25 Unbelievable Things Search Committees Said to Pastoral Candidates

It began as a conversation at Church Answers where we have 2,000 church leaders interacting almost 24 hours a day. They can ask questions about their churches, or they can just interact with one another about the hopes and travails of ministry.

I read as many of the comments as possible. This one caused me to pause. A pastor was interviewing with a search committee when one of the committee members asked him if he would be on 24/7 call 365 days a week. Taken aback, the pastor then asked the search committee member how many hours a week he was expected to work. The response? Up to 120 hours a week!

Seriously.

As other pastors and staff members interacted with this pastor, I decided to take the question to social media. I wanted to ask the question specifically to lead pastors, but I included church staff as well. Here was my question: “Pastors and church staff: What is a question you’ve been asked by a search committee (or its equivalent) that told you the church is not a good fit for you?”

We got dozens of the expected responses like, “Does your wife play piano?” But we got many more that shocked us. By this point, you would think that I couldn’t be shocked how some churches treat a pastor or staff member.

Here are 25 of the shocking questions or comments in no particular order: 

  1. Our last pastor preached for 18 minutes. Can you keep it under 20 minutes?
  1. The salary is low, but we will pay you a commission for each new tithing family that joins the church.
  1. What is your political party affiliation?
  1. What is the least amount we can pay you to come?
  1. We do monthly cleaning inspections of the parsonage. You will need to make sure your wife keeps it clean.
  1. Do you mind if we have a Christmas tree in the pulpit?
  1. Your wife can’t take a job outside the home because she will be too busy at the church.
  1. Are you a Calvinist? (several times)
  1. Will you preach out of the King James Version? (several times)
  1. What do you think about coloreds in the church? (Sadly, several racist questions were asked, including one church that used extremely inappropriate racial language.)
  1. Will you play at least two hymns a week? The old hymns?
  1. Would you be okay if we parked another single wide by the existing one as a parsonage for your whole family?
  1. Do you own a weapon?
  1. We want you to preach for a month and see how it works out. (The candidate lived out of state.)
  1. What is your position on interracial marriages?
  1. If you came here, we would want you to fire the youth minister. Would you be willing to do that?
  1. Do you let the singers hold the microphones themselves?
  1. Have you ever held a rattlesnake?
  1. Would you be willing to shave your facial hair?
  1. You have to mow the parsonage lawn at the same time they mow the church yard.
  1. The pastor’s office hours are 9 to 5 Monday through Friday.
  1. When discovering the pastoral candidate had a physical disability, the search committee person said, “Oh, we don’t want a pastor that’s disabled. You have to stand while you are preaching.”
  1. What are your views on mixed bathing?
  1. Boxers or briefs?
  1. How’s your sex life?

Unbelievable. So unbelievable. Feel free to add your own.

Posted on March 14, 2022


With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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65 Comments

  • Bart Denny says on

    Was asked #8 and #9 at my first church. I sort of heard the hymns part there, too, and with most of the other search committees with whom I have met. Most of the rest of the questions I’ve ever encountered were pretty reasonable compared to the ones here. But, at my first pastorate, I did have a gentleman who served on the search committee who was very adamant that if I would just serve fermented wine at communion and get those women-folk into head coverings, the church would grow. Would I be willing to do that? Answer: No. (But it didn’t keep him from trying to persuade me for another 18 months after I assumed the pastorate.)

  • Rev. Paul Larrimore says on

    1). Do you have dogs and are you willing to give them up?
    2). Will your wife keep the curtains open in the living room? We like to ride by and see inside at times.
    3). Are you willing to live on what we pay you and not work outside? We want a FT pastor but can only pay a minimum.
    4). Are you willing to serve for about 6 months and then not be upset if we choose to try someone else for a while after and
    then decide to have you back?
    5). Are you willing to remain humble? (Still do not understand that one).
    6). Our church is committee run, they make the decisions, are you ok with that?
    7). We do not accept or believe in pastoral authority like our last pastor, you are to minister but do not have the authority to
    discipline or remove folks from offices, positions, or church membership.
    8). We want you to preach on special holiday’s only holiday messages, stop any series etc we expect to hear a mothers day,
    message on mothers day etc.
    9). We vote on whether to keep a pastor or not every year are you ok with that?
    10). We are a family church, meaning made up mostly of intermarried or blood relatives, so you understand we want a
    certain type of new person we approve of to join the church and we all stick up for one another, you understand.

    • Prechrchet says on

      As bad as some of these are, and as dysfunctional as they reveal their church to be, at least they are telling the candidate before he is voted in how they play the game.

      Still, …… good grief!

  • This is a sad, sad list that isn’t really that unique though. Many just try to get all they can get from a Pastor and his family.
    The calling is a calling by the Lord to a very high responsibility dealing with souls of people. Buildings and maintenance should be the responsibility of the deacons, not Pastor and elders.
    These churches that expect to get a Maintenace person, janitor, a lawn service and a maid seem to all have a thread of expectations included as a requirement. ( My thoughts, what do they do ). I have encountered this over the years although I have done a little of much of the above it wasn’t a requirement and others of the congregation helped also. Situations arise from time to time that just happen.
    The other side of the situation is when a Pastor or a board wants to be a CEO and tries to dictate orders and responsibilities to everyone as if it was a worldly corporation. He is just a shepherd over the spiritual welfare of the Lord’s Church, He is to feed the sheep. The danger is that we can get so worldly minded that we forget who bought and paid for the Church.
    Sometimes we need to remind some board members it is the Lord’s church, and His requirements are higher than physical needs.Thay can get their hands dirty taking care of those things that come up also.
    A pastor feeds the sheep, elders teach and guide in spiritual growth and personal situations with those individuals who have spiritual needs and nourishment.
    God bless those that do all they can to take care of the necessary requirements that come up in spite of those that don’t want to.

