The Search for Spark

November 19th, 2012

Over the years I’ve led many search and interview committees in youth ministry. And earlier in my life, I was often on the receiving end of those same interviews—nervously scanning the faces who were asking the tough questions, wondering how I would answer the question: “How will you manage a group of twenty teenagers by yourself?”

But the essence of any great interview—as well as finding the perfect candidate for a youth ministry position—isn’t necessarily about intellect, or background, or training, or even experience. It is about the spark.

Every seasoned interview committee will tell you the same thing: when you interview the right person, you know it. It’s like a romantic relationship, when two people are made for each other and know it. It’s not necessarily love at first sight, but when the interview questions are right and the responses are crisp and the personalities mesh . . . everyone in the room feels the magnetism. This is the person for this position!

There are a few things, however, that I’ve learned about conducting great youth ministry interviews and subsequently, what youth ministry candidates should prepare to answer. So, in a nutshell, here are five questions that a youth ministry candidate should be prepared to receive and explore with an interview team. If you are on the hiring side of the table, commit these essentials to memory. And if you are someone who is looking toward youth ministry in the near future, consider how these questions can help you reveal your heart and passion for teenagers and for God’s work.

What can you tell us about yourself?

This is how most interview teams will begin, using an open-ended question to set the candidate at ease but also offer an opportunity for the candidate to tell as much (or as little) about himself/herself as is comfortable. I’ve always respected those individuals who could tell their “story” in a precise and non-rambling way—offering highlights about family, educational background, life experiences, and maybe even some concise background about past involvement in ministry and what has brought them to seek the position.

Some turn-offs to watch out for in this vein would include candidates who ramble too long, who are overly nervous when talking up front of a group, or who can’t express themselves verbally.

Candidates, practice talking about yourself without coming across as arrogant or overly humble. Find a medium of confidence. Talk about accomplishments, but bring your family and friendships into the mix so you don’t appear to be a lone ranger. If you work well on a team, be sure to find a story that demonstrates this. Be yourself. And don’t forget to smile. Be confident and forthright.

Why are you seeking this youth ministry position?

Naturally, no search committee wants to hear answers like: “Well, I need some extra money” or “I just love kids” or “I had a near-death experience and made a promise to God.”

Anyone who applies for a youth ministry position is going to need to arrive at some solid answers regarding a passion for youth ministry with teenagers, or using one’s gifts in the church, or a sense of call. No interview team is going to expect a candidate to articulate all of this with absolute conviction, and they won’t want to hear, “I know I’m supposed to get this position because God told me,” but the team will want to know that the candidate has a heart for Christ, has a desire to learn ministry, and wants to serve the church. Background and experience can certainly help here, but in many instances, this won’t be paramount. The spark and the heart will be.

Candidates should spend time making their intentions clear while also demonstrating a desire to serve the church and to learn new things. And, of course, having a heart for teenagers doesn’t hurt either!

How would you conduct a typical youth meeting?

Much has changed in youth ministry over the years. And any youth ministry candidate should here demonstrate that he or she is informed of the latest trends in youth ministry, youth culture, and typical teen problems. If you have a method for beginning a youth meeting, articulate it well, and if there are themes or topics you believe youth need to explore, articulate how you would present this and lead the group. Talk about methods as well as information. Speak to your leadership as well as your knowledge.

If you only had time to teach one thing to teenagers, what would it be?

This question really hits at the heart of our priorities, but also offers an opportunity for any candidate to consider the implications of discipleship. How does one learn to follow Christ? How is discipleship communicated to younger people?

A candidate will need to think about these priorities before the interview, as not every search team will want to hear about another retreat module, dynamic game night, or recreational outing. Somewhere in the mix of youth ministry there must be a strong teaching/leading moment where teenagers learn about God’s call on their lives and the gifts they have to offer to God’s kingdom. Don’t overlook the one thing that can turn a mediocre interview into a great experience.

How would you handle teenagers who have a crush on you or don’t observe appropriate boundaries?

Increasingly, youth ministry candidates must be able to articulate how they would set up these boundaries with teenagers. For males, there may be many adoring teenage girls who will sending text messages and photos. For females, they may experience the occasional teenage boy who makes inappropriate comments or makes suggestive moves.

This isn’t necessarily a last question to consider, but every candidate (and each search team) will want to feel comfortable with any adult who is in a supervisory role with adolescents. A background check is always in order for anyone working with children or teenagers.

In the end, a search committee will probably go with their “gut” feeling about a candidate. There’s probably going to be a spark somewhere in one of the interviews that will make everyone take notice. If the spark is strong enough, it will reveal itself as a fire in the belly. Great church staff is formed in this way. And it is always helpful to have a passion for the church and for the hard work of leading teenagers into a deeper experience with God.

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