The 8 Most Common Requests for Church Staff Recommendations

Because of my role as dean at Southeastern Seminary and my work among North American churches, I often get requests for recommendations for potential church staff members. Many churches are now trying to hire from within their church, but many others are still seeking outside input. Here are the most common requests I’ve received in the past year, listed in order of their frequency:

  1. Student pastor. In my early ministry, the student minister position was a stepping stone to the pastorate. More often now, congregations are looking for someone with a long-term commitment to this calling.
  2. Worship leader. Apparently, this position is difficult to fill. Churches are looking for leaders who are personally godly, theologically strong, musically gifted, and team oriented – and who can genuinely lead people to worship.  That’s a tough mix to find.
  3. Discipleship pastor. More and more churches are recognizing their need for a clearly defined discipleship strategy. The problem they face is finding someone who has been personally discipled, who has a track record of discipling others, and who can create a churchwide discipleship strategy.
  4. Family pastor. Commonly, this staff member oversees all age-graded ministries (e.g., preschool, children, etc.) while also developing strategies for strengthening marriages and homes. Not many folks are prepared to take on all these tasks.
  5. Children’s pastor. Of interest here is the fact that most churches that have contacted me want a man in this role. They’ve recognized the significance of a male influence among children whose homes are sometimes in chaos. 
  6. Missions pastor. Typically, the church wants someone with overseas experience and a track record of building and leading teams.  
  7. Executive pastor. Many churches seeking to fill this role work with agencies that help vet candidates, but some have sought my input in the last year. The challenge is to find someone who is a leader quite comfortable in a second chair position.
  8. Senior pastor. It’s interesting to me that this request has been the least common in the past year. Frankly, I’m not certain why that’s the case.

Any thoughts? Any surprises? 


  • Brian McCoy says:

    Dr. Lawless- had any or many requests for a Young Adult Pastor, focused on 18-35 age group?

  • Steve Watson says:

    We have always found the worship pastor a difficult hire. Had one that we hired (he said he agreed with our music philosophy) that left six months later when he realized we were not kidding when we said we wanted to stay the course on our current music philosophy.

    Currently, we have been searching for some time for a discipleship/outreach pastor for the exact reasons you outline in #3 above. Hard to find candidates with that desire and accompanying skill set.

  • Clay Porterfield says:

    Dr. Lawless,

    Do you think the trend of senior pastor is being replaced with the teaching pastor?

  • I have seen desperate churches take a young person from our Bible school without much of a background check, and the relationship fails about a year later.

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