Seven Questions a Pastor Should Ask a Church Before He Says “Yes”

March 2, 2013

You have been selected to be one of the finalists to be considered as the pastor of a church. Perhaps you are the lone finalist. You have answered a plethora of questions. The church has done a legal background check on you, a credit check, and a social media check. They have listened to your podcast sermons. A few members attended your current church and listened to you preach in person. They have checked numerous references on you.

Now it’s your turn.

While it’s common for candidates for a pastorate to ask questions, the nature of the questions often does not lend itself to a complete answer. For example, if you ask some of the church members if they are ready and willing to reach their community with the gospel, they will likely respond with a resounding “yes.” But after you become their pastor, your realize they meant that they are willing for you to do the work, and they aren’t really comfortable reaching beyond their own groups. They didn’t lie. They just didn’t tell you the whole story.

So I have devised seven questions that are more likely to get to the heart of the matter. I encourage you to ask these questions and listen carefully to their responses. It could save you a lot of heartache in the future.

  1. If a big decision needs to be made in the church, to whom do the members look for the blessing or approval? This question is a more subtle approach than asking who the power group is. They may respond with one name or they may point to a group of people. You may hear stories how the power brokers operate. And if you decide to accept the call to the church, you have good insights on how to lead and move forward. Or there could be sufficient horror stories to keep you away.
  2. What is your dream for how the church might look ten years from now? Once you hear the responses to this question, you will likely have a good idea of what the change tolerance is in the church. Any organization should look significantly different in a decade. If their decadal view involves only cosmetic changes, you may have a leadership challenge.
  3. What was the topic of your last contentious business meeting? You will learn a lot by hearing when that meeting took place. If it was just a few weeks ago, the church may be a fighting lot. If it was several years ago, it is likely that the church is a relatively civil group. You will also be able to hear the issue and find out if that issue is still a point of contention today.
  4. What is your fondest memory of the church? It’s always good to find out when the “good old days” were, and if they are still the focus of longing today. On the other hand, the good old days may be a point where the church experienced a period of great spiritual and numerical growth. Their desire to return to those days could be healthy.
  5. What is the number one recommendation you have received in your search for a pastor? Often the congregation will have been surveyed on this issue, and you can hear the direct results of that survey. At the very least, they have had informal conversations on the topic. They should be able to share many insights with you. In some ways, they will be giving you the church’s expectations of you.
  6. What is something I might say from the pulpit that would cause a number of members to cringe? This question gets to heart of “hot button” issues. Some of those issues may be theological. Some of them may be something foolish one or more former pastors said from the pulpit. At the very least you have been forewarned before you accept the call to the church.
  7. What is the biggest mistake made by any of your previous pastors? Because you open up the discussion to the entire history of the church, you don’t have to pick on any one previous pastor. But you can learn a lot by hearing the not-so-positive tales of those who came before you.

What do you think of these seven questions? What would you add to the list?


Pastor to Pastor is the Saturday blog series at ThomRainer.com. Pastors and staff, if we can help in any way, contact Steve Drake, our director of pastoral relations, at [email protected]. We also welcome contacts from laypersons in churches asking questions about pastors, churches, or the pastor search process.

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79 Comments

  • Thom,
    I would like to know over the past twenty years, how many pastors have you had and what was the tenure of each? This will give insight as to how pastor are treated and if things must go the constituents way.

  • Mark Massaro says on

    Thanks Thom. These are insightful and very helpful.

  • Some great questions, which were just referenced for a young, new pastor going for his first interview.

    Would you consider using gender-inclusive language in the title (rather than “he”)? Thanks so much.

    • The bible doesn’t use “gender inclusive” language when speaking about church leaders, why should the author?

      • Because it’s 2017 and not the 1st century and well of 50% of the church is led by women.

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