Part of the process of serving the local church is going through the interview process. Some denominations appoint their pastors, while many allow individual churches to select the person who will serve their church. Regardless of the practice, pastors need to ask good questions. For many, in their excitement to find a church and in the church’s desire to attract a good pastor, probing inquiries are overlooked. While asking good questions will not solve every problem, every pastoral candidate, especially those candidating for a church in need of revitalization, needs to be extremely careful in the interview process. Do not completely determine the acceptance or rejection of the call based solely on problems or challenges but be aware of them. It is wise, however, to know your challenges before you step into the pastorate.
1. If I come to be your pastor, what is your personal expectation of me? What do you want to see me do? As a prospective pastor, you need to understand the investment that the search committee has in you. As a result, many of them will have personal expectations of the pastor beyond the expectations of the church. Facts show that oftentimes members of the search committee will end up leaving the church because their personal expectations were not met.
2. To whom does the congregation look for leadership or approval? Who leads the church? The pastor wants to be the leader, but oftentimes the congregation looks to someone else for leadership. The pastor needs to know who this person/these people are. Read John Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, particularly his story about Claude in Law 5, for an understanding of this principle. The goal of this information is not for you to find how who leads so that you might manipulate a relationship with that person but so that you will be aware of your challenges. Remember that leadership is earned, not demanded, in the church.
. Is there any one thing that you would not be willing to do even if it would mean that your church would grow (obviously as long as it is biblical, ethical, and moral)? Churches have sacred cows, and the prospective pastor needs to be aware of these. This particular question will probably need to be pressed and restated. The members of the committee will probably state that they are willing to make any change if it will help them to grow. The problem comes when they might not realize that a change needs to happen in a particular area of which they are fond or involved. Change is extremely difficult. No one likes change, not even pastors!
4. What did you like and dislike about your previous pastors? What were some of their biggest mistakes? What were some of their greatest successes? Obviously, a pastor does not want to repeat mistakes, but it is also true that what the congregation might perceive as a mistake was more of personal dislike. You want to know the successes because a wise pastor will learn to build upon the successes of the past.
5. Is there a particular topic that could be addressed in a sermon that would be totally unacceptable by the congregation? This question will assist in discovering some of the hidden moral or political issues with which the congregation deals at present or in the past. Most churches want to see themselves as conservative, but their personal views on certain moral or biblical issues will be enlightening.
6. What was the subject of your most contentious business meeting? How do you normally conduct your business meetings? Depending on the polity of the church, most churches make at least some decisions through a business setting. One can discover the atmosphere of the church by understanding how members conduct themselves while discussing the needs of the church. A greater understanding into the congregation’s perspective of pastoral leadership is also gained depending upon how involved the congregation wants the pastor to be during its business sessions.
7. What is your perspective on how the church spends money? Money offers one of the most volatile insights into the church’s future and past problems.
8. How have the church finances fluctuated over the past five years? A prospective pastor will want to examine the church budget, expenses, and debt at least over the last five years, if possible. One can gain a glimpse into what the church has considered to be important, and what they have neglected.
9. What are some of the times that you consider that you have grown spiritually and what are you doing now to grow in your walk with Christ. Be careful in asking these questions, making sure that you have shared the answers for your own personal walk first. One suggestion would be to have them write out these answers if they would prefer. Normally, the search committee is a cross-section of people from the congregation, who represent those who are the most spiritual. That fact, however, is not always true. At a later time, I will be discussing the stakeholders and powerbrokers in the church. Sometimes these leaders do not want to make these decisions because of the fallout if things do not go well. Therefore they will lead through others. It is important that you know where your leadership is spiritually. Being a leader does not necessarily equate with being deeply spiritual.
10. What is your personal vision or dream for the church? What would you desire to see happen in terms of worship, discipleship, and evangelism/missions? The question serves the purpose of aiding the pastor in discerning the current direction of the church. If the church needs revitalization, that fact should be noticeable in the dreams of the committee. If an absence exists in recognizing the need for revitalization, this response will give the prospective pastor insight into the general perspective of the church. They may need revitalization but they do not know that they need revitalization, a reality that presents its own set of challenges.
Included with these particular questions should be discussions relating to the history of the church, the specific theological leanings of the committee and the congregation, the church staff and relationship expectations and supervision, compensation, and questions regarding church governance. All of these factors play a part in assisting a prospective pastor to understand the challenges before him and to be able to plot out a course for church revitalization.