"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Recruiting Adult Leaders

Interviewing and Placing Teachers

Dr. Mark Senter

Some lessons are learned the hard way. Like saying no to a person who is convinced that God is calling him to teach fourth-grade boys when that very class has been without a teacher for nearly a month.
Jeff had been the pastor of Christian education at Walnut Heights Bible Church for a little over a year when a fascinating situation arose. Harry Van Horn had been transferred to Atlanta, leaving an opening in the teaching team that spring. For three weeks after Harry's departure, the class was juggled around between substitute teachers and combined classes. "I've done my best to find a replacement," the department leader told Jeff. "I really feel bad about those kids."

"You aren't alone," Jeff replied. "I've asked seven people to consider taking over that position. They all said no. We really need to lift this up in prayer."

Then Marshall Burlington appeared. A telephone call brought the first contact between Jeff and the middle-aged salesman who had moved into the community just nine months before.

"I feel the Lord has called me to teach junior-age boys," Marshall told Jeff after briefly identifying himself.
"A miracle!" thought Jeff. "I can't believe the way the Lord is taking care of this need."

"How did you find out about the opening?" the pastor of Christian education queried. The recruitment process had been carried out without public announcement to avoid getting the
overzealous/under qualified applicants that can sometimes be a thorn in the side of any Sunday School department.

"The Lord just told me to call you," the salesman responded, "so I figured there had to be an opening."
"Who can argue with God?" thought Jeff.

The next Sunday morning, despite some feelings of apprehension on Jeff s part, the young pastor met his enthusiastic new recruit outside the Sunday School office at 9:05, reviewed briefly the requirements for teachers that they had discussed on the phone, gave Marshall the teaching materials, and took him to the fourth-grade class to observe. "But why the apprehension?" Jeff wondered. Marshall Burlington seemed pleasant enough and it appeared obvious that the Lord had provided this new teacher for a very teachable group of boys.

The following week Marshall Burlington began teaching. Within three weeks it was obvious that the department was in trouble. The salesman-teacher was loud, aggressive, and always showed up poorly prepared. Each lesson somehow ended up in hammering the doctrine of sovereign grace into the boys, no matter what the text was or what the lesson aims were scheduled to be. It wasn't that the doctrine was heresy; it was simply not synchronized with the Sunday School program for that age-level or in harmony with what the rest of the teaching staff was doing.

Fortunately for the Walnut Heights Sunday School, the problem was solved without conflict three months later when "Gracie" Burlington (as he had come to be called by his ten-year-old students) was transferred to a new territory by his company. Once again the teaching position was open, but this time Pastor Jeff decided to be more careful in his interview and placement procedures.

In the days that followed, Jeff pulled together, for reasons obvious to all, a set of standard procedures for interviewing and placing workers. Guidelines for the interviews were as follows:

1. Interviewers will insure that only qualified people are selected for ministries requiring specific gifts, talents, skills, attitudes, and training.

2. Each candidate will be evaluated in terms of the degree to which he/she would harmonize with other members of the assigned teaching team.

3. Interviewers should tactfully attempt to identify areas in which training or skill development would be helpful.

4. Care must be taken to insure that the ministry expectations of the new volunteer can and will be met.

Invariably, one or more of these guidelines became the basis for a bonding between volunteer and pastor. Tommie Sanchez was a good example. When Jeff interviewed her for a position working with the junior high youth group, he asked what would be the most rewarding thing that could happen as a result of working with junior high girls. Without hesitating a moment, Tommie responded, "I would see some of them come to know Jesus as their personal Saviour." The response had been so decisive that Jeff had nearly omitted the follow-up question he normally asked to such responses. He asked it anyway.

"If you had the opportunity to lead a seventh-grader to Christ today, would you know how to do it?" Jeff asked. Tommie's response was not so definite this time. "I'm not sure I could," she confessed.

Four or five other volunteers had expressed a similar need so Jeff developed a short evangelism training course for the group. Tommie had already begun her work with the junior high girls when the evangelism training program began and before the four-week course was completed, she had led her first young person to the Lord. The first person she called was Jeff. A new level of bonding between pastor and volunteer had been established.

Later, when the ministry had grown so large as to require age-group coordinators, they too found the guidelines for interviews useful in building strong ties between themselves and the volunteers. The interview had become a key tool to help the pastor to better shepherd his flock.

