s free. If you don’t have a profile, create one. If you do, rewrite it from a business perspective. A recent, professional photo of yourself is a must. Check out comparable profiles from people in your industry to get ideas. This profile is like an online resume, and managers will look at it.

7. Network, Network, Network

Online resumes are screened by robots looking for key words. You’ll never get past that gatekeeper because your degrees, majors, and previous positions don’t match the narrow criteria they’re looking for.

Your resume will be most effective when you deliver it to the hands of a real live person.

Network all you can, including on social media. Tell friends the kind of work you’re looking for. Go to job fairs. Talk to a corporate recruiter. You need people so see you, talk to you, and realize that you’ve got great skills that can apply in many business contexts.

For most pastors, the resistance to changing careers is mostly internal. Once you get over the idea that there’s nothing else you can do, you may feel a great sense of release, and relief. If God is still calling you to preach, don’t become discouraged. But if you are truly ready to step into a new career, here’s my word to you:

Yes, you can.

Lawrence W. Wilson

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I blog about Christian faith and ministry. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.