Leadership

Interviewing a Pastoral Candidate? Don't Forget to Ask These 7 Questions

Looking for a new pastor? Find out more from your pastoral candidates by hearing their response to these top questions.

Interviewing a Pastoral Candidate? Don't Forget to Ask These 7 Questions
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Is your church searching for a new pastor?

Well, if you’re not searching for a pastor today, there’s a good chance your church will need to in the future.

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic.

I’d love for nothing more than pastors to serve their church for years on end continuously.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case—at all.

It's common knowledge that every year many pastors transition or walk away from the ministry altogether.

Here are just two sobering statistics to consider:

Regardless if you’re a part of a pastoral search committee or independently searching for a new pastor, as a leader in your church, one of your goals is help your incoming pastor thrive. One of the best ways you can do this is to start off on the right foot by asking insightful pastoral interview questions.

But you’re probably wondering:

What questions should I (or the search committee) ask a pastor?

In your search for a pastor, you’re looking for someone who can faithfully preach the Bible, serve your congregation well, and lead your church. But what does it really take for a pastor to do these things well? Does he or she have previous experience to inform your opinion? What are good questions you can ask a pastor to inform your decision on extending him or her an offer?

There are many interview questions for pastors you can ask, but there are some critical questions for prospective pastors you don’t want to forget. The type of questions that can help you to avoid short-term conflicts or early departures. In this post, we’re going to cover seven of those questions.

#1. How do you live out your faith in Christ?

Assuming the pastor applying for a position to serve your church has placed his or her faith in Christ, it’s a good idea to learn how they live out their faith.

Are they committed to prayer?

Do they read the Bible outside of sermon preparation?

How well do they steward their resources?

If they’re married, do they lead their spouse or children to love the Lord?

The pastor of your church should lead from a place of deep commitment to Christ. Asking this question is one way you can peer into their faith and how they may live it out with your church.

#2. Can you tell us about your calling into pastoral ministry? Why do you feel called to serve this church?

According to LifeWay Research, the number one reason a pastor leaves the ministry is due to a change in calling.

During your interview, it's essential for you or your search committee to explore the pastoral candidates calling.

When did they originally sense a call to pastoral ministry?

What is leading them to consider serving as a pastor for your church?

When was the last time they wrestled with their calling into pastoral ministry?

Regarding this last question, there’s nothing technically wrong with a pastor wrestling with his or her calling into the ministry. Every single one of us will go through difficult seasons or battle doubt over the choices we’ve made. So, with this question, keep your ears open to how transparent they’re able to talk about their personal struggles, which leads us to the next question you can’t forget to ask.

#3. What sin do you struggle with the most?

Every Christian—including pastors—will battle with sin.

Knowing how a pastoral candidate responds to sin in their life will give you insight into their faith and an idea on what type of culture they may create in your church when it comes to talking about sin.

When you ask this question, listen carefully to how the pastoral candidate responds:

  • Are they self-aware of their sin?
  • Are they aware of their depravity?
  • Do they respond with law or grace?
  • How has their spouse (assuming they're married) and other Christians helped them to walk out their faith?

When you ask this question, let the pastoral candidate know that you're not looking for dirt or that you’re interested in judging him or her to help diffuse any potential tension.

#4. What are the top three responsibilities of a pastor?

For the most part, every pastor will do similar work: preach, disciple, and lead your church.

Although this is the case, your church may have a unique philosophy of ministry or characteristics you want to ensure the pastor you call to readily embrace.

To know whether or not a pastoral candidate is a good fit for your church culture, be sure to ask this ask and compare his or her answers with your priorities. If the priorities they share significantly differ from what you and your church need, then this may be a sign that you need to pursue a different candidate.

#5. How would you influence the culture of the staff and church?

Every pastoral candidate you interview will have a unique leadership philosophy.

Looking into how each candidate will go about leading your church through a cultural shift to align with their vision will help you to see whether or not their style will work well within your church.

For better or worse, your church has an existing way of handling things. Whether your church works through a session of elders, individual leaders, or a denominational structure, you have a system in place.

There are ways your church may improve upon its processes, and there are probably many good things you will need to keep in place. Now that you have this in mind, how does the pastoral candidate's answer to this question fit with your church?

#6. Tell us about a time you disagreed with someone in your last church? How did you handle this disagreement?

Referring back to the LifeWay Research mentioned above, the second reason a pastor will leave the ministry is due to conflict in the church.

According to research, most pastors expect conflict. And, in the life of any church, when you have a group of people together, you will have conflict at one point. Even though this is the case, knowing how well a pastoral candidate does or does not resolve conflict will allow you to better understand their relationship skills.

When it comes to conflict resolution, you don’t need someone with a doctoral degree or experience in mediation. But you also don’t want to pursue a candidate who’s unable to handle conflict and offers to deal with problems “man-to-man” in the parking lot.

#7. What does your wife think about being a pastor’s wife? Or what does your husband think about being married to a pastor?

