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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Posted on March 2, 2013
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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Great list of questions. I’ve answered a few questions over the last three years in my search for a new position as a children/preschool minister. Will have to remember these for the next round of interviews. Need to adapt a few but will still work for a different staff position. Thanks!
Thanks for the insight Thom, I am the Director of Church Relations at a Christian college in Florida and this post just became one of my “must read” articles to share with churches as well as future grads seeking a new pastoral ministry.
Good list. I would also like to know about Question #3 in regard to the elders/deacons, and how they worked through the situation. Also, is unanimity desired for this group for “major” decisions. How did they work through a situation where they did not initially have unanimity, if it is desired?
1) How has your church loved and encouraged their pastor (s) in the past?
2) Aside from preparation for preaching, how do you think the typical church member expects the pastor to spend his week (in the office, making visits, doing evangelism, handling administration, etc.)?
The first question reveals the congregations previous support, encouragement, etc. it’s a great discussion starter.
The second helps avoid confusion about congregational expectations for the pastor with regard to meetings, office hours, and ministry outside of the office.
Just my two cents 🙂
Well said Chris.
Very good questions Thom. Also asking for specific examples of how the church minister’s to the community gives some insight as to how outwardly focused the church is. I’ve found that church’s always say they are interested in impacting the community but often fail to or oppose reaching out as a practice.
Good word Gerald.
These are helpful, as I have an interview tomorrow night.
My prayers for you.
What is the next step for your church to grow?
This could tell you if they are looking for a silver bullet, something superficial, or if they have a plan.
I like it Rusty!
Pick someone & ask, “Why are *you* a member of this church?”
That’s especially helpful as you speak to a few who represent different generations.
may the Lod bless you my friend
In dealing with question two there is sometimes, unfortunately, a huge gap between where they dream to be in ten years and what they are willing to do to get there.
So true Bryan.
Fantastic topic this morning, Thom. Most pastors who know the drill, those who have served two or three different churches, will likely have thought through the wisdom of asking probing questions. But for younger pastors just beginning, this list is like a map for a field of land mines. I would encourage them to note that the questions are normally an attempt to find out something other than what is actually being asked. The search committee or pastor parish committee or whatever group of lay persons your denomination uses for their inquiry group will almost always be a repository of history and opinions. Your oppoortunity to offer these questions may be the most revelatory part of the candidacy process.
I would ask…”Does your church pray for lost and unchurched people by name on a regular basis?”
Excellent addition Don.
I’d probably modify it away from a yes/no question. Many churches maintain an official prayer list. I’d probably go over the list with them and see what kinds of praying are represented.
Nothing to add except I wish I’d seen this about a year ago!