Pastor Search

How to Ask Better Questions When Interviewing Pastor Candidates

In my current ministry role, I am sometimes invited to coach a Pastor Search Committee during a portion of their search process. These coaching sessions range from offering advice during the resume review process to observing the Committee during interviews to providing comparable compensation packages.

During a recent coaching session, I was asked to offer feedback after observing an interview. My advice to the Committee was simple: “Ask better questions.”

Let me be clear. The Search Committee was not asking bad questions. It’s just that they weren’t asking the best questions. Or – better yet – they weren’t asking their questions in the best way.

This observation certainly wasn’t unique to this Committee. The fact is that many Pastor Search Committees could ask better questions. If you’re serving on a Pastor Search Committee, here are five ways that your Committee can ask better questions during the interview process.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

If I could share only one piece of advice for the Pastor Search Committee, it would be to ask open-ended questions. Instead of asking short-answer questions that only require one- or two-word responses, ask questions that need elaboration.

Suppose you were to ask a candidate, “Do you believe in the doctrine of the Trinity?” This question requires only a “Yes” or “No” answer. 

However, a better way to ask the question would be to ask, “Could you summarize your understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity?” This question requires the candidate to explain the doctrine rather than simply affirming it.

Avoid Leading Questions

Try not to influence the candidate’s response by the way you ask your questions. For example, if your question begins with, “Don’t you think…”, you are leading the candidate to agree with you. Similarly, if you state your church’s position about a secondary or tertiary matter before you ask your question, you’re trying to influence how the candidate responds.

If possible, avoid leading questions altogether. Imagine that you ask, “Don’t you think that VBS is the best outreach event in the church?” By the wording of the question, it’s obvious that you want the candidate to agree with you. 

A better way to ask the question would have been, “In your opinion, what are the best outreach events offered by churches similar to ours?” If the candidate doesn’t include “VBS” in his response, you have your answer!

Avoid Aggressive Questions

Some Pastor Search Committees ask questions in such a way that the candidate is immediately put on the defensive. For example, when seeking clarity about a gap on a candidate’s resume, you could ask, “I see that you have a two-year gap on your resume. Can you explain this?”

While you need to understand why the gap exists, there’s a less aggressive way to ask the question. A better question would be, “Could you share what led you to make each of your ministry transitions?” 

You will still hear the explanation for the two-year gap, but you avoid placing the candidate on the defensive.

Ask Follow-Up Questions

During the interview, there will be times when the candidate’s response might be unclear, incomplete, or lead to other questions. When those times come, feel free to ask a follow-up question.

If the response is unclear, you could reword the question by saying, “Let me ask a similar question.” If the answer is incomplete, you could ask for elaboration by saying, “Could you tell us more?” If the candidate’s response generates a new question in your mind, go ahead and ask it.

Follow-up questions communicate that the Committee is not just working from a script. The best interviews feel more like genuine conversations.

Ask Hypothetical Questions

One of the best ways to move beyond surface-level conversations is to ask hypothetical questions. Give the candidate a scenario and ask how they would respond.

For example, you could ask, “Imagine that someone approached you after your sermon and demanded that you never preach from your favorite Bible translation again. What would you say to them?”

Asking hypothetical questions such as this will provide keen insight into the candidate’s leadership style and how they deal with people. Every question can’t be hypothetical, but every interview should include some hypothetical questions.

Better Questions, Better Interviews

The quality of questions asked by a Pastor Search Committee often determines the quality of the conversations. If you’re serving on a Search Committee, be intentional in the questions you ask and how you ask them. You might be surprised how asking better questions leads to better interviews!

If you found this post helpful, check out my book The Church During the Search, which explains six commitments every church member needs to make to honor the Lord during the pastor search process.

Photo by Olya Kobruseva from Pexels

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