Finally, another significant reason why pastors leave the ministry is due to family issues.

Here’s the deal:

Every family has their struggles.

There are times when a family is dealing with normal day-to-day stress, and there are other times when a family may be walking through a prolonged period of pressure. But this isn’t the point of these questions.

With this question, you want to know if the pastoral candidate and his or her spouse is in unity. In other words, do they support their calling? Or do you sense there’s tension between the two?

Pursing pastoral ministry is rewarding, but it is a challenging vocation.

From working 50 hours or more per week, being on call 24/7, and battling stress over their finances, serving as a pastor is not all roses. There are many burdens the carry (personally and for your church), and, if there is division at home regarding their calling, then it will only be a matter of time until they decide to tap out.

Over to you

Handling pastoral transitions are tough.

It’s difficult saying goodbye to someone you love, and it can be challenging to find the next pastor for your church.

But don’t rush the process of finding a new pastor. Take the time to get to know him or her, and be sure to ask these seven pastor interview questions:

  1. How do you live out your faith in Christ?
  2. Can you tell us about your calling into pastoral ministry? Why do you feel called to serve this church?
  3. What sin do you struggle with the most?
  4. What are the top three responsibilities of a pastor?
  5. How would you influence the culture of the staff and church?
  6. Tell us about a time you disagreed with someone in your last church? How did you handle this disagreement?
  7. What does your wife think about being a pastor’s wife? Or what does your husband think about being married to a pastor?

What questions have you found helpful when interviewing a pastoral candidate? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Why Write Church Donation Letters?

In a previous blog post, I shared the different ways your church can thank donors—from automated emails to year-end giving reports. Printed donation letters also play an essential role in your church’s stewardship efforts.

Donation letters are the Swiss Army knife of your church’s gratitude arsenal. It may not be the most powerful—but it’s versatile, handy, and gets used often.

Your basic church donation letter can serve many different purposes, including:

  • Acknowledging that you received a donation
  • Thanking the giver for being generous with their finances
  • Sharing other ways the person can support your church
  • Allowing the donor to write the gift off on their taxes
  • Encouraging supporters to make recurring donations
  • Requesting future donations from church members

A single, well-crafted donation letter can pull together several of these things simultaneously. Better donation letters lead to more giving, which leads to more donation letters—thus creating a cycle of on-going church generosity.

Church Donation Letter Samples

Here’s the good news—you don’t have to write an individualized letter for every person who gives to your church. That would be tough to do for even smaller churches. And most donors don’t expect you to. They’d rather you be putting their gift to better use in the community, instead of ceaselessly writing thank you notes.

With the possible exception of some unique circumstances, your church can use template language for the majority of your church donation letters. You’ll have to add in custom details like the donor’s name and gift amount, but you can write everything else in advance.  

To make this even easier on you, here are a few basic church donation letter templates you can copy and paste. Keep in mind that not all of these have to be in print—you could just as easily turn some of these samples into email appeals.

1. Donation Acknowledgment Letter

The Donation Acknowledgement Letter is a basic way you can confirm and affirm a monetary gift to your church. Sending these is standard practice in church and nonprofit culture.

Dear [first name],
I want to personally thank you for your donation of [gift amount] to [church name]. We’re honored you would bless us with your generosity. Donations like yours make a big difference in the work our church is doing in the community.
Without givers like you, our church can’t have an impact or influence in our community. With your support, we’re partnering with local nonprofits, sending out global mission trips, and hosting small groups on topics that help real people like you. Together, we can make a difference.
Because we’re a tax-exempt nonprofit, you also get to write this donation off on your taxes. This letter serves as official proof of your donation, so keep it in your records come tax season. At the end of the year, we’ll also send you an annual recap with how much you’ve given to the church.
Thank you for supporting [church name]!
Sincerely,
[your name]

2. Donation Request Letter

Not every church member realizes the importance of giving, or understand Bible verses about tithing and giving.  So a Donation Request Letter helps to spread that awareness and encourage a spirit of generosity.

Dear [first name],
How are the finances in your household? That was a rhetorical question, so you don’t have to answer—besides, this is a letter so we wouldn’t hear you anyway. But we still want you to think about that question.
Money is a uniquely human issue, one we all struggle with to one degree or another. Even if you’re financially blessed, you still have the burden of stewarding your money wisely. And we believe that one of the best ways to invest your money is into the local church.
Tithing (giving 10% of your income) on a regular basis not only supports the work we do at [church name]. It doesn’t just support local missions and community growth. It also shows an obedience to God by making his work a financial priority in your life.
So if you find yourself ready to put God first in both your heart and your wallet, we encourage you to make a one-time gift or sign up to make recurring donations. That way, you won’t have to ever wonder again about the financial status of your household.
Sincerely,
[your name]

3. Monthly Giving Letter

Many church donations aren’t just one-time gifts. Plenty of givers contribute monthly—and that should be acknowledged.

Use this template to correspond with recurring givers.  

