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How to Interview Your Next Church

A seasoned executive pastor shares how he researched 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 often receive emails asking for help like this. In this case, Paul was looking for a new executive pastor. Before we knew it, we sensed God was doing something, and we began to talk about me partnering with him as his executive pastor.

Before we began the process, I made this conclusion: This church's leaders needed to interview me, but I needed to interview them, too!

1. Develop your questions. I developed questions in five categories:

Staff Culture

  • What is the work culture?
  • How does staff communicate?
  • How strong are 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 church's history?
  • 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 is the city's demographic data? (Check out census.gov for more information.)
  • Are congregants white collar or blue collar, rural or urbanized?

2. Interview the senior pastor. 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. Separately, I listened to his sermons on the internet.

I also spoke with the outgoing co-senior pastor. I got his perspective on the church and what Paul needed. I listened to his sermons, too, to get to know what people heard during 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 written by the pastor in the bulletin. Carefully study the vision of the senior pastor and how it is lived out in the church.

3. Interview staff leaders. I then 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." This better prepared me to later meet them face to face.

We had lively discussions in each 45-minute phone call. After the second round of calls, I sent them a list of questions about their perceptions of the executive pastor role for our third call.

Depending on the size of the church, you may talk 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. Some of the items I needed are sensitive and proprietary (if the church won't give you the information, scour the church's bulletins and website, and the online archives of the local newspaper):

  • Constitution, doctrinal statement, and other key governance documents;
  • Church history;
  • 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;
  • Attendance data for four years;
  • Church policies, including the employee manual;
  • Staff bios with pictures.

5. Make a visit. The first four steps can happen before you set foot in the church. 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

Through the process, you need to reach a point where you can conclude:

  • You are a good fit and can work with the church leadership;
  • You know the church's current issues and long-term needs;
  • You can fulfill the ministry description for your role.

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Posted:
  • July 1, 2010

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