32 Questions Pastors Should Ask in the Job Interview
My husband loves to preach.
It is probably his favorite thing about ministry.
Because of that, he’s always wanted to be a senior pastor. He was a youth pastor for several years after he graduated from college, and he worked as an associate pastor while in seminary. But he always planned to be a senior pastor.
But being a senior pastor isn’t a job for the faint of heart.
There are a lot of expectations as with any job.
But what about when you find out about expectations AFTER you’ve accepted the position?
My husband was once at a church for four months when someone asked him when he was going to start preaching at the nursing home. He had no idea what they were talking about so he asked his secretary. She said, “Yeah. You’re supposed to go preach at the nursing home every Tuesday morning at 9 and once a month on Sunday mornings at 8.”
That was never mentioned in the interview process or during the first FOUR MONTHS he was on the job.
(It wasn’t a big deal. He loves going to nursing homes and preaching, so it was totally fine. It was just wild that no one bothered to say anything!)
We all know it looks bad on your resume to “job hop” so you want to make sure you land where you can stay for a while.
How can pastors make sure they are at the best church for them and that they are the best pastor for the church?
Ask the right questions.
Here are 32 questions you should make sure your husband asks before accepting a position as a lead pastor.
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Questions about Family
1. What are your expectations of my wife?
If they already have a long list of things for you to do, that is something you want to know going in. We had a friend who was expected to play the piano because the last pastor’s wife had. She had no clue how to play the piano so that was an awkward conversation.
2. When considering your last pastor’s wife, what was her greatest strength? What was her greatest weakness?
This question really gives you insight into what the church values.
3. Clarify your wife’s employment status.
Make it clear that it’s important to your family that your wife is able to stay home or that your wife is able to work. Whatever your family decides is best is totally fine, just make sure that the church understands it upfront.
We’ve known churches who expected the pastor’s wife to also be the church secretary even though she was a full-time RN.
4. Ask about specific “unusual” things your family does.
For example, we homeschool our four kids. This decision has nothing to do with the quality of local schools around us. It is based purely on a calling God placed on our hearts and made abundantly clear to us. While this hasn’t ever been an issue for us, there are churches that are adamant that their pastor’s children be the “salt and light” by attending public school.
We know another family whose church didn’t like that their kids were involved in Taekwondo because they said that it promoted spiritual disciplines that were not Christian.
So consider what things your family does that might be an issue and go ahead and address it now.
Questions About Leadership
5. What is the exact process for a decision to be made?
Give an example like, “tell me all of the steps for buying a new church van or starting a new Sunday school class or remodeling the kitchen?”
6. Who makes decisions for hiring and firing? Does the pastor? A committee?
This makes people have to think through the exact steps of the hiring and firing process instead of just giving a vague answer like “meet with the deacons” or “meet with the church body.”
7. Who does the pastor answer to?
Is it an elder or deacon body? Is it another person on staff? Is it the personnel committee? Is it everyone? This is important to know.
8. What is the process for lay leadership in the church?
How are deacons/elders selected? What does that process look like? How long do they serve? Indefinitely? Is there a rotation? What sort of service are they responsible for? Is it just bossing the pastor or do they hold up the 1 Timothy qualifications and care for the sick and widowed? What about family members serving at the same time? Can a father and son both be in leadership at the same time?
Questions About the Job
9. What are the church’s expectations of pastoral visitation?
Will your husband be expected to do all visitations? Is there one day a week for visitation? Do other staff members/deacons/elders do visitation as well?
10. What is the church’s expectation of office hours?
We know several pastors who are in their office 40 hours a week. And all of them are pastors of churches that are dying. The people aren’t in the church office so if the church expects your husband to sit in the office 40 hours a week, this isn’t a church looking to grow or minister outside the church walls.
11. What ministries is the pastor in charge of?
Sure, he gets to preach every week, but is he also in charge of how the youth minister does his job and how the music sounds on Sundays? It seems like, as the senior pastor, he’d be in charge of every ministry in the church, but sometimes churches don’t see it that way.
12. Can I see the job description?
If it’s a vague reference to scripture and “other duties as assigned,” consider carefully. The churches expectation of the senior pastor should be very clear. While your husband is definitely answering a call to ministry, he’s also accepting a job. No one can be good at a job without fully understanding the expectations of the job.
13. How many vacation days do I get? How many sick days? How many conference/continuing education days?
Sure, it may seem rude to ask about how many days off you’ll get before you even get the job, but it’s important that pastors have time to rest and recharge.
My family loves going on vacation together every year. Not because our regular life is so stressful, but because we love having my husband with us all day every day for a week!
And my husband goes to at least one conference every year to make sure that he is always learning and doing his job to the best of his ability. So, it’s very important to him that wherever he is serving gives him time to rest and learn how to do a better job at his job.
Related Post: The Experience Conference: A Pastor’s Wife’s Honest Review
Questions About the Church
14. If the church could only focus on one thing this the next year, what would it be?
Outreach, in-reach? discipleship? etc?
15. How many (your denomination) churches are in the area?
Where do all the young families go to church? Where do the youth go on Wednesday nights? Where do the senior adults go? Why?
