How to Interview Your Next Church
A seasoned executive pastor shares how he learned about his next job.

One day, I received an e-mail from a senior pastor I didn't know who leads The Chapel, an 11,000-person church in Ohio. As the founder of XPastor.org, I get a good number of "can you help me?" e-mails. In this case, Paul was looking for a new executive pastor. As I always do, I replied with some ideas on how to find one.

Paul wrote back with more thoughts, and before long, we sensed God was doing something. We began to talk about me coming to partner with him as his executive pastor. This caused me to shift from being an impartial consultant to being personally involved!

Before I took off my XPastor.org hat, I planned how best to approach an interview process. My conclusion: Although this church's leaders needed to interview me, it was vital that I interview them, too!

Todd Wagner, the lead pastor of Watermark Community Church in Dallas, once said, "The best place to get fired is in the interview."

The place to determine "fit" is in the interview, not in the first six months of the new ministry. I had to interview The Chapel so that I could determine my fit.

1. Develop Your Questions

I developed questions in five categories (you can find all the questions on the Hiring Questions page of XPastor.org):

Staff Culture

- What is the work culture?

- Is it a "Mac or PC?" culture?

- What is the style of communication?

- What is the strength of relationships?

- What are the office hours?

- Does the staff function in teams, solo, or silo?

Administration

- What is the budget process?

- What is the hiring style?

- Can you describe the nature of any recent terminations?

- What is the process of setting goals and vision alignment?

Leadership and Governance

- What is the church's governance style?

- What are the board's issues and style?

- What are the church's vision and values?

- Are the church's ministries aligned with the vision?

Church Issues

- What is the history of the church?

- What is its doctrine?

- What are its unique ministries?

- What are some past hurts?

- Is the church stagnant, multi-site, or planning for growth?

City

- What are the demographic data of the city? (Check out www.census.gov)

- Are the congregants white collar or blue collar, rural or urbanized?

2. Interview the Senior Pastor

In my case, the senior pastor contacted me, so it was easy to start at the top. We talked by phone, and then Paul offered to come to Austin, Texas, for a visit. I countered with "stay in our home if you like." Just before the visit, Paul asked, "Can my wife, Sue, come along?" Clearly, this visit would be a great way to see if we meshed!

When Paul came, we discussed the how and why of ministry, the needs of his church and what he wanted in an executive pastor. We went over the church's organization, envisioned the future, and reviewed staffing issues. Along the way, I also listened to his sermons on the internet.

After Paul's visit, the outgoing co-senior pastor called me. We had a tremendous discussion; I got his perspective on the church and what Paul would need in the future. I listened to his sermons, too, to get to know what the people had heard in his tenure.

You may or may not be able to talk much to the senior pastor. Learn all you can through websites, blogs, even articles in the bulletin that the senior pastor may write. Carefully study the vision of the senior pastor and how it is lived out in the church.

3. Interview the Staff Leaders

A week after Paul and Sue stayed at our house, I asked to have three rounds of telephone conversations with key staff leaders. I didn't approach these like interviews but more like "getting-to-know-you discussions." I wanted to be much better prepared to meet them face to face, and the three rounds of telephone discussions enabled that.

The staff leaders surprised me! They had lots of questions for me. We had lively discussions in each 45-minute phone call. After the second call, I sent them a list of questions about their perceptions of the executive pastor role for our third round of telephone talks.

Depending on the size of the church, you may be talking with paid or volunteer staff. Invest time to get to know them, to pray with them, and to understand their issues and concerns.

4. Obtain Hard Data

As the weeks went on, I needed more information. Some of the items that I needed are sensitive and proprietary (and if the church won't give you the information, scour the church's bulletin and website, and the online archives of the local newspaper to find similar data):

- Constitution, doctrinal statement and other key governance documents;

- A history of the church;

- Brochures, visitor letters, new member packets, and departmental information;

- Donation history, balance sheets, audited statements, and explanations for any for-profit activity, such as a bookstore;

- Worship attendance for four years;

- The employee policy manual and other policies for managing the church;

- Zip code or demographic analysis of the church;

- Staff bios with pictures.

Paul's great assistant sent me this wide variety of information, enabling me to get a peek at the inner workings of the church.

About this time, Paul and I began to discuss a possible job description. We began to define the expectations and how we could put those in to print.

5. In-Person Discussions

The first four steps can happen before you set foot on the church campus. When you visit, continue your interviews. Talk to people in the foyer and see how visitors are treated. Confirm your hunches. Create informed opinions about the church.

Final Thoughts

The leaders of a church need to interview you during a job selection process, but you must interview the church, too. Through the process, you need to reach a point where you can conclude that:

- You are a good fit and can work with the church leadership;

- The church's current issues and long-term needs are known to you;

- You can fulfill the ministry description for your role.

When The Chapel made a formal offer to hire me, I was ready for great ministry because I studied the church for five months.

Become an expert on your next church before you sign on the dotted line!

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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