The Pastoral Search
We firmly believe that God leads both pastors and churches in who should shepherd a congregation. But we also believe that God expects us to think. Often there is a meeting between a pastoral search committee and a prospective pastor, and often we don't realize the questions we should have asked until much later. Here are some good questions that can help with that, and if you have some of your own please add them as well.
Note that these questions do not deal with housing, insurance, financial packages, social security, or the more individual and mundane terms of a pastor/church relationship. These are extremely important things, but often do not fall within the realm of the pastor search meeting.
Also, not all of these questions will apply with every church.
Questions to Ask:
- What is a pastor to you? – Each group, each person even, has a different definition. To some it will be a preacher, to others someone who visits, and to others a strong leader. Make sure who you are and what they expect matches. This is also a good time to gauge how people think of the pastorate as a whole.
- What do you expect from your pastor? – Sometimes people have very unrealistic expectations of a pastor, and very often there will be conflicting ones within a group. Finding out some of those expectations, this won't get all of them in the open by a long shot, is helpful both for them and you.
- What did you most like about your previous pastors, what did you wish for more of? – Asking people to badmouth a previous pastor is never a good idea. But if you can find the strengths and weaknesses of previous pastors you can start to understand why people want what they have previously said they wanted.
- What has distinguished this church in the last five years, the last ten? – Each church prides itself on being unique in some way. This points out those areas that are most important to a church, and also some of the church's self image and motivation if they just say “nothing.”
- Tell me about the history of the church. – The way a church has worked in the past is probably the way it works today, whether there are different people in charge or not. If they have had five pastors in five years, warning.
- What does the leadership hope I will continue, what do you hope I can change – Sometimes a pastor will be brought in as a reaction to a previous one, or will be asked to just do the same as before. This question will also give you some insight into what you can change in the first few months without starting a firefight.
- What are the current responsibilities of the pastor? – If you're going to be teaching a SS class, Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, leading a Bible study class, and a prayer group, it's good to know it up front instead of being surprised later. This also shows another side of the church's expectations on the pastor's time.
- Describe your ideal pastor – This is a similar question to some of the previous ones, but helps people to be able to express their deep desires and felt needs. This can also act as a jumping off point where you can talk about what areas of that description you do and do not meet.
- What is the role of the church leadership? What gifts do you have? – Knowing how the board views itself is crucial as you will be working very closely with them. Also, knowing the capabilities of your people helps to see what chinks are missing and what areas are already filled.
- What role does our denomination play in this church? – You are the intermediary between the denomination and your congregation. If they despise the larger church, or if they adore it and expect weekly updates, it's important to know.
- What role do you see my spouse playing? – This is a deceptively simple question, but important. Some churches expect to hire two pastors with one paycheck. Others want someone who only stays at home with the kids. If they expect your spouse to teach, or clean, or not work, you must know these things.
- Where do you want to see the church in five years, in ten? – Is there a passion for something? Is there a specific direction people are already headed or want you to take them? Or is it more aimless? Perhaps there aren't any dreams at all.
- What is the purpose of the Church? – Not just this church, but The Church. If you try to change what the church does away from what they say here there will be problems until this view is changed.
- What financial debt is the church in right now? – If a church is in the middle of a building project, or has debt from some other place, you need to know it.
- What is/has been the monthly financial situation of this church? – Finances shouldn't define a church, but they can cause enormous stress. Knowing how they expect to pay you is never a bad thing, and it lets you see how the church deals with money.
- What have the numbers done in the last five years? – This will tell you if this is a growing or shrinking church. Often the mental size of a congregation does not change as fast as the physical one.
- What role does national politics play in the life of the Christian/pastor/church? – This is a touchy question, that's why it's an important one to ask. Some churches feel politics belong in the pulpit, and others feel it belongs only outside the building.
- Describe the community your church comes from. – See if the community described matches the people in front of you. If it doesn't, then there is a disconnect somewhere. But either way, those will be the people you will be trying to reach.
- What happens in the life of your church each week? - This will tell what programs happen, but also what else is important. Maybe it's sports, or a school, or a particular job most people work at.
- What is the education level in the congregation/what industries do the parishioners work in? – Knowing the type of people who will make up a congregation is important to know how to reach them, and it helps to start getting their stories, desires, and needs out there.
Things to Communicate to them:
- Your style of leadership – Tell them how you'll lead, and see if they can accept that.
- Your theology of the Church/pastor – Make sure the leadership knows where you stand on what the Church should be, and who the pastor should be.
- Your expectations – What do you expect from them if you come?
- And health or personal issues that they need to know about – This might seem odd, but honesty up front can prevent a lot of hurt later on.
- Your strengths, and weaknesses – Letting people know where you are not strong is a neglected habit for pastors. But honesty is important so that people know what they can realistically expect from you.
- Any legal difficulties in the past. - It will come out eventually, and it's a lot better to let them know up front than to have people find out in five years.
- Your financial obligations. – The church needs to know if you're paying 2,000 dollars a month on a new car, or credit card bills. This is about letting them know what they are getting into and what you will need in order to stay afloat.