  • Mike Morawski says on

    I am a Caucasian pastor in a multi-racial church in Ct. It was like heaven! I was applying for a Senior Pastor position in a predominantly white church, though I didn’t know it. I passed the search committee questions with flying colors. It all came down to the LEAVING senior pastor, whether I was hired. He told me he didn’t care what the search committee said. You are white and coming from a multi-racial church, we don’t want your KIND around here! I replied with, “What did you just say to me?” He screamed, “Get Out!!” And I was ushered out. Help us Jesus!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      That is terrible.

      • Mike Morawski says on

        Thom, I deeply appreciate all that you and Sam and church answers do for us pastors! Stay the course, you ARE making a difference! Many Blessings!!

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Thank you, Mike. You pastors are my heroes. You are on the front lines of ministry. It is my joy to serve you.

  • Chaplain Mike says on

    I interviewed for a Church Administrator’s job several years ago. They had 16 people in the room, each with a question. I was told the time limit was 45 minutes! Some got upset because they had overlapping questions that I’d answered with a previous question. I inquired which one of them that I would be reporting to and was told that he was not present at the interview (everyone from the Senior Pastor to the Janitor was present). When I asked why he wasn’t, they told me the time for the interview was up. How crazy is that?

    I left, walked out to the car, and told my wife that I hope she enjoyed her trip because we wouldn’t be accepting this position.

  • William A. Secrest says on

    In my first pastorate a lady on the search committee asked me if ” I could take criticism?” That was a dead give away of her future behavior and that was exactly what she did to me while I was there for 6 1/2 years. She loved to criticize and complain.

    • Kelly Ferguson says on

      As long as she didn’t mind you asking her how her soul was with God and if she had tithed that week.

  • I was interviewing for a youth ministry position in 1984 in a Southern church and asked my position on “mixed bathing” (for those who are too young to know what that euphemism means, it’s boys and girls swimming together).

  • Andrew S. says on

    When I was interviewing for a youth pastor position I was asked my views on alcohol. I said that while my wife and I have made the decision not to drink I understood that other Christians held a different view. In fact, at the previous church I was in we had people who made their own wine and brewed their own beer. One of the search committee members, who obviously didn’t like my answer, told me in no uncertain terms that not one member of their congregation touched alcohol. It was a church of over 400! I wondered how he could make such a guarantee.

  • I applied for a senior pastor position a few years back. They asked if I was willing to be both the senior pastor and the college pastor at the same–with a part time salary! During the interview one of the men asked me if I look at porn. This is a reasonable question–if handled correctly–but there were two other women on the committee present. It was very awkward. I did not take the job.

  • Don L McCutcheon says on

    Shocking, sad but not surprising. Thanks for sharing.

  • David Adams says on

    I was a part time youth pastor for a church in Maryland and I worked for Safelite Auto glass to supplement my income. The staff knew I worked an approved second job outside of church. We had Vacation Bible School in the summer, and I was not available for the days I worked at Safelite because of travel which was Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. I communicated this to the pastor, and I was reprimanded, and staff did not support me. Pastor also would not pay me for working Sunday’s, the busiest day of the week. I resigned after one year on good terms. I have put out over 860 resumes out since finishing seminary at Southwestern Seminary and landed the only part time paid job in Maryland. I am profoundly hearing impaired but as a volunteer youth pastor God has given me very successful youth ministry opportunities some leading up to almost 200 youth. Churches do not want a hearing-impaired youth pastor and my wife heard this at interviews. What a shame!

  • When I was young, my worship pastor father followed our senior pastor from Albuquerque, NM to a very large church in San Diego, CA. At the first church board meeting, the other men were asking my father questions to get to know him. One gentleman asked, “So what do you do for a living?” Puzzled, my dad asked what he meant. The man replied, “You know, what do you do for your real job? I know you get up and wave your arms and sing a bit on Sundays. What is your job through the week where you make a living?” My dad chuckled, explained to him the pastoral ministry he did throughout the week, and then invited that man to follow him through his week to observe. He did, and that man told everyone else my dad should get a raise!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Your dad is a smart man.

      • Dana Schindler says on

        I had gone through the interview process via Zoom & was invited to do a trial sermon. I traveled 8 hours to do so. Everyone was pleased with the sermon & the church council sat down to write up the terms of my call (contract). The treasurer said “you won’t need health insurance.” Yes, I would, I replied. They had assumed I wouldn’t need it because I was married—to a retired spouse whose insurance was through the VA & Medicare. They said they’d get back to me. They didn’t. I notified the denomination because their information said they’d pay insurance.

    • Wil Hoffmann says on

      I was asked this same question several times when I pastored my first church in Utah. It got tiring to explain.