Dear [first name],
Thank you for being an active and faithful member of our church community. By giving to our church on a monthly basis, you’re showing that our church has a meaningful place in your heart. We just wanted to write this to let you know that you’re in our heart, too.
Donating to the church monthly allows us to preach the gospel, make disciples, and support others in our community who need help. Others like the local food bank and the nearby homeless shelter. We’re answering the cry of the needy, and it’s all thanks to contributors like you.
We earnestly appreciate your ongoing support and want to let you know we’re here for you. If there’s ever anything we can do for you and your family, don’t hesitate to reach out. You are a valued member of our church family. And you’re financial support is making a difference.
Sincerely,
[your name]

4. Year-End Giving Letter

At the end of each year, it’s customary to give your church supporters a summary of their gifts. The primary reason is for tax purposes, but it’s also a way to recap everything your church has done over the past year with their support.

Dear [first name],
You’re getting this letter because you gave to [church name] at some point during the past year. That might have been a one-time gift, or recurring donations. Either way, we want to thank you for your generous support. Every contribution helps.
One of the official reasons for this letter is for tax purposes. That’s right—you get to write these donations off on your taxes. Which is why we’ve included a summary of all the contributions you’ve made to our church this year.
But the other reason for this letter is to let you know what we’ve done with the money you gave. We take stewardship very seriously, which means we value spending our time and resources wisely.
During the year, our church supported local nonprofits, sent global missions teams, and baptised quite a few people. It was a great year for us—thanks in large part to donors like you.
So thank you for your support of our church, and we hope you’ll consider continuing to contribute to our mission in the coming year.
Sincerely,
[your name]  

5. Church Fundraising Letter

Sometimes you need to make a more significant financial push using tried and true church fundraising ideas. Some churches call this a Stewardship Campaign or a Church Capital Campaign. Either way, the goal is to raise a certain amount of money for a big project. And typically, a solid letter of appeal is an integral part of that.

Dear [first name],
God has a plan for everyone and everything. That includes you, and it includes [church name]. None of us can fully know God’s plan—the best we can do is pray and listen for clarity. Our church leadership has been doing just that and are excited to announce our latest church project.
[Detail the outline of the major church project—this could include a building campaign, or raising support for a global mission trip. Anything specific to your church that requires a fundraising letter. Be sure to include a fundraising goal so everyone knows what you’re shooting for.]
But we can’t pull this off without your support. Whether you give to the church on a regular basis, or just attend on occasion, we’re asking you to consider contributing to this massive undertaking prayerfully. It’s something we need our entire church community’s help with.
Even if you can’t make a large gift, know that every little bit helps. It’s more about coming together as a community united behind a common cause. We hope that you’ll consider making a donation towards this great step forward that we’re making together.
Sincerely,
[your name]

Tips when writing church donation letters

It’s not enough to just copy and paste this content and send away. The key to an effective church donation letter is a touch of personalization. Follow these tips to take your donation letters to the next level:

  • Examples: Add specific examples of how your church will use the donation. Tell a story about the work your church is doing in the community and connect that with giving.
  • Personalization: For regular donors, don’t be afraid to add a short, handwritten personal note. This shows that you’ve singled them out with praise.
  • Timeliness: Sending donation letters quickly reminds people you’re thankful for them. But this also takes organization and efficiency. All the more reason to use pre-written templates.
  • Storytelling: Everything is better with stories—including donation letters. Weave in a specific narrative of how your church is making a difference and how the money will be used.

There’s no one right or wrong way to write a donation letter or request contributions. You’ve got to do what is right for your church and congregation. But if you stick to these general tips, you’ll probably start to see some traction when it comes to giving.

What’s next?

Most people don’t love talking about money in church. But it’s a necessary and vital part of your church. And maximizing your efforts when it comes to donation letters will help make those conversations more comfortable. So what do you do next to put this into effect?

  • Customize these letters: Take the samples above and make them work for your church. Personalize the content. Remove the stuff that doesn’t sound genuine and add in stuff that does. Remember that these are just a starting point.
  • Create some systems: Develop processes that make it easy for you to replicate sending donation letters. Use a letter template that allows you to drop in names and details. Then develop guidelines for when these letters will be sent out.
  • Empower a champion: Find out who is going to be responsible for making these letters happen. Rather than thinking of this as adding more work to their plate, think about how you can elevate their work. This could be a staff member, or a volunteer.
  • Start sending: All of this will be for nothing if you don’t actually send out the letters. Take the time to get it right and get them into the hands of your church donors.

And if you’re looking for ways to grow your church’s giving capacity, Tithely can help.

We provide several different ways your church members can support your church financially—from online giving, text to give solutions, and giving kiosks.

Tithely’s systems make it as easy as possible for people to give to your church. Now all you need to start doing is generating a culture of gratitude. There’s nothing standing in your way. Go unleash generosity in your church.

How does your church use donation letters to spread generosity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.

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Interviewing a Pastoral Candidate? Don't Forget to Ask These 7 Questions