Interviewing Volunteers

A process of trial and error enabled Jeff to develop a rather effective pattern of interviewing volunteers. The procedure was as follows.

1. Recruitment interviews will be done face-to-face and in private. Telephone interviews or discussions in crowded hallways seldom allow for accurate perceptions of the volunteer. Nonverbal clues may be missed. Follow-up questions may not be asked because of uncertainty over who else might be listening to the conversation. Besides, if the person does not have the time to set aside for a personal interview, there is a good possibility that he or she will not find enough time to fulfill the ministry responsibilities listed in the job description.

During the interview the volunteer should be provided with a job description of the position(s) being considered, shown the curricular materials and allowed to review them, given a list of the names of the coworkers, and given an opportunity to view the room where he or she would serve. Each of these face-to-face actions will allow the volunteer to feel more comfortable with the recruitment process.

2. Recruitment interviews will be preceded by a written discovery process. This discovery process will normally have two parts to it. The first is the Volunteer Discovery Sheet (see at end of this article) given to the volunteer before the interview so that the questions can be answered at leisure. The VDS follows the same format as the standard recruitment interview and allows the interviewee to know what questions will be asked (some fear interviews and this makes the process easier for them). It also saves time during the actual interview.

The second part of the discovery process includes a personal inventory test which is designed to help the volunteer focus on her gifts and abilities in light of the needs of the position she is exploring. Jeff and Pastor Wilcox reviewed a number of tests. None were perfect but each contributed insights to the recruitment process. Over lunch one day the two pastors talked with Dick Chester, a human resources manager for a large grocery store chain in the area. When asked about the effectiveness of tests in predicting success in ministry, Dick's comment seemed to put into words what the two pastors had been feeling.

"Tests, when properly debriefed, tend to be of more benefit to the person taking them than to the company (or in our case the church) which is administering them. One reason is that the cost is prohibitive. It's expensive to validate the use of tests as predictors of effectiveness and without validation the tests are merely expensive guesswork. With validation, the price is so high that we could hardly justify their use in the selection of a senior pastor, much less each Sunday School teacher.

"A second reason why the current generation of tests may not be effective in helping to place volunteers in the church is that most are looking for characteristics such as task versus people orientation or creativity versus detail orientation. Others are even more specific focusing on such aspects as styles of management that bring about change and leadership. While all of this is potentially useful in the church, the people in our fellowship hardly have the time to determine which of these orientations are best suited for the various positions in the church.

"Even in industry, human resource people are using fewer tests today primarily because of the possibility of lawsuits. Tests generally do not have a good track record, especially when relied upon as a replacement for a thorough interview process."

The three men agreed that the tests which were used would best be considered self-discovery tools rather than primary means of placement. Jeff evaluated the most promising tests (see next article in our database for evaluation) and then started a "Volunteer Discovery Class" in which people who wanted to explore their ministry giftedness might do so under the leadership of Jeff or a person he trained.

3. Recruitment interviews will follow a standard format. The information will be written down and retained in notebook, computer, or vertical file for future reference. It is important, however, that this information be held in strict confidence unless permission to disclose the contents has been given in writing. The interview provides the initial basis for determining a person's readiness to accept leadership responsibility. Seven areas of information are included:

Testimony: "Describe your relationship with God and where you are in your Christian walk today." The request is left open-ended and general so that the volunteer will be forced to provide information from his or her own spiritual development, rather than being influenced by the inter-viewer to give desired answers.
Training: "What type of classes or seminars (if any) have you taken which have sharpened your ministry skills in your interest area?" "What books, audio or video tapes, or other training tools have been of the most help in preparing you for the ministry to which you aspire?" Most of this will have been written out on the Volunteer Discovery Sheet so the interview will merely be looking for clarification of how the training contributed to the volunteer.

Experience: "What experience have you had in volunteer or full-time ministry?" Here the interviewer is looking for pat-terns of effective ministry. Some volunteers will be looking to move into areas of ministry different from where they have served previously, and so the interviewer should be looking for areas of significant contribution rather than for positions which have been held.

Special Interests: "What do you enjoy doing on vacations or in your spare time?" Hobbies, crafts, sports, and skills will serve to suggest areas of service which might be needed on a short-term basis, but might not fit into the week-to-week ministry of the church. For example, a person who enjoys woodworking might have much to contribute to the preparation of props for the Christmas program.

