When seeking a new pastor, most churches elect a search committee that accepts and sorts through résumés to find a few men who meet the criteria. The methodology is by no means perfect—it’s often as difficult for committee members as for candidates—but it’s typical. I’ve heard many who’ve served on these committees describe stress-filled seasons as they sought to discern God’s man to fill the sacred office. Some churches have elders who interview pastoral candidates, and that’s usually a better situation.
I’ve been interviewed a good number of times by such committees, and I’ve had experiences ranging from excellent (a church I served in Birmingham was exemplary) to excruciating (one committee said the only two attributes they were seeking in a pastor were a promise to use the King James Bible and a belief in once-saved-always-saved).
The head of one search committee concluded our interview with an excellent question: “Is there anything you feel we should have asked you, but didn’t?” I responded with several things, ranging from “You should ask me how I guard my mind while on the internet” to “Do you think what I believe about the Bible is important?”
Here’s one thing I’ve learned: you need to be prepared to interview them even as they question you. Here are 10 questions you should be prepared to ask.
1. Ask about church finances and seek documentation.
A financial crisis can devastate your ministry, yet we tend not to think about it when considering a pastoral position. Theology? Yep. Methodology? Check. What happened to the last pastor? Got that.
The church’s money situation don’t often rank as a vital topic, but it is. Ask specific questions, such as how the church handles large, unexpected expenses. Inquire as to whether or not the church has a savings account or a rainy-day fund.
2. Ask them to define a healthy church.
Keep in mind that growth does not necessarily mean health. It can signal health, of course, but just as an apple tree must have strong roots to produce delicious fruit, so must health come before growth in a local congregation. But do they believe that?
3. Ask where the Bible ranks in importance.
This may be a subset of number two, but what you should be looking for in a church, most fundamentally, is a congregation that prizes God and his Word above all. They want to learn it, live it, and proclaim it themselves.
If a church loves the Bible and views it as sitting at the heart of all life, doctrine, and practice, then you may be a long way down the road toward seeing that church as a fit place of ministry.
4. Ask how the church has handled conflict.
This question may provide a window into the church’s soul. Ask for specifics, which will provide an opportunity to see if they have practiced church discipline—or at least gauge their disposition toward it.
Should you become pastor, this question may provide key information as to what still needs to be taught regarding issues like meaningful membership, corrective discipline, and how the membership rolls have been handled. These issues may require much teaching and patience on the part of a new pastor.
5. Ask why they’re interested in you.
To their minds, what makes you a more fit candidate than others they’ve considered?
6. Ask what makes a good pastor.
This is related to the previous question but isn’t exactly the same. You want to discern how they envision your role. Do they view the pastorate primarily as a teaching/preaching role, a shepherding role, or some combination? It will tell you how the view the pastoral office and will help you better understand their expectations.
7. Ask what the church believes.
Are they doctrinally aware? Does the church have a confession or statement of faith? Ask what beliefs from other Christians bother them. The last thing you want is to hide controversial theological commitments up front, only to learn later that your new church doesn’t subscribe to your confession of faith.
Ask what beliefs from other Christians bother them.
Be gracious, but try to be as clear about this as possible and to answer wisely. Make sure they understand what you’re saying. Biblical illiteracy may surprise a new pastor.
8. Ask what they expect from your wife.
What are their expectations for her? Are such expectations reasonable, or are they nonbiblical? Communicate your own expectations of your wife up front. I’ve usually told churches that my wife will be a faithful church member who will focus on raising my children and will serve in areas where God has gifted her.
9. Ask how they expect you to handle day-to-day shepherding.
Do they want you mainly to stay in the office? If they drive past the church two or three days in a row and don’t see your car, how might they feel? What will they assume you’re doing? What do they think you should be doing?
Are they okay with you working from home or “off campus” on occasion, assuming you’re available as needs arise? Make sure they realize ministry doesn’t magically and exclusively happen in a church office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
10. Ask about their former pastor(s).
What do they see as his strengths and weaknesses? Why did he leave? A word of caution here, for this can be a Pandora’s Box if not handled carefully: make it clear that you want to avoid criticizing or slandering the former pastor in any way.
If you become the pastor, it may be helpful to ask people to avoid speaking negatively about the former pastor, even if it didn’t end well with him. But it is helpful to know what they think about how well he shepherded the flock, and where he misstepped. This will provide insight into what things they most prize.
I’m certain there are many other good questions, but these have helped me to learn much about churches, even as those churches have sought to learn about me.