Normally, at the end of an interview for a job the panel might ask a candidate . . . “do you have any questions for us?” Take the opportunity!
Here are my top TEN questions you should ask, some at the interview itself – some in advance (if you don’t get helpful answers, it might help you decide whether you want to rock up for an interview at all) ::
1. What is the Vision of the Church for [Children’s Youth and Family Ministry] over the next five years?
Often, at interview, the person being interviewed for the post might get asked this question. Please, please, PLEASE ask the question back to those doing the interviewing! It is not sufficient that a local church wants to employ someone . . . their whole church vision has to have children’s youth and family ministry as a core priority. A good church looking for a worker should have a clear answer to this question . . . !
2. What would an “effective” first year look like to you?
Again, you might get asked this at interview as the prospective appointee – but, you and the church need to be on the same page with expectations. Maybe the church thinks you should start 6 new activities in the first year (WAY to much), maybe they think you should just hang out with young people and be chilled (WAY to little). There needs to be clarity around what “effective” looks like – and, steer away from words like “success”. It is a loaded word and carries unhelpful connotations – often associated with how MANY young people you are working with . . . rather that what you are actually DOING with those you have.
If you are going for a Part Time post, I would also consider whether the church is factoring in the time you have available as they answer. I would hope their expectations of an effective first year would be different for 8 hours, 15 hours or 20 hours a week posts . . .
3. What are the “work” hours?
This might seem obvious, but again – really important to be clear. My rule of thumb, if you are “required” to be at something it should fall under work hours . . . if something is optional, then you should get to decide! Why mention this? Because I have seen some churches suggest to a worker that their Sunday attendance (which is required) is part of their gift to the church . . . Don’t be told what your gift will be, decide for yourself!
If you are full time, anything between 35 and 40 hours is reasonable (from the tax mans point of view anything above 30 is usually considered as full time work). Where it might say “some evening work required” again, be specific – do you get to determine this or are there established things you have to be at? Ensure you have AT LEAST a full day off every week . . . and, where possible, work no more than 2 out of 3 sessions in a day . . .
Often with part time posts, there is flexibility about when you might “do” the hours. Look at what needs to be done, get it fixed and be clear about when you are working and not working so everyone is on the same page.
4. What is the budget?
Your pay and any associated benefits are not the budget for the work! It is worth asking, rather than getting a shock once you have started . . . personally, I would want a break down for each age group you might be responsible for so you can manage that for different activities – this is not your personal expenses . . . this is actual budget for groups. i.e. your under 5s group has an annual budget of £200 which enables you to purchase toys, music cds, do publicity, get teaching material etc.
Similarly, you should have a budget for “personal expenses” (that could be a set figure for you to purchase theology books you should be reading and or / money towards occasional retreat days etc).
5. What Equipment and Space do I have to work?
Again, this might seem obvious – but I increasingly see people being employed by churches where there is no office space, no computer, no printer . . . and this stuff has not been thought about until someone starts. Get some clarity at interview. This equipment stuff should also include things like a work phone or something allocated within your expenses to enable you to claim for work related phone calls.
If you are going to need to carve out some work space at home – firstly, it is really helpful to know that and secondly, if you have a bit of your home which you predominantly use for work . . . you might be able to claim expenses for a percentage of your heating, lighting etc.
6. What provision is there for ongoing professional development?
This question is about the commitment the church is making to you (yes, I know they are paying you and hopefully will be providing a safe and fun environment within which to work) and your ongoing development in ministry. I would hope for occasional retreat days, a conference once a year with peers in ministry + the chance to engage with peers around areas of particular concern (e.g. managing and developing volunteers, mentoring young people, suicide and self harm training, social media skills development etc).
The more a church offers in this regard, the longer you might choose to stay . . . our commitment grows where we know a church cares about us as individuals and not just about what we are delivering . . .
