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

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 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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  • I would remind the author that many pastors seeking positions are women.

  • Are these questions for the pastoral search committee or the pre-vote churchwide meet & greet?

  • Hi All, Some great questions here.
    As a new pastoral candidate who spent the majority of the last 20 years teaching, I had a question about WHEN and TO WHOM?
    I can’t imagine agreeing to lead a church and not having some idea about the finances of that organization. Is this a common question? How to phrase it? When to bring it up?

    I like the idea someone had to ask about debt. But certainly we need to know more about finances than whether there is debt (important as that is). What should be said at the candidating interview… how to ask them about their current finacial status? Then, is there a different time that you would say something like, WHen would be a good time for me to meet with the treassurer and get a better view of Finances / Giving history / and on-going expenses? ” Perhaps the treasurer is the wrong person to meet with if there is an Elder that has better oversight?/?

    What advise can you give? Thanks.

  • I asked these types of questions in my interview 2+ years ago but without the eloquence or specificity with which they are written here. There was a language barrier between me and the congregation. These are excellent questions that could have helped me avoid mistakes made in my first year. It ended up ok but this Sunday is my last Sunday at this church and I’m feeling reflective about the job I did. Thank you for posting. If I ever find myself in front of a selection committee again, I will be sure to be more clear and eloquent by using these questions here.

  • Michael says on

    I would ask, has your former pastor moved on? This was an issue for me where I am now. When the former pastor stays, it confuses the congregation and they will always turn to who they know best.

  • I met with a pulpit committee yesterday and asked the first six question verbatim. I did not ask the seventh question as the pastor is still in the church but will not be leaving until the end of the year. Thanks for making these available.

  • Mike Cannon says on

    WoW…sure could have used this insight 2 years ago…Thanks Tom for your insight and love of those who are loving others. God bless brother.

  • Dr. Bryan Fields says on

    Thom: Thank you for your insight and wisdom! I think I would ask “What are the expectations for my wife?” Some churches place unrealistic expectations on the pastor’s wife causing undue stress and tension between the pastor and his wife. Thank you and continued blessings as you lead!

  • Tim Sipes says on

    I really like theser and a couple of the other suggestions. I just had an interview last week. I wish I had seen these before the interview. I may have the opportunity to ask them later.

  • This article was extremely helpful for me. I kept these questions in mind when talking to someone from a search team.