The Psychology of Christian Leadership Employment
Updated: Jan 21
Do you desire a church or ministry job? First, you must decide if you have the psychology to work in Christian leadership employment.
Should I Consider Working with Christians?
Allow me to offer something up front. I have worked for multiple years in both Christian non-profits and now Pastor of a church. I have seen both sides of the coin.
This is important because 99% of the articles on this topic are written by people who haven’t worked in either environment or have worked in one but not the other. If I can be so bold: I am an expert on the topic.
Further, in both cases, I have been responsible for “hiring” and high-level executive leadership. Put more simply – I am the person sitting across the table with the power to make the hiring decision.
It is from that expertise I will let others provide you checklists, job search tips, and other items.
In this post, we will discover whether you should even consider working in Christian Leadership as a career. Working full-time with other Christians is a dream some have. Before getting hired, we have visions of being in a protective cocoon of sorts.
Although economic times are hard, during better times, Christian non-profits, to include churches with paid staff, create new jobs.
Here are careers to consider:
However, Believers have the same issues and struggles as secular workers so prepare for that reality.
As regular readers know, I will not make excuses for anyone’s conduct to include mine. As my wife so eloquently put it: “all dirt is dirty.” Nevertheless, there are a few things you should understand before considering a career in Christian leadership.
First, are you willing to sacrifice pay for lifestyle? More on pay scales later. Next, working in a Christian organization isn’t much different than secular corporations. Again, for those who just had your dreams destroyed, I have been a leader in both.
Both are regulated by government laws and populated with flawed human beings just like YOU.
The point is, if you keep this in perspective, working around other believers has benefits! I used to love being able to pray and ask others to join me.
In corporate America, such behavior would be frowned upon. Now, a Muslim or Hindu can practice their false religion openly, but not the followers of Jesus? Not so much?
Success in Christian Leadership Requires Comprise
The faith based organization I spent years working for was called the Denver Rescue Mission.
Just like any organization, there were “favorites” while African Americans, and women were treated as second-class citizens. If you were Black and a woman, oh boy, you might as well stay home.
Yes – it was that bad for those poor souls.
To survive one had to compromise of morals, ethics, and personal convictions. Just like secular workplaces, the rules were made for some and not others.
For instance, there were three (3) mid-level managers. The first refused to compromise on truth, believed in accountability, and lived what other “Christians” only paid lip-service to.
The other two managers constantly compromised personal principles while being lured with promises of success. The first manager wound up terminated while the other two are now Vice Presidents!
The point is, be prepared to make a choice between “upward mobility” and personal faith. For those who have already compromised, such places hold limitless careers possibilities.
The Bible says (Matthew 6:24):
I don’t point this out to be negative either. I do so because along with deciding on a Christian career, you must also determine how serious you are about faith. You will not be able to hold onto a career and uncompromising faith.
What is Christian Leadership Anyway?
Let’s talk about what Christian Leadership is. Despite all the nonsense you’ve heard about: “leading like Jesus”, few understand what this means, let alone practice it.
Leadership, in a Christian organization, must be viewed differently than secular interests. For instance, a Christian leader’s job is not to: “get the best out of employees” rather, continually point them to Jesus Christ.
It is only through Jesus Christ that “the best” will ever be realized!
In secular interests, there is a saying: “cream rises to the top.” This indicates that whoever the best people are in the organization will eventually become known and promoted.
The biblical view of “cream” is much different.
Who can forget this (1st Corinthians 1:25-28):
Apparently, and unlike “secular cream”, God raises up ‘weak fools’ to do His will!
Those most effective in a Christian worldview are those with the greatest heart of service towards others.
During my years working at the mission, I was forced or redefine what a Christian leader was.
I managed two employees who never rose to the “top” yet were most influential than even the CEO in individual lives. One was a cashier and the other a housekeeper. These two, without doubt, were the greatest servants of the more than 300 people on the property I managed.
They weren’t the highest paid, most recognize, or out-front leading the charge. However, behind the scenes, their love for the desperate and homeless was world changing!
They had the right “heart condition” (1st Samuel 16:7):
Does Christian Employment Pay Well?
I want to handle this question in two parts. First, we must distinguish between Christian employment and working in the church.
I have had the privilege of working in both and they couldn’t be more different. You will be spared you the nitty-gritty details however, charitable Christian organizations, such as homeless shelters, are known as: “para churches.”
This means their mission, while not directly carried out by the church, is parallel.
It is easy comparison would be attending a Sunday morning worship versus conducting the work of the church outside of the four walls. In a perfect world, these para-church organizations would not exist because the church fulfills its purpose.
However, we have miserably failed to follow the instructions of Jesus in public ministry. I include myself as well.
Nonprofit Christian organizations typically don't pay as well when compared to secular, for-profit work. The idea is that people who work in charitable organizations would rather love what they do than be paid more for something they hate.
For instance, a certified public accountant (CPA), working in a nonprofit Christian organization, certainly won’t make as much as in a public firm.
Here is a government study of salary comparisons (for-profit vs. non-profit):
For-profit companies can pay whatever they can afford. If they sell products and earn money, their only concern is return on investment to shareholders.
Church employment and para-church organizations are a bit different. Charities depend on donations and typically do not have the ability to sell products per se. Their purpose is doing work “for the public good” while for profits work for “shareholders.”
If you plan to consider a career in Christian leadership, your salary will reflect your choice.
Church Work Can be Different Than a Ministry Job
We now pivot to “church work” which is different from para-church non-profits. The reality is more than 85% of all Christian churches would be considered small.
