by Neil MacQueen
I have worked as, with and for a number of Christian educators, have hired them, and I've been an ordained minister for education. I'm currently a minister working in my own specialized education ministry ...who volunteers in a local church where we recently hired a DCE (the first in a long-time for our congregation). My work with Rotation.org and Sunday Software has brought me into association with hundreds of professional and volunteer educators --their stories, experiences and hopes. So I guess you could say I know a thing or two about the subject of this article. The following isn't meant to be an exhaustive treatment -but a challenge to churches looking for good educators.
A church of any size can benefit from hiring someone to help with Christian education. Indeed, there are few successful growing churches without such help.
The biggest question on every search committee's mind is WHERE are we going to find an educator. Let me suggest that you need to rephrase that question to "HOW are we going to find an educator." You can't depend on "the way it used to work." Metaphor-enhanced version: You can't go fishing with a short pole, a blunt hook, puny bait, in the wrong spot, for the wrong fish.
Too many search committees spend 90% of their time crafting a job description and 9% of their time looking for people to fill the description, and 1% of their time making sure that person has a successful first year. In today's job market there is a dearth of Christian educators. Let me suggest that you spend 10% of your time on the job description and 90% of your time actively looking. And then 100% of your "after-search" time working with the educator (ie. volunteering and pastoring to them).
Should you consider members of your own congregation?
Yes -and tell those opposed to this idea to "get over it." Businesses do it all the time (promote from within). But be clear to those members who might apply for the job that they will not receive preferential treatment (unless they are hired, of course). If they don't understand this, you don't want to hire them, anyway. If you're hiring a church member, you need to have a long talk with that person, but don't let potential sticky-ness stand in the way of their God-given talent.
I have spoken to many, many volunteers who are, in fact, performing the function of a Christian educator. I've encouraged some to do it professionally (ie -get paid for what they are doing). They often say they would, but they don't think the church could afford them. Or they "like the freedom" of being able to take time off when they need to. Yet I know about a million pastors who would love to have such a "super-volunteer" apply for their position. They would be very willing to get creative about hours, days, months, vacations, time off, and such.
Smaller churches, especially, need to be more innovative and flexible in their thinking about work and a postion that is often viewed far too conventionally. I've come across many churches that would do well to hire TWO of their super-volunteers at 5 hours a week --to take their program and organization to the next step. Let's not get weird about hiring volunteers either. We have more people in our churches who can do housework --and yet we're willing to pay for janitorial services. Why? To get it done with a little more regularity and accountability. Certainly C.E. is more important than waxed floors.
Should you extend offers to educators working in other churches in your area?
Yes -I have met educators who "moved across town" and did great things. Statistically speaking, the majority of potential educators are going to be married women. The position you are hiring them to will probably not be full-time or as well-paying as their husband's job (I'm not saying this is good, this is just the way it typically is). Many qualified candidates will not be able to uproot their family and leave town just to get your job. That means you have to look where they are in town --and that means other churches. Honestly now... your church may deserve their talents more than the church they are currently working for --if you plan on valuing them and compensating them well. And sometimes people need a change of scenery. You are doing them a favor by offering, and they can always say no.
Recognizing you need to look in other churches, it would be foolish to depend upon the pastor of that church to pass on your letter of inquiry. Your committee needs to compile a mailing list of qualified church educators in your area. (By the way, pastors are contacted by other churches all the time, so don't think you're sneaking around or doing something wrong). Phone every Christian educator within a 30 mile radius of your church. Let them know you are looking. Even ones who aren't right for you may know someone who is. Then call the pastors within a 30 mile radius (and don't forget to tell the church secretary's what you're calling about too).
Other places to contact:
Give a flyer to school teachers you know. Get an ad in the local PTO newsletters. Get it in front of "substitute teachers" in the schools. Call and then personally deliver a packet of info to every college in your area. Go to their student job referral services (remember, not every college student is just out of high school these days). Find out where the local education department posts job openings. And don't forget campus newspapers, as well as all other local newspapers. Contact your local Christian radio station and ask about job announcements. Visit every seminary campus and Bible college within 50 miles. They will have placement services. Don't worry about theology of the schools at this point. Many students attend a school because it is close to where they live, not because they agree with everything the school teaches.
What should you expect to pay them?
