There’s a secret we have unwittingly kept from most young pastoral candidates — and keeping it from them has helped to set them up for more pain and frustration than they deserve. The secret? An interview with a church’s search committee is a dialogue: the candidate is interviewing the church as much as they are interviewing the candidate.
If a church has a power-broker, he or she will nearly always finagle their way onto the pastoral search committee. Maintaining their power rests in being able to exercise that power over the next pastor. You know the type: they view the pastor as a “hired hand,” to fulfill their job description (which may or may not be a biblical one) rather than as a shepherd to lead the people more deeply into faithful obedience and fruitful ministry. Such power-brokers are masterful in controlling the search process and even the interview.
Some churches may not have a power-broker, but they have another critical issue: a vision to remain the same. Too many congregations mislead pastoral candidates with their written profiles — leading them to believe the church wants to reach its community and/or to grow when in reality the people have absolutely no intention to put any plans in place to actually do either. Some will even get excited about a pastor who has a strong desire to reach the community, but that excitement rests in the pastor’s ability to do the reaching, not their own. I have counseled many pastors over the years who have told me their congregations lied to them in the interview process. Strong language, but accurate.
In most cases, pastoral candidates can uncover these systemic problems in the interview process. By approaching every interview as a dialogue, being prepared with a good list of questions for the search committee, the perceptive candidate will see “signs” of dysfunction that can (and should) be further mined to determine if the church is a good match for God’s call on their own lives. And if the candidate receives resistance to their questions — and this will indeed happen on occasion — that resistance itself is a huge warning sign. Never assume anything in the interview process. Ask.
Good Questions When Interviewing a Church
The following list is certainly not exhaustive, but it will give candidates a good starting point. I encourage you to modify these to make them your own — but do not remove the substance of them as that is what will provide important insights about the church.
- Tell me about how this congregation connects with people outside of the church for ministry and evangelism.
- How many of you on this [search] committee are actively participating in ministry to reach those who do not yet know Jesus? Can you give some examples?
- How many people have surrendered to Jesus as King through this church’s ministry in the last six months?
- Describe this church’s process for leading someone from new birth to maturity in Jesus?
- How does this church measure the spiritual growth of its members and attenders? What are the criteria you use?
- What percentage of this congregation is actively making disciples? How is that being done?
- How many of this church’s [elder-level] leadership are directly engaged in reaching the lost? In discipling people to maturity in Christ?
- Does this church regularly (at least annually) assess how it’s doing in evangelism and disciple making? If so, how do you do that?
- [If the church is showing signs of ineffective outreach] If I were to help you develop a process for reaching new people in our community and investing in them so they grow to become mature in Christ, what percentage of the congregation would directly engage in that process? How many of you around this table would engage?
- Are there things in the life or past history of this congregation that you have not told me, but will have an impact on my ability to build relationships and do ministry here? If so, what are they?
- Is there any open or “subterranean” conflict in the life of this church? If so, what is being done to bring reconciliation? How does this congregation practice confession and forgiveness?
- [If the church is showing signs of unresolved conflict] If I were to help you develop a process for reconciliation, what percentage of the congregation would practice that process and actively work toward reconciliation and forgiveness in their relationships (including in their families, at work, etc.)?
- Describe this congregation’s intercessory prayer ministry. What percentage of this congregation is directly involved in regular intercessory prayer for your community?
- [If the church is showing signs it lacks foundational intercession] If I were to help you develop a consistent intercessory prayer movement, what percentage of this congregation would join in that effort? How many of you would participate?
Notice that many of these questions require responses from the search committee about their own commitment. This is critical. A search committee is nearly always designed to be a representative group of the congregation and leadership. If they are uncomfortable or hesitant with these questions, that gives a good indication of hesitation and opposition by the congregation at large. And if there is a power-broker at the table, he or she will likely try to shut the line of questioning down — both because it’s exposing things about the church they’d prefer remain hidden, and because the questions themselves demonstrate a threatening level of pastoral leadership.
Candidates should not be afraid to interview the church. Go into such interviews prayed up and asking the Holy Spirit to keep you sensitive to their responses (even their body language). It’s not unusual for a committee to hear these kinds of questions and realize that they are not where they should be as a church. That’s a good thing! Many churches will also then conclude that the candidate is the right match to lead them to faithful obedience! But if you come away from an interview with an uneasy feeling about how they responded to these basic questions of prayer, ministry and outreach, don’t ignore it. It may be the Holy Spirit telling you that this is not the right place for you to serve.
What questions would you add to the list?