Top 3 qualities I’m looking for when I hire

Posted on: 03/8/16 5:45 AM | by Jonathan McKee

LeadershipSomeone just asked me, “Jonathan, we’re looking for a new youth pastor. What would you look for in a youth pastor?”

What would you say?

Good speaker?

Kids like them?


(Those are the ones I hear from people frequently.)

To be honest (see what I did there?), none of those three above make my top three. Sure, they’re great qualities. In fact, being “organized” is probably the fourth most important quality on my list. It’s very important… but not as important as these three below.

Here are the top three qualities I’m looking for in a leader, and some ways you can test to see if they have them. Then… what is the top quality you look for? (Chime in- in the comments)

1. Humility/Teachability
The first thing I look for in any interview is humility. When I ask questions, do they come across like they know all the answers, or as someone who is a fellow learner? (Because I’m still learning, so I’d rather work with others who are still learning.) In fact, do they demonstrate an eagerness to learn (not just a willingness)? Do they want a mentor? Are they open to suggestions?

One way I seek to discover this is by asking behavior based questions, asking for examples from past behavior. I might ask, “Tell me a lesson you learned the hard way this last year.” Or, “What is something you learned from a mentor recently that you were able to apply in your ministry.” In fact, when I call their references, I’d ask them specifically for examples of teachability they noticed in this person.

Why such the big focus on humility?

Because humility trumps everything! I know… it almost sounds counterintuitive. But Jesus taught this, laying out the cause/effect relationship between humility and leadership (Matthew 5:5). Jesus also modeled this (John 13). Humble leaders are the best leaders. In fact, humility is actually the key to Christianity—the admission that we can’t do it on our own and we need a savior. Those who don’t humble themselves are rather shortsighted. Humility is unavoidable. If we humble ourselves, we’ll be exalted. If we exalt ourselves, we’ll be humbled (Matt 23:12).

Do they need Jesus? Do they demonstrate this?

Watch out for the person who thinks, “I’ve got this humility thing handled!”

2. Reliability
Does this person’s yes mean yes? (Matthew 5:37)

This trait is rapidly becoming extinct in our world. I can’t tell you how many times people tell me they’ll do something… and nothing happens. They don’t even think twice about it. “I didn’t have time.” “Something came up.”

I always just want to reply, “No, you just don’t come through whenever it gets tough!” (Psalm 15:4)

A good way to test this is give them some small tasks as part of the application process. Ask them their preferred method of contact, then contact them that way and see when they respond. Ask them how soon they can complete an application and then note when they actually turn it in. Make an appointment with them (if they’re local), show up early, and note what time they get there. If someone shows up late to an interview… that is an omen, my friend!

The best way to test this is to start by hiring people in a temporary position and observe how they work. This isn’t always possible if you want to hire someone from New York and you live in Texas. But even then, I’ve seen churches hire a position for one year, with full disclosure that they will reevaluate at the end of the first year.

We need people who will actually do what they said they’d do.

 3. A Team Player
Does this person play nice with others? Do they have a history of building a team of leaders around them, or do they like to do it alone… “because if you want something done right you have to do it yourself!” Do they see the importance of recruiting volunteers?

A huge part of this is the ability to recruit and equip volunteers… a skill completely unrecognized and devalued in many ministry circles. Has this person ever done the math and realized they can get more done if they can delegate to others (the second most important quality of a leader according to Forbes).

Ask this person, “Tell me about the last team of people you worked with.” “What did you like/dislike about working with them?” “How many volunteers did you start with… and did you end up with?”

Don’t hire the Lone Ranger (I’m showing my age with that example).

* * *

These are just the top three. I also value work-ethic (are they a self-starter), organizational skills, ability to teach… and do they like deep dish pizza instead of that skinny stuff you have to fold over?

These three above give me insight to the foundation of our faith—loving God and loving others. It starts with humility & dependency on God, then integrity, then flows to how well they treat others.

What about you?
What are the qualities you look for?

How do you discover these?

For more helpful resources for hiring like job descriptions, interview guides, etc., jump on our FREE Logistical Crud page. Also take a peek at our top selling book on the subject of recruiting, training and leading volunteers, THE NEW BREED.

15 Replies to “Top 3 qualities I’m looking for when I hire”

  1. Here’s what I’m looking for, personally. (Right now… in this moment, between a cup of coffee and my second cup of tea!)