Well. An experienced Christian educator should be paid comparable to an experienced public school teacher in your area. That means $18,000 to $20,000 for a half time job. It is no sin to be paid well. It is, however, a sin to underpay someone and take advantage of their love for church work. Those in your congregation who want to pay less "because it is church work" aren't with it. They don't understand market forces (in addition to ethical pay scales) or real leadership. Feel free to staple this quote to their foreheads. Some of your candidates will be coming from the business/public education world and be able to go back to it. In the long run --good educators do things in the congregation that increase giving. CE personnel are in short supply. Salary is a big factor in getting them interested.
How experienced do they have to be?
One of the best educators I ever worked with was somebody I hired away from a high school. She had plenty of volunteer experience, but no formal CE training. I was impressed by her creativity and interest in changing things that weren't working, rather than running things we knew didn't work. Melissa Hansche grew into the job and ended up co-authoring the Workshop Rotation book with me. One of the traits I was looking for was someone that other's would follow. She had/has that spark. The Christian educator I work with now, another gem, came to our church with loads of experience. She was the right person at the right time for that job in that church. The only perfect Christian educator I know of was so good people plotted to get rid of him (and succeeded with a little help from the Roman army).
How can you make your position attractive to them?
Good pay --the best candidates will be fielding multiple offers.
Don't be penny-wise and pound foolish. A good educator will pay for themselves. A mediocre educator probably won't attract new members to your congregation or inspire others to support the budget.
Offer Benefits if needed. If they are married and on their husband's policy, get creative and offer things like paying their dental co-pay. Such compensations will also catch the attention of a younger generation of educators who have different expectations and concerns about benefits than older educators.
Offer Flexible Hours --a must especially if they have children. Consider how many hours you will let them work "at home" vs. in a church office.
Childcare assistance. --The last thing you want to do is force a parent to choose between their own children and everyone else's children. If needed, offer babysitters for meeting nights or free tuition in the neighborhood preschool.
Flexible Job Description --If you find someone who is great at children and youth, but your description includes adults -and they don't want to do that, you obviously may still want to consider them. Find a way to write this kind of flexibility into the description.
Focused-realistic job description. --Burn-out is your staff's worse enemy. A focused job description is essential. So are forward thinking ideas like "who is pastoring the pastors?"
Openness to their ideas --Easy to say, but rare to find in a job description. Put it in writing. Give it a line item in the budget. Let potential candidates know that you will support their creative stretching. Tell candidates that you will "clear the deck" for them. This means you need to tell committee chairs and teachers that the new educator will have the authority to reassign people. Now, no smart educator would exercise this authority, but the smart ones will appreciate having this kind of backing, especially from the pastor. Expect a church educator to bring their creative energies. You're not hiring them for what they don't know.
Offer to train someone to become your educator.... Businesses do this all the time. But on the job training isn't enough. Many conferences offer "C.E. 101" level courses. Is there a retired educator in your congregation or in town who could help?
Ordained or Non-Ordained? By not considering ordained clergy for your position, you may be eliminating some of your areas most qualified candidates. Conversely, by only looking for an "Associate Pastor for Education" -type, you may be ignoring some terrific candidates in your area. The sheer fact of the matter is that good Christian educators are in short supply. Keep your options open.
Don't let corporate job description people write your copy. Their stiff and terse language won't peak a creative person's interest. Most educators are looking for a place that will nurture them, welcome their ideas. They often are also looking for the type of community they will want for their own children, You might also write your description in such a way that someone who had never really considered this type of work might be intrigued by your spirit.
What to do while you're in-between educators?
Hire a church member to provide some logistical support to the program. In many cases, this church member becomes a revelation to the church -and to themselves. They might turn into the educator everyone was looking for and was there all the time. By the way... don't ignore men for this position. It's the 21st Century. I've met many excellent Sunday School teachers who were male, and in-between jobs themselves, -or looking for a break from their career, -or had a wife who's salary was enough for both of them.
Don't jump at the first candidate. Be prepared for your search process to take up to 18 months. Don't get discouraged, -get creative.
My final comment: Once you get them, start working to keep them. And don't lose good educators in the first place. Respect them, nurture them, challenge them, pastor to them, and pay them well.
Neil MacQueen for Rotation.org
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