Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Interviewing Well

Dear Jeff, Jayme, Jabin, Jannah, and Bryce,

The following is a rather long article that I’ve written for you re: the interview process and applying for ministry positions, particularly of those in the church. Dozens of pastor’s from multiple denominations and across the nation responded to five questions that I asked them; we have collated their answers and summarized them for you here. Each one of you have been a great joy to work with and, in all honesty, you will be greatly missed. I have every hope for you in your future ministry and know that you will do well. We love you guys and hope this is beneficial for you.

Question #1 - As a pastor or ministry leader, what questions do you expect the interviewee to ask you?

Four major themes emerged out of this question:

  1. Direction and Vision

Of the many answers that ministry leaders gave, what they most want you to ask them is “What is their vision and direction for the church?” Words like vision, values, direction, and calling were all used to find out what the preferred future of the church was and, often, what is the preferred future of the pastor. Simply this; they want to know that you care about where they are going.

Interestingly, there was no one ministry leader who would like you to ask about their theology or the theology of their church. My understanding is that our theology informs our philosophy of ministry which then directs our vision and methodology. That said, when you ask ministry leaders about their vision, values, and direction you are inadvertently asking about their philosophy and theology. However, do not assume anything; remember that interview’s are given to clarify.

  1. Practice

Ministry leaders also want you to ask as many questions as possible about how the church and the position you are applying for actually operates. They want you to ask questions about job descriptions, church governance, church budget, office and work hours, staff accountability, vacation time, staff policies, schedules, decision process, staff environment and relationships, dress code, etc. One issue, one that I am sure you are wondering about, is the question of money, salary, and benefits. We will address the topic in greater detail later but, to ease your curiosity now, the general consensus of ministry leaders was to not ask. Allow the church to broach the topic in their timing; not yours.

  1. Expectations

Of great concern to ministry leaders when interviewing potential staff was that the interviewee finds out the written and unwritten expectations of staff, their spouse, and their families. This has much to do with the practice of the church but is actually deeper seeded into the culture of the church. As such, it is absolutely vital that you become very aware of the church culture and the ministry expectations that it actually practices; the last thing you want to get into in your new church is a culture war! Policies are relatively easy to change or work within; cultures are far harder.

  1. Evaluation

Ministry leaders also would like you to ask them to give an evaluation of where the church is at currently. What is the spiritual climate of the church? What success are you currently celebrating? What is the most difficult issue that your church is currently dealing with? How does the church see itself in the city? How does the city see it? These questions, and many others, are not only helpful for you but actually help the pastor make clear and accurate statements about the realities of his church. When you humbly ask thoughtful and provocative questions of the state of the church that force the pastor to self-evaluate, you are doing him a great service as well as showing that you can do the difficult work of asking the right questions.

Question #2 – As a pastor or ministry leader, what questions should potential staff ask that you don’t want them to ask?

This question we posed to pastors not so that you could terrorize them but rather so you could be aware of appropriate questions that should be asked within a spirit of humility and wisdom. Two main issues arose:

  1. Staff Relationships

Multi-staff churches can be a very rewarding, encouraging, and fulfilling place to work when the staff operates well together as a team and are involved in each other’s lives. Conversely, there is not much to be gained and much to be lost when a multi-staff church is actually a collection of superstar individuals. Churches with mediocre people building extraordinary teams are far better off then churches with superstar players who never pass the ball. That said, staff alignment, healthy relationships, and well checked ego’s are vital to every team atmosphere.

So why are pastor’s afraid of you asking about inter-staff relationship dynamics? Though the reasons vary widely, I’ll give you a few ideas why this may be: (1) The inter-personal stuff is so bad that they want to hide it from you as long as possible, (2) There may be an existing paradigm of boss/employee mentality, (3) Possible difficulties in talking about current relational dynamics within the staff to someone unknown, (4) Fear of ‘over promising and under delivering’ on things like accountability, mentoring, team atmosphere, and discipleship, and (5) You might be the first additional staff which would make you the (un)lucky guinea pig.

Fearful or not, the question and discussion of staff relationship dynamics must be dialogued for the simple reason that you will spend many many hours a week in staff/team settings praying, brainstorming, problem solving, caring, and ministering. The following quote is from a college prof in the Midwest that states it well: “I want them to ask all the questions – even the tough ones. Better now then get surprised later. In my opinion – some ‘old school’ types – will not want too many pointed questions relating to employee relationship. To them, team ministry is a foreign concept. But you are better off discovering this now – than regretting this later. So I would ask specifically about the nature of the relationship between you and the lead pastor.” My advice? Ask and watch.