Expectations: "What would you like to see happen as a result of volunteering to serve the Lord through our church?" Most, if not all volunteers, have a specific reason for committing time to minister at the church. The sensitive pastor can insure that these expectations will be met if he knows about them. Careful placement and appropriate personal contacts throughout the year are key factors in bringing about the fulfillment of ministry expectations.

Fears: "What causes the greatest feelings of apprehension as you contemplate volunteer ministry?" Frequently, Jeff found, fears centered around classroom discipline or being "trapped" in the job because no replacements were avail-able. Understanding the apprehensions of a volunteer, the pastor can usually insure that those fears never materialize or are minimized as a result of training and wise placement. Preferences: "In what capacity and with what age-group would you like to minister?" The interviewer should look for both primary and alternative choices of ministry opportunities and age-groups.

4. Recruitment interviews will seek to avoid placing people to ministry positions merely on the basis of pressing need. If a position is open but a volunteer suited to that ministry or to that minis-try team does not step forward, then the position will go un-filled. To inappropriately place an individual is to violate his or her gifts in the body of Christ.

5. Recruitment interviews will be followed by a period of observation by the volunteer. For one to three weeks after the interview the volunteer will be asked to attend the ministry activity to which she seeks assignment. During that time the volunteer will have the opportunity to meet the people with whom she will work and allow them to meet her. She will see the responsibilities to be accepted and observe the skills which will be necessary. At the end of the observation period a decision will be made about accepting an assignment to that department.

6. Recruitment interviews will include feedback from potential co-workers. "Everybody is smarter than anybody," was a comment Jeff had heard at a Sunday School convention workshop. It applies to the recruitment process. Sometimes a fatal flaw in a volunteer may be observed by a potential coworker while it escapes a person so well trained as the pastor. Their observations are to be considered a vital part of the interviewing/-placement process.

7. Recruitment interviews will culminate in the placement of volunteers into ministry positions or in informing them as to why they are not being placed. Volunteers should not be left wondering whether they have been accepted to serve in the church. Notification, either positive or negative, should be prompt. If a position is not currently open but will be available shortly, the interviewer should notify the volunteer of as many details as possible and continue to inform him about the progress of the position.

No process is infallible. Even after going through all of these procedures, there were still times when mistakes were made in assigning new staff, but never again was there a placement so blatantly inappropriate as that of Marshall Burlington.

However, there was an unexpected fringe benefit. Those who had gone through the recruitment interview process built meaningful personal relationships with the leadership team and, as a result, demonstrated a greater loyalty to the ministry. The net result was that volunteers often continued in their ministry positions longer than previous staff had done. This meant that less recruitment had to be done.

Review of Interview Procedures









Name:  __________________________
Phone: _______________
Interview Date:  ___________   Placement Date:  ____________


Describe your relationship with God and where you are in your Christian walk today.


What type of classes or seminars (if any) have you taken which have sharpened your ministry skills in your interest area?

What books, audio- or videotapes, or other training tools, have been of the most help in preparing you for the ministry to which you aspire?


What experience have you had in volunteer or full-time ministry?


What do you enjoy doing on vacations or in your spare time?


What would you like to see happen as a result of volunteering to serve the Lord through our church?


What causes the greatest feelings of apprehension as you con-template volunteer ministry?


In what capacity and with what age-group would you like to minister?


Mark H. Senter III is chair of the Department of Educational Ministries and associate professor of educational ministries at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He has been at Trinity since 1982. Prior to that, Senter served as youth pastor for 11 years and as pastor of Christian education at Wheaton Bible Church for 7 years.

Senter's areas of expertise include youth ministry, volunteerism, administration, and continuing education. He is a member of the North American Professors of Christian Education. He is a consultant for churches and parachurch agencies in periods of transition.

Senter's publications include Reaching a Generation for Christ (co-edited with Richard Dunn) (Moody 1997), The Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry (Victor 1992), Recruiting Volunteers in the Church (Victor 1990), and The Complete Book of Youth Ministry (co-edited with Warren Benson) (Moody 1987). He contributed to More Than Conquerors and his numerous articles have been published in periodicals such as Youthworker, Moody, Christianity Today, Leadership, and Christian Education Journal. Senter has also written chapters for other volumes on youth ministry.


This article was originally chapter ten of Recruiting Volunteers in the Church, by Mark Senter III, Victor Books, copyright 1990 by SP Publications. Currently out of print. Used by permission of Mark Senter.