seven-questions

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

Get these posts delivered to your inbox daily

Subscribe today and receive my free downloadable resource on the minister's salary!

Comments

  1. Don Matthews says

    I would ask…”Does your church pray for lost and unchurched people by name on a regular basis?”

  2. Steve Drake says

    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.

  3. Bryan says

    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.

  4. says

    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.

  5. Gerald Greenlee says

    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.

  6. Chris Bonts says

    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 :)

  7. Brian Kult says

    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?

  8. Alan says

    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.

  9. Becky says

    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!

  10. Ron says

    What question did you all discuss how you would answer? Is there something I should know about the church/congregation you’d prefer I not ask about?

  11. Jason says

    I always ask about their openness to racial diversity. I had a friend just last year that was asked to leave because he preached that the gospel is for all people. Secondly, I always ask what someone from the community who isn’t a member of the church would say about the church. Their answers seem to be much less guarded about the “friendliness” of the church.

  12. says

    I always ask, “when people in the community talk about your church, what do they say?”

    This question helps reveal how missional a church really is.

    • Noel Vickers says

      RUN! Ask how they would serve thier community? are they willing to do after school reading. Are they willing to be adopt grandparent. What do they want to share. If they want to remain the same and feel they have nothing to offer….RUN to another direction you and wife CANNOT bear the whole load. Been there

  13. John Ambra says

    Thom,

    Great stuff!

    One question I think would be helpful is: How does the church go about establishing and administering salary, benefits, expense reimbursement and other compensation matters for its staff members?

    Certainly, the candidate ought to have a working knowledge of church compensation planning for his own benefit, for the well being of his family and for leading his people. But, it is a huge help to know just how educated and proactive the congregation is when it comes to the dollars and cents that go along with hiring and keeping a pastor or other staff member. While very few guys take a pastorate “for the money,” if Mama can’t buy groceries and keep shoes on the kids, it’s going to be either a long road or a short pastorate.

    There are still quite a few churches, particularly among smaller congregations but also in some larger ones, that allocate a block of money in the budget and leave it to the pastor to divide this among salary, housing, insurance, retirement, one-half of self-employment taxes, ministry expenses and other things. The church may think it is paying its pastor a certain amount based on the line item in the budget, but the reality is, the “real” pay is much less when you strip out all the things that are usually paid for by the employer in other settings.

    A search committee or other group might bristle at a pastor asking this type of question but dealing with it up front will save a lot of angst down the road…and may also be an indicator of how the church relates to its pastor and staff.

  14. says

    Ask if you could get a copy of the church business meeting minutes for the past five years especially if it is a rural church that has monthly meetings. Shows priorities, divisions & who the power brokers are. Also shows feelings of members towards committees.

  15. Bert Ross says

    As a HR professional I always encouarge those interviewing at churchs to ask
    about the undeclared culture in the church.

    I also poss a list of church behavioral questions, tell me about a time the church leaders handled a conflict issue, a financial issue, a staff problem issue. How they implemented a successful ministry initiative.

  16. Steven King says

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

  17. Rusty Richardson says

    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.

  18. Kelly says

    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?

  19. says

    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…)

  20. Bryan Bair says

    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.

  21. W.A. says

    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?

  22. David says

    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?”

  23. Sam Fitts says

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

    • Thom Rainer says

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

      • Sam Fitts says

        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.

  24. Tim Sipes says

    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.

  25. Dr. Bryan Fields says

    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!

  26. Mike Cannon says

    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.

  27. T says

    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.

  28. Michael says

    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.

  29. Lee says

    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.

  30. JJ says

    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.
    JJ

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


6 + two =