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

  • Sam Fitts says on

    Hi Thom,
    I would ask what is the ratio between transfer of letter to salvation (baptisms) of new members.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks Sam. For you curious non-Baptists, “transfer of letter” refers to a Baptist moving from one Baptist church to another.

      • But, realistically, it’s not likely that anybody on the search committee will know that statistic.

      • Sam Fitts says on

        Knowing the number of baptisms will give one a good idea of the evangelistic effort of the church. Transfer of letter (not quiet sure what you mean about non baptists) may be due to a variety of reasons, the most often being, a local church split.

  • 1. “What are the names of the people who live in the house directly across the street from the church’s campus?”

    2. “How emotionally mature may I be in my interactions with your congregation about its future, because it appears there are some very important things to discuss thoroughly and well?”

  • Michael says on

    Has this ENTIRE benifits package been approved by the Church Body and Finance Committee.

  • I actually had a member of the pastor search committee send me this article a month after I got to my last church as pastor.
    http://www.lifeway.com/Article/Help-my-pastor-search-committee-lied-to-me

    The more you can ask the better!

  • Thanks for sharing your wisdom Thom! I’ll be sure to keep these questions in mind as I begin my candidacy.

  • How do you affirm staff?
    Are you looking for a shepherd, rancher, CEO, counselor or coach?
    Tell me the most significant spiritual moments in the church in the last two years?
    How do you handle conflict?
    Please provide the names and contact info for 3 former members and staff members.
    How much time weekly or monthly do your deacons/elders spend in prayer?
    How do you support and relate to other churches in your community?

  • Bryan Bair says on

    Great thoughts!

    Maybe these as well:

    1.). If your church were gone tomorrow in what tangible ways would the surrounding community miss this church?

    2.). Show me both functionally (current ministry) and on on paper (budget) how your church is being missional, locally and globally?

    3.). Explain to me the current process of how your church makes disciples that make disciples.

  • 1. I would like to know how they view the use of technology in the church. From screens in the church, to podcasts of sermons, to social media. The way the world is changing, it is important to make sure that the new person can fit in to the way the church work, or perhaps can help to advance the church (either to or away from a direction) with regards to technology.

    2. I second the question by Chris Bonts, because some pastors are preachers, and some are teachers, some are administrators, and some are better care givers. So basically, what do they think is their role in the church so it can be determined if they match the needs of that congregation (who may only need a teacher and/or preacher, or may need someone who is a people person…)

  • What church in the area do you most want to be like and why?
    What was your last failure in ministry, how did you respond to the failure and what did you learn?

  • Rusty Richardson says on

    While not directly related to the intent of your article, it’s always good to know the expectations the church has of the pastor’s wife/family.

  • Steven King says on

    Does the church comprehend grace enough to allow a person who was the injured party of divorce stay in the pulpit.

  • In the history of the church, has the church ever experienced a split, and if so, what was the issue which caused the division?