    1. Do they have a voice? I hear you about team player… but sometimes being a team player means you have to be the one who says what needs to be said. I can’t tell you how many burnt out youth workers I’ve met who are burned out because they’ve been a yes man for 10 years.
    2. Are they fair? My personal bias is that I’m over institutional inequality enough to hire away from people without a history of equality. I want to know if they are fair to people based on what they can do… or are they holding on to old values when it comes to gender, race, and age? Show me the evidence, no more coulda woulda shoulda. If you want to lead this generation, you better be right on things students are passionate about… and this one isn’t even up for grabs anymore.
    3. Are they dumb enough to believe in miracles? I’m on the lookout for youth workers who don’t see limitations. We, as a tribe, have gotten sucked into thinking that if our budget is full and our boss is happy we’re doing a good job. Hogwash! Our tribe is reaching a theologically inappropriate number of teenagers. If you don’t think you’ve got ideas to shake that up? NEXT!

    How’s that?


  2. Humility/teachable seems to be the attribute that I come across in great leaders (youth ministry and beyond). In working with people, including those we report to, lead and serve being humble allows Christ to lead us. I would assume that if you were humble/teachable you would be able to be a team player.

    Able to connect with people would be the second characteristic that I would look for. This does not exclude introverts but instead filters out those who like ministry but can not lead people. People are pretty important part of ministry. duh 🙂

    Work ethic would be my third filter.

  3. At this point in the history of youth ministry, there’s a lot of guys who can play the game and speak the jargon. They know how to pull off a “killer” outreach event or dazzle with am “amazing worship night.” They use phrases like “intentional, incarnational, relational ministry…” or “family ministry” or talk about “intergenerational” ministry. But, in the end, they have no idea what these things are all about or why they matter. So here’s what I’m looking for (right now in fact) as I hire a youth pastor.

    I want a person who understands the church; not my church, Jesus’ church. I want someone who recognizes that the church is the bride of Christ, that it belongs to Him (he’s in charge) and that we’ve been given a sacred trust as pastors to care for our people. The implications of this are many but here are a few.
    First, they ought to be more concerned that Jesus shows up each week than students. Keeping Jesus the focus means that we’ll be more interested in being theologically sound than culturally savvy. Which means that they have to read, know and love God’s Word. This alone might help us avoid the vast majority of youth ministry blunders.
    Second, they ought to pray… and listen… a lot. While type-A, extroverted, high-I people seem attractive, they often have difficulty sitting down long enough to hear from God. They may pray, but do they listen as well? Without strength in this spiritual discipline, it’s unlikely that God shows up no matter how well they plan.
    Third, they understand that primarily they are pastor and secondarily a youth pastor. The title youth pastor is not found in the Bible. When we’re called to pastor the bride of Christ, we’re called to a life of sacrifice and service on behalf of the whole body. This means that we have to be willing to pastor parents, grandparents, foster parents, families, walk-ins and walk-outs. At the heart of this is my desire for a youth pastor who listens to and moves with the Spirit. That means looking for someone who can slow down enough to hear his voice and who can jettison his own plans for God’s.
    Finally, I want someone who demonstrates a clear understanding of and commitment to the great commission – the primary calling of the bride of Christ. I want someone who actually knows what it means to “make disciples.” And I’m not talking about just sitting in a coffee shop waiting for someone to ask about the cross sticker on their mac book air. I wan’t someone who has a clear plan, process and purpose when discipling someone. I want someone who has actually made disciples who make disciples and knows how to replicate themselves and that process in the lives of others; students and volunteers alike.

    This is the person who will be my next teammate.

    1. Pete… Good stuff. I think you should have posted an online link where people can apply for this! 🙂

  4. These qualities mentioned above are all important, without question. The way I phrase the primary attribute I look for in an employee or staff member is this: do they do what they say they’re going to do? Making promises, setting goals, and strategizing are necessary, but unless they actually follow through, the only thing that happens is they lose their reputation.

  5. I would look for a youth leader who is humble (which makes them a learner, a team player and relationally strong), has the ability to teach sound theology in a practical and relevant way and is all about helping teenagers become a disciple of Jesus and make disciples (and models that in their own personal lifestyle.)

