Pastor Search

15 Questions Every Pastor Search Committee Should Ask During the Initial Interview

I still remember my first interview with a Pastor Search Committee. I was young and inexperienced. I was working a full-time job and carrying a full-time course load in seminary. I was busy serving in a local church. But through my pastor’s prodding, I began to apply for positions in the area.

A few months later, I received a call from a Search Committee. The interview was scheduled for the following Tuesday, and it was an experience I will not soon forget.

To my surprise, the Pastor Search Committee skipped the formalities and made a beeline to a series of direct and confrontational questions, including my position on several hot-button topics. When they disagreed with my answer, they had no problem telling me so. Honestly, it felt more like an interrogation than an interview.

During my drive back home, I called my pastor and recounted the experience. I remember asking him, “Are all interviews with Pastor Search Committees like this?” To my relief, he assured me the answer was no.

Still, it was an experience I will never forget, and one that I pray is never repeated with another unsuspecting pastor candidate.

Pastor Search Committees are responsible for searching for and recommending a new pastor to their congregation. To accomplish this task, they will likely talk with several candidates. They will do their due diligence and ask dozens of questions. There will come a time during the interview process when they need to cover the hard questions.

But that time is usually not during the initial interview. 

During the first interview, the goal is to get to know the candidate a little better. The Search Committee hopes to develop a general understanding of his personality, spiritual gifts, and experience and to discover if he might be a good fit for your church. Therefore, the initial interview usually involves a series of general questions on various topics.

If you’re serving on a Pastor Search Committee, here are 15 questions that you should consider asking during the initial interview with each pastor candidate:

  1. Could you share your salvation testimony and your call to ministry? Everyone has a story. If you want to get to know the candidate better, start with learning his story.
  2. What do you do for fun? Pastoral ministry is not for the faint of heart. It’s demanding, exhausting, and stressful. That’s why pastors need to find ways to relax. Ask the candidate how he deals with the pressures of ministry by discovering what he does for fun. In addition, this is usually an easy question that will serve to break the ice.
  3. What doctrines do you think are essential to the Christian faith? No matter how much you may like a candidate’s personality, if his doctrinal beliefs significantly differ from your church’s statement of faith, he should cease to be a candidate.
  4. How would you share the gospel with an unsaved person? If the candidate cannot articulate a clear gospel presentation for your Search Committee, he will likely have trouble sharing it with a lost person.
  5. How have you resolved a conflict in the past between yourself and a church member? Although the church is a group of redeemed sinners, we’re still sinners. That means conflicts will inevitably arise. And yet, Jesus calls us to be peacemakers. Therefore, ask the candidate to share a specific example of how he resolved a dispute with a past church member.
  6. What does a typical week look like for you? How do you manage your time? This question will give you an idea of the candidate’s organizational and prioritization skills. You’ll also learn his ministry priorities by what he spends the most time on each week.
  7. How would you describe your preaching style (expository, topical, etc.)? The pastor’s preaching ministry is the most public component of his ministry. You need to learn quickly if the candidate’s preaching style will be a good fit for your church.
  8. Other than the Bible, what books have most influenced your ministry? This question will shed light on the candidate’s philosophy of ministry and how he would likely lead in your church. You can follow up with more direct questions about leadership style later.
  9. How do you respond to criticism? Rightly or wrongly, pastors receive their share of criticism, and some pastors react to that criticism better than others. Ask the candidate for an example or two of how he has responded to criticism in the past.
  10. What do you believe are the top three responsibilities of a pastor? This is another question that will help you understand the candidate’s philosophy of ministry. If there is no overlap between his top three answers and the Search Committee’s top three, you may want to keep searching.
  11. How have you developed team members and volunteers in the past? The church’s primary mission is to make disciples, and this question will provide insight into the candidate’s approach to discipleship. 
  12. Do you have an accountability partner? All Christians are prone to wander – even pastors. Therefore, find out if the candidate has someone who has the right and freedom to hold him accountable. If the candidate cannot identify such an individual, it could signal a red flag.
  13. Why do you feel God might be calling you to a new ministry assignment? There’s a reason why the Pastor Search Committee has the candidate’s resume, and this question will help you discover what it is.
  14. How does your family feel about a potential transition? If the candidate’s family is not on board, it could cause significant issues later. How do they feel about a potential change?
  15. What intentional steps do you take to maintain personal holiness? The keyword in this question is “intentional.” There’s a difference between being intentional and simply having good intentions. Find out how the candidate intentionally strives for personal holiness.

The list of potential interview questions is endless. However, the questions listed above will help get the conversation started with a potential candidate the right way. Remember, it’s an interview, not an interrogation!

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 Andrea Piacquadio:

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