pastor-match

Numerous articles have been written about questions a pastor should ask before going to a new church. After listening to hundreds of pastors, I have developed my own list of major issues that a pastor should consider. Some of the pastors I interviewed shared with me why they viewed their ministry as a joyous match. Other pastors told me the reasons their current or former pastorates had been unmitigated disasters.

Throughout this process I saw seven major patterns emerge. I translate them here as seven major questions. While these questions are typically suited for a pastor who is considering a church, they also could be helpful to the pastor evaluating his current ministry. Church members who are in the process of looking for a pastor might find them helpful as well.

  1. Am I doctrinally compatible with the church? Make certain you are clear that you know fully all the details of the church’s doctrine, even if you are in the same denomination. And be clear and truthful with the theological beliefs you will bring to the church.
  2. Am I the right type of leader for this congregation? Almost all church members will say they desire to reach others. But not all are willing to accept the necessary changes that must take place to do so. The ideal leader stays out front sufficiently so others will follow; but he is not so far out front that his followers mistake him for the enemy and shoot him in the rear.
  3. Will I have a passion for the community? The pastor must not only love the church; he must also love the community where the church is located. Are you certain you can love the community sacrificially and wholeheartedly?
  4. What are the true expectations of me? Most churches have a generic job description for the pastor. It would fit almost any church. Instead of depending on a job description, ask members what their favorite pastor did to make him their favorite. You will then get a good idea of what they really want you to do.
  5. What are the expectations of church members? Is the church a high expectation church or a low expectation church? Will I really be able to equip the saints to do the work of ministry, or will I be expected to do the bulk of the ministry myself?
  6. What are the issues of conflict the church has experienced in recent years? How are those issues affecting the church today? Are there some unresolved and lingering issues? What are the expectations of me in dealing with unresolved conflicts?
  7. What are the members’ greatest memories in this church? As members begin to describe the perceived best days of the church, you will begin to get a good idea of what’s really important to them. You will then have a more realistic view of your beginning point in the church.

What do you think of these seven questions to help you get to know a church better? What would you add as a major question to ask?


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 Steve.Drake@LifeWay.com. We also welcome contacts from laypersons in churches asking questions about pastors, churches, or the pastor search process.

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Comments

  1. Steve Drake says

    Dr. Rainer, this list is extremely helpful. I think the question format is absolutely wise. It helps uncover for the pastoral candidate, the real heart of the people without being confrontational. Asking about the past history of the church, their greatest memories, what they loved about highly esteemed former pastors gives the candidate invaluable information that will help him succeed from the first day. In an upcoming article in our Pastors Today newsletter, I also recommend asking the search committee how things normally get done when a significant decision needs to occur in the church. I think it helps uncover pockets of influence in the congregation that may be helpful to know in the exercise of leadership.

  2. Adam Desmond says

    I would think all of these questions, while logical and helpful, would be eliminated by asking a single question: does God want me to go?

    God’s economy of success may differ from ours. He may need us in a position that isn’t a perfect fit or doesn’t look on paper like the perfect job. The bible is full of people God put in bad situations that made no logical sense at the time.

    • joshua doss says

      I agree with both your post and with the original article. If God tells you to go, by all means go. This list however, can give you some great insight as to how to handle your tenure there. Each church has different issues to consider and work through and knowing these on the front end can be helpful in setting a plan of action, pace for progress, and overall vision.
      Also if the issues uncovered are too big for you, and your faith to persevere, take that as a sign that God is telling you, “I have someone else for this church.” Personally I think you ought to take the challenge, grow through it, and watch God break down walls that only He can.

  3. says

    All great questions; I find the “greatest memories” particularly important. Often a pastor shows up at his new gig believing that he will be measured by how quickly he can put his personal stamp on the church. While change may indeed be expected, there is huge wisdom in filtering any such change through the lens of a church’s most cherished memories.