16. Can I read over the bylaws?
And then carefully and repeatedly read the bylaws. Let your friends read the bylaws. And if they don’t have bylaws, woah. We went to a church without bylaws and life was crazy there.
17. What is the biggest need in this community?
If they don’t know, that probably indicates that the church isn’t very focused on outreach or local missions.
18. What is the greatest strength of the congregation? What is the greatest weakness of the congregation?
This is another one of those questions that really reveals the priorities of the church.
19. What is the history of the church? When was it founded? By whom? Do any of the founders still attend?
If the church was founded five years ago because a disgruntled group broke off from another church, you may have a rocky road ahead. Knowing how the church got to where it is today can help you see where they are going.
20. When were the best years of the church?
Were they before somebody brought in those “awful drums?” Make sure to get an answer from as many people as possible to get a full understanding.
21. What is the biggest challenge facing (name of the church) today?
Every church has challenges. Whether it’s attendance, tithing, outreach, discipleship, in-fighting, building issues, or whatever, there are going to be challenges. This question is just to give you an idea of what you’re getting into.
22. How does a person become a member of the church?
Through profession of faith and baptism? Transfer of a letter from another church? Drinking the kool-aid?
Questions About Money
23. How are raises determined?
This is a good one because pastors salaries are initially determined based largely on church attendance and tithe but what if when those numbers go up, the pastor’s salary doesn’t? If the church doesn’t have a process in place now for determining raises, it’s a good time for them to think about it.
24. What does the church think of working other jobs/side hustles?
We’ve seen several job postings that forbade extra work outside the church. And while we’re all for depending on God to provide for all of our needs, we also work a couple of side hustles to supplement my husband’s church salary.
25. Ask to see a copy of their annual budget and monthly budget.
Look over it carefully and be sure to ask any questions now. We’ve known several pastors who accepted positions and ended up taking a pay cut after arrival because the church couldn’t support the salary package they offered.
The budget is also very indicative of the church’s values. Just like our personal budgets reveal our hearts, the church’s budget reveals what the congregation prioritizes.
26. Who is on the church payroll? Why?
We’ve known pastors who got to churches and were shocked to discovery some of the paid positions at the church. It’s fine if the church pays musicians or sound people, but you should probably know that upfront.
Related Post: 5 Personal Money Rules for Pastors
Questions about the Last Pastor
27. Why did the last pastor leave?
This is important. If he was fired, there are two sides to every story so be sure to get his. If he retired and was beloved, he’ll be a tough act to follow. If he left for another reason, you should find out.
28. What was the last pastor’s greatest strength/greatest weakness?
Just like with the questions about the last pastor’s wife, this question will reveal what the church values.
29. How many years did the last pastor serve at that church?
Again, rather telling. You could even ask for a 40-year timeline and see how many pastors they’ve had in that time span. FYI – According to a LifeWay Research study done in 2016, the average tenure for a pastor is 6 years.
Questions About Life in That Town
30. What are the top 5 things to do in (name of town)?
Typically the committee will all talk at once saying their favorite things to do. Listen to see if any of them sound good to you. We once interviewed at a church and the entire committee agreed that there was nothing to do in their town.
31. What do most people in (town name) do for fun?
If most people in the town go to the local high school football games on Friday nights, then you should be ready to spend your Friday nights at the local football games.
If you hate football, then that church may not be a great fit for you because you aren’t going to change the town culture.
32. Are there any cultural things we should know about?
We’ve always lived in the South and primarily in Texas. We recently moved from Central Texas to Southeast Texas and we weren’t really worried about any cultural differences.
Until we went to the church wide meet and greet the night before my husband preached in view of a call.
They served gumbo for dinner.
If you’ve never had gumbo, then you’re in the same boat as us. Pretty much every single person in Southeast Texas eats gumbo, and we definitely felt like outsiders.
Obviously, we ate the gumbo and it’s a funny story in our church of how they introduced us to gumbo and it went over with our four young kids like a ton of bricks and we ended up driving through McDonald’s as soon as we left that night.
And that’s what happened when we relocated 5 hours away and in the same state.
Moving from one region to another or one country to another is going to have some major cultural differences. Be sure to find out before you get there so you can be prepared.
Lastly, remember to listen through the whole process.
The Holy Spirit talks very quietly sometimes.
My husband and I were in the final interview with a church once and everything seemed absolutely perfect.
The location was where we wanted to be, the salary was more than we were expected, the people were extremely kind, but in my head, I kept hearing/thinking, “no. no. no. This isn’t right.”
My husband had a similar feeling but we didn’t talk to to each other about it because we both felt we were being foolish.
We accepted the call and still did not have peace. We later got a call from another church that was a much better fit for us, and we had to call back and have a horribly awkward conversation with the search committee chairman because we didn’t listen to the Holy Spirit.
He was disappointed, the church was disappointed. We had members calling us. We had to go back and move some of the boxes we’d moved into the pastor’s office.
It was horrible.
So even if all the answers to all your questions seem “right,” listen for God’s still, small voice.
What other questions should pastors ask in the job interview? Tell us in the comments!
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