When applying for an open pastor position, the Pastor Search Team may ask you to submit several documents. In addition to your ministry resume, you may be asked to submit a cover letter, list of references, letters of recommendation, links to sermon videos, a ministry questionnaire, or a doctrinal statement. You will also likely authorize the Pastor Search Team to conduct a criminal background check and credit check, which involves more paperwork.
These requests are helpful and indicate that the Pastor Search Team is exercising due diligence in determining if you are a good fit for their church. However, due diligence isn’t one-sided. As a pastor candidate, you should take the necessary steps to determine if the church will also be a good fit for you. Just as the Pastor Search Team may request several documents from you, here are ten documents you may want to ask from them as you progress throughout the interview process.
#1: Statement of Faith
You must determine very quickly if you align theologically with the church. If the Pastor Search Team doesn’t specify it in their job advertisement, ask them to provide you with a copy of the church’s Statement of Faith. If there isn’t agreement on the essentials, asking for other documents is unnecessary. You need to find a church where you can preach and teach in accordance with and not contrary to the church’s stated beliefs – without reservation.
Reviewing the church’s Statement of Faith may also reveal if the church takes a stance on any tertiary doctrines (such as the End Times) or preferences (such as a required Bible translation) that, while important, are not essential to the Christian faith. For those tertiary doctrines and preferences where you differ from the church, you’ll want to be clear about where you stand. You’ll also want to discuss these differences during the interview stage to see if you and the Search Team (and the congregation) can agree to disagree on these secondary matters. But without reviewing the Statement of Faith beforehand, you may not discover these differences are dealbreakers until it’s too late.
#2: Pastor’s Job Description
If you haven’t received a copy, ask for the Pastor’s Job Description. Once you receive it, look it over carefully for any unrealistic expectations or potential red flags. For example, I’ve seen job descriptions that specify that the pastor will mow the church lawn, and others list specific requirements for the pastor’s wife. Items like these indicate the church may have unrealistic or unhealthy expectations for their pastor.
If the Search Team says there is no written job description, find out why. Without some written standard of the church’s expectations, you’ll be left to guess what the church expects of you. And chances are, you’ll miss the mark more often than you’d like.
#3: Constitution & Bylaws
Ask for a copy of the church’s Constitution & Bylaws or other governing documents. These documents will provide insight into how the church operates.
What is the process for hiring or dismissing a pastor? How can individuals become a member of the church? Does the church have any standing committees or ministry teams? The church’s Constitution & Bylaws will likely answer many questions like these. In addition, it could generate questions for clarification that you’ll want to ask in subsequent interviews.
#4: Summary Statistics
Ask for a list of summary statistics such as the number of baptisms per year, total membership, average weekly worship attendance, average weekly small group attendance, or number of mission trips per year. Whichever statistics you request, I suggest asking for at least the past 5-10 years to identify trends.
Has the church had any baptisms? If so, are baptisms increasing, decreasing, or staying the same? What about worship attendance? Has it grown, declined, or plateaued in the past few years? While these numbers won’t tell the whole story, take note of the trends. Then, ask the Pastor Search Team to explain (to the best of their ability) the reasons behind the trends.
#5: Financial Statements
Billy Graham once said, “Give me five minutes with a person’s checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is.” The same could be said for a church. That’s why you should ask for at least five years of the church’s financial statements. These documents will indicate what’s most important for the church. Does the church spend an excessive amount of money on the church’s facilities? Do they sacrificially give to missions causes? What percentage of the budget is set aside for personnel expenses? Reviewing the church’s financial statements will reveal the heart of the church.
In addition, you’ll also discover any financial trends. Is the church meeting its budget? Does the church’s tithes and offerings exceed its expenses? How does the church’s current giving compare to previous years? These are important questions that you need to have answers to at some point during the interview process.
#6: Minutes from Business/Membership Meetings
Ask for copies of Minutes from some of the church’s recent Business or Membership Meetings. These documents will provide insight into how the church conducts its business, and they will also reveal if there have been any recent items of contention within the congregation.
The frequency of Business Meetings varies from church to church. Some churches hold monthly meetings, while others hold quarterly or annual meetings. Therefore, the timeframe you request will vary from church to church, but ask for copies of at least 2-3 different Business/Membership Meetings.
#7: Written Policies
In addition to the Constitution & Bylaws, many churches have other written policies such as a Wedding Policy, Facility Use Policy, or Personnel Policy Handbook. Check and see if the church has any such policies. If so, ask for copies for review. As with many other documents in this list, these policies may provide insight into how the church operates and generate follow-up questions you’ll want to ask during subsequent interviews.
#8: List of Former Pastors
Unlike other items in this post, it’s likely that the Search Team will not have this list immediately available. However, this might be one of the most important documents you review. Ask the Search Team to provide a chronological list of the church’s previous pastors and the years of each tenure. Depending on the age of the church, this list could be pretty long, but a chronological list of pastors for up to the past 40 years should suffice.
Once you receive this list, examine the length of each tenure and see if you can spot any trends. Do pastors tend to stay at the church a long time, or is the church searching for a new pastor every few years? Are pastoral tenures getting shorter? This is an important question because Thom Rainer identified declining pastoral tenures as one sign of a dying church.
It bears repeating that the Pastor Search Team may not have this list immediately available, but it’s critical that they create it upon your request. It could provide tremendous insight or generate some crucial questions you’ll want to make sure to have answered.
#9: Bulletin/Worship Guide
Ask for a copy of a recently printed church Bulletin/Worship Guide (or whatever the church calls the printed material that church greeters pass out each Sunday). This document will help you learn several things about the church.
For example, how “busy” is the church? Are there a lot of activities on the church calendar? The Bulletin will likely answer that question.
Is the church expecting guests? Does the Bulletin include a Welcome Card or a QR code for guests to provide contact information?
Is the Order of Service included in the Bulletin? If so, are there any items worthy of note? How many songs were sung? Can you tell if the service is more contemporary or traditional?
The printed Bulletin/Worship Guide can provide a lot of insight into the church. If you can’t find one online, make sure to ask for one.
#10: Community Profile
Many Pastor Search Teams develop a Community Profile to share with potential candidates. Information provided in this profile varies from church to church but may include items such as community demographics, census data, and a listing of schools, restaurants, or other churches. If the Search Team doesn’t offer this document, ask for it.
Transparency is a two-way street. When working with a Pastor Search Team, you may be asked to provide several documents besides your resume. Feel free to ask for your own set of documents in return. If God is indeed calling you to become the church’s pastor, these documents will help you understand both the strengths and challenges that the church is facing, and you’ll be able to begin your new ministry with your eyes wide open.