  4. Anthony Bradseth says

    Great list. As someone who helps in pastoral placement/searches, I believe these are questions both church and pastor need to ask. Personal experience tells me that the hardest question to negotiate is #4. This is an issue with both pastor and church.
    There are the visible/known expectations and then there are the unspoken expectations. I would like there to be a tool to find what these are. I have not found one. All the surveys and questions never seem to get to the root. It is only in time that are they revealed. Often they cause heartbreak and conflict for the pastor and church. My prayer is that both pastors and churches would be honest during the search/interview process.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Anthony –

      You nailed it. Total transparency and honesty are rare in the pastor search process.

      Thanks for the great contribution.

  5. says

    In decades past churches and pastors of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod used prayer to decide what pastor to call to a church and also for pastors to decide whether to accept or decline a call to a church. I always used prayer rather than interviews or other metrics to decide on whether to accept a call. Twice I did not feel moved to accept certain calls. Afterward people who knew something about those places came to me and said, “We did not want to say anything, but we are so glad you did not accept that call. They would have chewed you up and spit you out in little pieces.” I did not know, but God knew. I would still advise a church calling or a pastor considering a call to pray and wait for God’s guidance. It always worked well for me, even though a couple of those places were not always easy for me. Still, when difficulties came, I knew that was where God wanted me to be.

  6. Brian Gass says

    Before I accepted my current pastorate I met with the chairman of the pulpit search committee over dinner. He was convinced through prayer that I was God’s man for their church but he felt compelled to share the story of the church’s recent conflict with me. He had typed the whole story up in much scary detail to say the least. He really trusted God in giving that to me I assure you. I asked for a little time before making a decision and in the meantime met with folks who had been on both sides of the schism that I didn’t even know had existed before. Four years later I am so thankful for that man’s willingness to be transparent and trust God. Our church is in a very good place thanks in large part to his faithfulness.

    • Thom Rainer says

      That is a great story Brian. I love the total transparency of that layman. Pastors and those searching for pastors would do well to hear this story of integrity.

  7. Zach Van Gieson says

    Great advice, Dr. Rainer. I would just add that this is a great article for someone considering any ministerial position at a church. Even if you aren’t the senior pastor you will be pastoring and shepherding some constituency in the church. Incidentally, for any minister considering a call, asking about team dynamics and chemistry is vital as well.

    Thanks again for the helpful content you provide us on this blog.
    -Zach

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks so much Zach. I agree with you totally. These principles do indeed apply well to other church staff persons.

  8. Randy Keeley says

    Great list Dr. Rainer, your posts are always so very helpful. Although some of these questions might be rephrased for a Search Committee to think through and answer together regarding a potential pastor, do you have such a list to help a Search Committee? Thanks for you ministry to us!

  9. says

    Open dialog about current staff. Some pastors intend to bring former staff members as part of their team A church needs to decide will they accept allowing a new pastor to replace current staff or is that not negotiable.

    In churches with multiple ministers this is a question that must be asked.

  10. Rev. Timothy Decker says

    For the pastor evaluating a transition / move, another good question to ask is whether and/or how current and past ministry settings have further equipped you for the ministry you are considering. I’m sure that could be phrased better, but is always worth evaluating for fit/match.

  11. pastor ecalvary atamudzi says

    this posts make me think about many things, specially care for the community and the church’s expectation..l thinked thank you pastor.

  12. Johnny Smith says

    Thank all of you for your input. I have pastored several rural churches in the ministry God called me to. I have found that people respond to a loving pastor that is involved with their lives. It does matter the situation that you are going to and it does matter what your research tells you about the church and the community; however, I have found in the calling upon my life that every church needs a pastor to love them. My heart has been broken numerous times by so called Chrsitian folks but I have received a great reward of being loved by precious people. I do pray and follow the Lord’s leadership. I have been called to troubled churches and all that I pray I have been blessed to do is to have made a difference for the Lord while I served them. Each of us have our own calling to answer but we can not and must not avoid a church just because it has a reputation. If it is truly the Lord’s church, we are called to sow the seed and love the crown of his creation, he will bless our ministry together.

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