  1. Church Struggles

Once you have completed the honeymoon at your new church with your new computer, new cell phone, and new jokes, you will be faced with the ugly side of church. And, even though a Forbes Magazine survey found that clergy is among the best jobs anywhere, there is still a dark side that haunts every church. And this, my friends, is what you should ask, even though they don’t want you to ask it; “What are the historic, current, and on-going struggles of the church?” This is like sticking a hot probe into a fresh wound for some pastors while, for others, is a refreshing chance to share struggles and concerns. Upon hearing church struggles you would do well to ask yourself if you would be an asset or liability to the ongoing health of the church. For some, even though you may be very talented and cutting edge with oodles of leadership potential, you will not be a good fit for the church if you add to the problems rather then alleviate them!

Question #3 – What questions should the interviewee simply not ask?

There are a myriad of questions that pastor’s recommend you don’t ask including things like moral/cultural issues such as positions on alcohol and other areas of Christian conscience (1 Cor. 8 & 10; Romans 14 & 15). Additionally, I would recommend that you don’t ask if you can move into the Lead Pastor’s office, if you can take weekends off, or ask how old their daughter is. Beyond these, the major ‘do not ask’ issue revolved around your pay check.

Over and over again, pastor’s clearly and emphatically said, “Do not ask about the money.” One pastor commented, “I once asked what a position paid just ballpark and they ended the interview right there, so approach that one carefully.” Before a church wants to get into salary package, vacation time, stat holiday’s, health benefits, pension, salary review process, moving expenses, housing allowance, book and meal allowance, mileage, continuing education and conference budget, general budgets, etc., they would like to get a feel and sense for who you are, your heart, and what calling you have. While the details of church finances and personal finances are important details that do need to be clarified before accepting a position, they are not the primary issue. Primarily, churches are looking for the right pastor/leader for their church’s particular culture, vision, and community; they want a pastor who loves Jesus, has a clear call to generous and sacrificial ministry, and who recognizes the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit to direct his ministry steps.

Question #4 – What should the interviewee expect from the church when interviewing?

Two subjects’ surface in this question; one minor, one major. The first, though minor in comparison, is the question of who covers the cost of out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the interviewee. It is generally accepted that the church will cover all related travel, accommodation, and food expenses to and from the interview. Keep in mind, however, that this is not an all-inclusive paid holiday to the other side of the country…church budgets are generally meager and it is some sacrifice to them to bring you out. Please do not waste kingdom resources in airline tickets and hotels for churches or cities you never intend to pastor in.

The second expectation that you should take into an interview with you is that the church and its leadership be honest with you. This is huge! Honesty and frank openness in all matters of church life including all of the touchy issues of money, process, finance, morality, standards of holiness, etc., are of elevated importance. Additionally, you should expect that there be full disclosure of church/community demographics, vision, values, mission, and philosophies of biblical leadership and ministry. What you should not expect is that all of this information be made available to you in a first or even second interview. What this requires of you is that you spend plenty of time listening, asking honest questions in a spirit of humility, and then listening some more.

Question #5 – What should the church expect from the interviewee?

Every pastor who responded to this question said the same two things: the interviewee should 1) be honest, as we are honest with them, and 2) be prepared. When you go into an interview you should expect that a church should hold your confidence and, in return, that you should be fully honest about who you are, what you struggle with, how you operate and function, etc. This should go without saying, but when you are applying to work in a church, don’t lie! Sadly, often is the case where churches are deceived by what the interviewee has not said or who has somehow led the church leadership to believe something that wasn’t all-together accurate. It will go far better for you and your church if honesty and forthrightness begin at the very beginning of your relationship.

Second, when you go into an interview, prepare yourself. How prepared (or ill-prepared) you are often gives a good indication of how prepared you will be in ministry and, as is often the case, how effective you will be. Blaine Bartel wrote, “If you sweat in preparation, you will not bleed in battle.” You will inadvertently hijack the entire interview process if you have not already done the difficult and time consuming work of self-reflection and evaluation, are unable to articulate your philosophy of Biblical leadership and ministry, or have inaccurate knowledge about yourself, the church, or the city and culture the church finds itself in. Additionally, you should be polite, prompt, quick to provide additional references, hold the churches confidence, and be respectful of the church, its culture, and its leadership.


As you graduate from Bible College and begin to look for ministry positions in churches or other ministry organizations, keep in mind that the interview is both a ‘business-as-usual’ event as well as a spiritual exercise in listening to what God would have for you and your potential church. You would do well to spend much time in prayer and reflection regarding the things you believe about the Church, its role and mission, its leadership, its practice and influence, and how you fit. The clearer you can articulate and communicate these things to prospective churches the better it will go for both you and them. It has been an honor to serve with you these last few years and I will miss each one of you deeply. We pray for you regularly and are looking forward to many more years of ministry together in churches and ministry settings across BC, Canada, and the world. If there is anything that I or any of the team here at CLCC can do to help you along your ministry journey, we’ll gladly step up to bat. We love you guys.

Grace and Peace,