7. Is there an accommodation allowance?
I’ve written extensively (mostly on The Resource Facebook page) about the challenges facing children’s, youth and families workers when it comes to decent terms and conditions. The minimum clergy stipend nationally, as of Summer 2018, is £23,800.
Now, if that is roughly your actual PAY as a salaried person, you have to factor in rent or mortgage, council tax and water rates as needing to come out of that kind of sum. For stipendiary clergy all of that is covered – they don’t pay rent, council tax or water rates.
Many parts of the UK are challenging places to live and rent or buy. Looking for a two bedroom flat (Clergy usually have a house with four bedrooms) to rent will, on average, set you back an extra £600 a month. You are in ministry – you aren’t doing this for the money, but – increasingly – it is getting harder and harder to find a salaried role offering the kind of package that makes it “doable” financially for anyone but a student or young adult with no responsibilities except for themselves.
Ask the question. If the answer is no – do the sums. Can you afford to take this job? If you can’t – be clear with the church / faith based organisation about why you can’t.
8. What will line management and pastoral supervision look like?
It really, REALLY helps if line management (overseeing your actual job / tasks / working week) is separated from pastoral supervision (caring and supporting you, the worker). Every parish is different – some have fantastic incumbents who will be “on it” and have this all sorted with quality people in place – others will have incumbents who have never line managed anyone, but think it can’t be that hard and will just have a go . . . I have seen this fail spectacularly.
Blurring the edges between providing an environment for you to flourish in ministry and the demands and pressures on you to “deliver”.
Most important is structure and – before you start – clarify grievance procedures and the process, if ever required, of involving those outside the parish to resolve disputes or disagreements. IF the church you are looking at is a Church of England parish, chat to the Diocesan Children’s Adviser / Youth Officer in advance and get their take on the set up (a half decent parish should have invited them to be part of the process, and they might be on the interview panel too – that is usually – a good sign!)
9. When does the money run out?
OK, so you might not ask this question quite like that – but, nevertheless it is important. You might have turned up for interview with an understanding from an advert that the post is “permanent” or 3 years (with extensions beyond that).
Is there money to pay you beyond that? Children’s, youth and family ministry should not be an experiment – either with the lives of the children and young people, or with you. If there is sufficient funds for three years, what then? Is there a fund raising strategy? Where has the money come from in the first place?
If you are heading in to an interview with a church for a first time role they may well have financed it with grants / gifts form the Diocesan Mission Fund or elsewhere. Obviously, if the parish income isn’t sufficient to pay you if they want a salaried worker long term there needs to be a plan. It impacts your future – so ask questions about the money!
10. Will this be a licensed role?
This is unique to Church of England parishes, but being “licensed” by the Bishop of a Diocese means the wider church is taking a measure of responsibility for you and your employment. They may not be paying you or technically your employer, (that will be the PCC) but – by being licensed, you are being seen as a valued member of lay ministry in the Diocese. There is a general “canon” under which youth workers are licensed as lay workers. If this doesn’t come up in conversation or isn’t mentioned (and you are looking at role in a Church of England parish) it is worth asking what kind of support and equipping for salaried workers the Diocese offers.
There you have it. By the way, I don’t think the place for all of these to be asked is at your interview – you would then be interviewing the parish as long as they are interviewing you! Some of these are questions you can explore in advance, it is perfectly reasonable, prior to going along for an interview, to phone up and ask some of these questions – remember, you are checking out the parish as much as they are checking out who is applying.
Right now, partly because of the challenging financial circumstances of being a salaried worker, there are more roles than there are salaried workers with experience looking for roles. It’s not great, the terms and conditions around should be better, but it does mean you can have a good look round and – if you have some positive responses to most of these questions, then that is looking pretty good right now.
As many of you know, if you are regular readers of my Facebook page, I’ve been involved in some work on this, having recently carried out a survey of salaried workers to help the Church get a handle on what many of you are facing. The summary report was produced last year – see that here. Further work related to the outcomes of that report are being worked on!