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:
- According to LifeWay Research, the average pastoral tenure is six years
- Based on research distilled by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership (FASICLD), 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month
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:
- How do you live out your faith in Christ?
- Can you tell us about your calling into pastoral ministry? Why do you feel called to serve this church?
- What sin do you struggle with the most?
- What are the top three responsibilities of a pastor?
- How would you influence the culture of the staff and church?
- Tell us about a time you disagreed with someone in your last church? How did you handle this disagreement?
- 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!