More than you might imagine have very little money to even pay their Pastor. Let alone others.
here is, however, cross-pollination between church leaders and those who work in par-church non-profits. Pastors who lead small congregations often choose para-church work to supplement their ministries.
There were Pastors working at the Denver Rescue Mission during my time their.
Small churches are not great employment options with respect to those who want to work in ministry.
Now, ministry is not a career or a job it is a “calling.” Those called to it often do so for free!
Most would be surprised to know that micro-church Pastors often go without pay. Further, they work secular jobs to keep church doors open as well.
Large churches often post positions for which they hire. These organizations often operate like parachurch organizations with respect to pay and administration. However, even then, you are not going to earn a large salary.
Charities are founded for the public good and not to “make money” so to speak. Therefore, the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) doesn’t require charities to pay taxes.
When deciding where to work, it boils down to your personal and/or spiritual desires. If you are looking to financially get ahead, stick with for-profit corporations.
Ministry Work is About Lifestyle
I warned earlier about seeking Christian leadership employment due to expecting a “paradise on Earth” experience.
The people who populate these organizations, me included, are human with the same failings as non-believers. It may surprise many but Christian organizational leadership is based on a secular model and not the Bible.
There are things which are different between secular and faith-based careers, however.
First, faith-based para-organizations, and churches, typically have a statement of faith. This document is often required as a condition of employment.
It is no different than jobs which require substance abuse prescreening. If you refuse, you are no longer a candidate for employment. A statement of faith often conflicts with the secular business model, however.
It is a double-edged sword of sorts.
Nonchurch Christian organizations must have nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service.
Without this, the organization would not exist in thereby the services they provide to the community.
There is something which I found disturbing you should be aware of in this area. Christian leaders do not apply their faith statements equally across the organization.
Having worked seven years at the Denver Rescue Mission, it breaks my heart to tell you that Christian conduct is expected of some but not others. Policies are unjustly and unevenly applied constantly.
Two groups are often held to a higher standard than others: minorities and women.
Even then, that depends on the age of the woman. I have witnessed young white women receive more leniency than older women.
These rules are typically written and enforced by middle-aged white men. I am sure the wise among us can see through the lines (cough! cough!).
The point to all of this is, there are failings which you are going to have to accept or seek employment somewhere else.
Apply for Multiple Opportunities Simultaneously
One of the greatest mistakes Christians make is focusing too much on one opportunity. I know you believe: “I prayed, and God told me that job was mine.”
If I could only count the number of times that prophecy failed! Rather than waiting for a church opportunity to come to you, apply for as many ministry openings as you are comfortable with.
Before applying, there are certain lifestyle considerations.
Are you young, right out of college, or older and more settled? What income do you feel is required? No matter salary or perks, don’t apply for roles you won’t be comfortable in.
Working in the faith community brings with it different expectations of “qualifications.”
There are certain careers which I, as a church leader, would not care if someone had the “right skills.” It is more important they are the “right person.”
In the carnal workplace, “right” often means experience. In the Kingdom of God, this can be overlooked if you are God’s Chosen. True is the saying: “God doesn’t care how much you know. He only cares that you know Him.”
When you land the interview, be yourself. Oftentimes, church people are better at spotting fakery than others.
I desired candidates be truthful no matter how unpleasant I may find it. A transparent person can be trusted whereas the wearer of “masks” I dismissed out of hand!
If you lie to me, the hiring manager, in our first meeting, you will continue to.
Christian Resumes Should Look a Bit Different
If you’re going for an interview, you should have a copy of your resume ready. Resumes are the best way to introduce yourself to the job market and tell employers why they should want to meet you.
You know this, right?
Let me share something with you that you may not know. Christian organizations may not view your resume, and cover letter, the same as would a secular organization.
They often value “skill” but are more interested in the “person.”
Having served as the hiring onsite manager, here is what I would look for. First, “how” you present yourself is much more important than “what” you present.
As an example, if you put a photo on your document(s), I would more prefer a natural look than “professional.”
A resume photo of a smiling Believer with a boat in the background, tells me more than the sanitized profile photos from LinkedIn. Sanitized is FAKE and tells me nothing other than you know how to “pretend.”
Such a photo would also tell me you love to relax and value time away from work no matter how brief.
Your "Intro” (objective) statement proclaiming your love for Jesus is much less important than “why” you love Him. If I could simplify: be more YOU than what others expect.
For instance, I had a choice of two internal candidates who applied to be my assistant. One was older, more intelligent, and a favorite of Executive Leadership. The other did something which fascinated me although he was less “polished” and “intelligent” than candidate #1.
He humbly worked for a much younger, less experienced woman, and did an outstanding job! Unlike him, candidate #1, was always trying to make others look silly.
Most older men in the organization constantly tried to dismiss our younger, female supervisors. It was so bad at one point, that I called a meeting and confronted the men involved.
My soon to be new assistant was different. This made him more qualified in my view. Who you are matters - the technical job skills can be learned.
The psychology of working in a faith-based organization is different. I authored this article so that you, follower of Jesus, understand all human being are flawed. This doesn’t stop at the doors of the church either.
When I began at the rescue mission, everyone claimed Christianity and that brought with it certain expectations.
I mean, I knew there would be issues but didn’t expect the down right treachery from leadership I experienced. However, I am better for having worked in the midst of these people.
You can, and probably will, locate suitable faith-based employment. However, you have to prepare yourself for what you will find.
You must view para-church or church employment as an “escape from secular evil.” It is nothing of the sort! Think of it more as: “just another place where there are flawed human beings.”
Header Image Courtesy of Alex Green @ Pexels