  6. It is so much harder to “unhire” the wrong person than it is to hire the right person in the first place. This is why Jonathan’s advice about taking your time is huge. Like many people who read this, I am not in the position to bring someone in temporarily because I lead a smaller church in a small town (200 people in a town of 2000). We usually have to hire from outside our community. When we were looking for a youth pastor, we brought in candidates for a whole week. They would stay with my family at our house and we would have them meet everyone. I wanted to see them teach, meet with students, meet with parents, meet with teachers at the school and see how they operated under a little pressure. The candidate that we eventually hired took about four days before I realized that he was the guy. As a matter of fact, my first impression of him was very different than the one I had of him by the end of the week. He has now been with us for over 3 years (an eternity for a youth pastor) and he is doing a fantastic job on the things that really count: spending one on one time with kids, getting on campus, recruiting volunteers and connecting with our community. I am convinced that we ended up with the right guy because we took a lot of time with him. I would never hire someone based on a resume, one interview and three references.

  7. These are all really great. I’d add balance. Humble and fearless. Team player and strong leader.

    Understand the big picture of the church. Not hiring to fill a spot, grow a kingdom, but to buy into a great vision – the church vision and ultimately the vision of the Gospel.

    Not sure what else without repeating what has been said. Smart people have already chimed in and spoken well.

  8. We are going on five years with a guy who is not…
    A dynamic communicator
    A rah rah follow me personality
    A guy that all students are lining up to spend time with

    The last guy was…for a little over a year.

    Our guy is humble, reliable, teachable, steady, solid. He leads from out front without guilting or pushing others to do what he is unwilling to do.

    I cannot think of a single instance where he has done anything to promote himself.

    Not a lot of flash…just real. That is what my kids and our students need to see more of in our photoshopped selfie culture of ME

  9. So many great comments here. Humility/Teach ability has to be very high on the list.

    A Youth Pastor/Leader can influence so many things in a church. It’s such an important hire for the group in a church that is going through the most change. Teenagers!

    Can then adapt to the culture/vision/values of the church. Do they complement the direction we are headed or will they create di-vision in our church?

    How do we make this hire based on a couple short interviews? I need to know their heart. I’m looking for several heart attitudes. In the interview process I want them to ask a lot of questions. I don’t want them to be so agreeable for the sake of the job. I want them to ask me lots of questions. The questions they ask will help me understand their heart attitudes.

    If I were to add anything to the list that has been created here it would be this: Can they balance work & ministry? Are they a worker? Do they have a work ethic? Can they minister? Will they take time with students to build heart connections and disciple hearts of individuals? Working with a team of leaders this balance sounds easy, but I see the pendulum swing back and forth from all work no ministry or no work all ministry. It’s takes both to grow a ministry. Maybe this is summed up in maturity. Finding someone who can relate to students but walk in maturity is a huge find.

  10. I think being a person who is humble enough to be teachable (no matter how many years they have been in ministry).

    I would want someone who is willing and able to think outside of the box. I want someone who is willing to keep evolving with the ever changing world that we minister in.

    A person who understands the importance of discipleship! We don’t have very much time with our students so we can’t just sit back and entertain them. We need to be involved in their lives asking them the tough questions. This person should be actively preparing them for the next stage of their lives.

  11. I agree with the qualities you present here, Jonathan. Here are three additional points to consider.

    1. Clear communicator. Student ministers are notorious for poor communication skills. Either we say too little, say it infrequently, or say things without clarity. The ability to communicate effectively in word and print is essential for student ministry.

    2. Holiness. Really, this should be number one on all our lists. Unfortunately, even the most holy in our ranks gets fired eventually if they are poor communicators! Student ministry can be a treacherous minefield for temptation of all kinds. We aspire to teach and lead students by example, and must exemplify holiness in our lives if our message is to have any validity.

    3. Maturity. Sadly, many times student ministers perpetuate the stereotype that our profession attracts mostly childlike and irresponsible practitioners. I hate this. We have to wear many hats in student ministry, transitioning effectively from student gatherings to elder board meetings to facilitating parent meetings. There’s a time for us to be silly with our students (and we better be able to do this well) and there’s a time for us to represent our ministry to a larger audience. We must be seen as credible to this larger, more mature audience if we are to optimize our effectiveness in student ministry.


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