While not for everyone, many people find great meaning in and a deep calling to service as a church pastor. Some are paid and others are not, but what is pretty consistent is that a group of people often chooses who the pastor shall be. In my Presbyterian Church (USA) tradition we call this the group a Pastor Nominating Committee, but they are also known as pulpit nominating committees, call committees, pastor search committees, etc.
In my ministry, I have served in two churches for about 17 years and have been through the interview process a handful of times during that span. I am currently exploring the possibility of re-entering congregational ministry so I am revisiting this list that I originally published in 2012 when I was blogging for Patheos.
This is not an exhaustive list; there was a good list of 29 questions put together way back in 1998 by Christianity Today and I have listed others below. Keep in mind that there is an assumption throughout some of the lists that a pastor a married he and arrives with a wife. While that may indeed be the case for some/most in the larger Christian church, it illustrates the fact that any/all questions must be translated for one particular context and situation.
So . . . understanding that context should shape and form any questions that one might ask a search committee, as I head into my next round of interviews, here is my growing list of questions to ask a pastor search committee that are rolling around my head. Please feel free to add or nuance some more in the comment section.
THEOLOGY AND FAITH
- What Biblical passage/s anchor this congregation?
- How does the congregation most effectively express itself as a particular Body of Christ, Reformed and/or Presbyterian?
- With what questions of faith has the congregation most recently grappled and which ones have been avoided: authority of scripture, afterlife, nature of Christ, etc.
- Talk about this congregation's theological understanding and expression of [x], Evangelism, Stewardship, Justice, Salvation, Mission, etc.
- How would you characterize the presence of "theological diversity" of the congregation?
CONGREGATIONAL LIFE - Internal
- What has been the most imaginative, exciting, life-giving, thing that the church has done in the past year?
- How does this community talk about money?
- Are there any topics, issues, situations that have been treated, intentionally or unintentionally, as "off-limits" and if so, what are they and why do you think they have been avoided?
- What have been the congregation's behavior patterns when dealing with conflict.
- What events, both difficulties and celebrations, over the past 10 years have been transformative and defining for the congregation?
- On a scale 1-10, with 10 being REALLY WELL, how does the church deal with change? What have been examples of change handled well and change handled poorly?
- What are the biggest critiques and affirmations that you hear about your worship experience?
- Where in the church do you see the most life and energy and where has the church become a little stuck or calcified?
- What are the largest untapped ministry resources in the congregation: people, talents, perspectives, etc.
- How does the congregation understand and utilize social media and technology?
- How does the church understand and react to social and cultural events in the world: unrest, violence, etc.
CONGREGATIONAL EXPRESSION - External
- If the church closed its doors tomorrow, would the community miss its presence and if so, how?
- In 5-10 years how do you want people in the community to describe this congregation?
- How would you describe the congregation's connection to the community: local, global, denominational, etc. in service, support and/or presence?
- How would your neighbors describe the church and how does this church embody a unique expression of church in the community?
- Over the past 10 years how have most people found this church and if they have visited, why have they chosen to stay or not?
- How does this congregation understand "diversity" of all kinds: class, race, family structures, sexual orientation, etc?
- How have people who are exploring faith for the first time experienced this congregation?
- How does the congregation approach the use of technology and social media in the life of the church: communication, pastoral care, evangelism, administration and/or worship?
- How would you describe the church's witness in the world around issues of race, gender, sexuality, poverty, etc.
- What is a hope you have for your next pastor?
- How does this congregation care for and nurture its pastoral staff?
- What are your expectations, spoken and unspoken, about how your next pastor will balance church and family time and energy?
- Is there a strategic ministry plan in place and what will be role of the new pastor in its implementation, adjustment and/or evaluation?
- What do you see as the relationship between pastoral leadership and congregants in ministries of the church: planning, participation, leadership, etc.?
- What were some of the strengths and weaknesses of previous pastoral leadership and how did those attributes effect the congregation?
- Quickly prioritize, in percentage or hours, your pastor spend his/her time between these five things: worship and preaching preparation, church administration, internal congregational care, external congregational expression, study and education.
- With what church tasks and activities is there is agreement that the pastor should NOT be involved?
- Understanding that pastoral emergencies are a natural part of the life of any church, what are the expectations of the number of hours and generally structure of generic week.
- What are or have been the expectations of previous pastoral leadership's family?
- What about my gifts, experience and perspectives have lead you to think that there may be a call between you and I?
Again, this is far from an exhaustive collection of questions, but these are ones that are at the front of my list in order to discern whether or not my particular gifts align with the needs of a particular congregation and if there is a call. For as Frederick Buechner says about call,
"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."
So if you are entering this season of discernment and have been called into this stage with a congregation or faith community, know that there are many going through the same things and prayers lifted for one, can be seen as prayers lifted up for us all.
Other informative posts about the pastor interview process.
- 41 Questions To Ask a Potential Church (2009)
- Advice for Pastor Search Committees
- Issues Pastors Must Discuss with Search Committees (2007)
- Talk Before You Call: Questions about worship for search committees and pastors (1993)
- Before you say yes - Questions to ask a new church
This post has been updated from its original 2012 posting on Patheos.