[special]Note: This is an excerpt from Benjamin Vrbicek’s book, Don’t Just Send a Resume: How to Find the Right Job in a Local Church. Used with permission.[/special]
One of the best things you can do in the job-search process is ask questions. I have created some of the questions below from scratch and others I’ve adapted. I’ve organized them by categories so they’re easier to use.
Before you read them, here are a few things to keep in mind. First, the questions are malleable. Some questions may not fit your context until you tweak them.
Second—and I want to stress this—the goal isn’t to ask every question. That would be painful for both church and candidate. The goal is to ask questions that seem appropriate for the stage of the process you’re in. Early on, you might ask questions like, “What are some hobbies among the staff?” or “What are the expectations for a pastor’s spouse?” Then, later in the process, you might ask about putting the compensation package into writing. If you switch the order, at best you could seem cold and insensitive. At worst, you might not make it to the next round where you could have asked more difficult questions.
Finally, as you look at the list, keep in mind certain questions must be addressed to certain people. Some questions are better for the search committee, some for other staff members, some for people in the congregation, and some for the elders. For example, in a meeting with the current staff, don’t ask if someone on staff needs to be terminated. However, if you’re interviewing for the role of senior pastor, it’s a question you might privately ask the elders near the end of the process.
131 Questions to Ask a Potential Church Employer
- Can you give me a brief history of the church?
- How long have you been planning to fill this position?
- What are the circumstances that created the need for this role?
- What is the sequence and timeline of the hiring process?
- When do you expect to call references?
- When do you hope to have someone in place?
- How many candidates are still in the running?
- As I read the job description, I’m wondering how much time you expect to be allotted to the various items listed. Could you help me understand what a typical week might look like?
- If I am called to your church, what sort of things would make you say, “Wow, this is a great fit” after a year or so?
- What, if anything, made my resume/application stand out? Why do you think I will help this church?
- In what ways, if at all, do you think my age might affect my reception both in the church and among the leadership?
- May I have an unofficial visit to your church to see what things are like before the official interview/candidating weekend?
- Your website states _______. What does that mean?
- How does a person move from random attender at your church, to member, and then to leader?
- If exciting things were happening at your church (and they likely are), what would they be?
- What are some of the hobbies of the other staff? What do you do for fun?
- Do you regularly take staff and/or elder retreats? What are they like?
- May I have a copy of a recent newsletter? Church bulletin? Financial statement? Congregational meeting minutes?
- Does your church have a policy manual? May I have a copy?
- Can you please describe your worship style?
- How would you evaluate a successful worship service?
- What qualities did you appreciate about the person who had this role previously?
- In which ways are you similar to other churches in your community? In which ways are you different?
- Generally speaking, do you think people in the community have a positive or negative view of your church?
- Which ministries in your church seem to be most successful? Why?
- When did the most recent round of new members join?
- How many members do you have vs. how many people attend regularly each week?
- When was the last time the membership rolls were pruned of people who no longer attend?
- What do visitors often comment on?
- Who is responsible for putting together the order of service?
- Who is responsible for the website?
- Does your church have expectations for pastors regarding social media?
- This is hard to predict, but approximately how many weddings and funerals might the pastor be expected to officiate in the next year?
- What missionaries and parachurch organizations does your church support?
Theology and Practice
- What is the church government structure?
- Does the church have a statement of faith? How was it created?
- Is your statement of faith ever re-worked? If so, what is the process?
- Does your church have an official position on the end times? God’s sovereignty and human responsibility? The charismatic spiritual gifts? The age of the earth? Alcohol? Divorce and remarriage?
- What is the church’s view of male and female roles?
- How is baptism practiced at your church (frequency and format, who leads, who can participate)?
- How is communion practiced at your church (frequency and format, who leads, who can participate)?
- Are you open to making changes to how baptism and communion are practiced?
- Let’s say I move here, and my neighbor wants to check out our church. He is gay. What will his experience be like? Or what would you hope it to be?
- Does your church have a favorite Bible translation? Do you prefer one to preach from?
- How do you prefer to preach/teach the Bible: expositionally, topically, book studies, another method?
- If a pastor at your church was asked to officiate a wedding, can you see him ever saying no? What circumstances might bring that about?
- What doctrines excite the leaders of your church? What doctrines do you prefer to avoid?
- How would you counsel a person who accepts Christ but remains in a sinful lifestyle?
- Are there particular authors and pastors you admire? Who?
- What theological trends, broadly speaking, create concern among your church and leaders?
- How much should a pastor address political issues?
- Does your church have a history of endorsing candidates and political parties?
- How many Sundays would you expect me to preach each year? [Worship and youth pastors can ask something different but related.]
- Can you provide me a list of songs your church has sung in the last month? What are some of your church’s favorites?
- If someone were to show up to the church office asking for gas money to get home (or to make some other benevolence request), how is this request processed?
- Have all your teachers read and agreed to teach in concert with your doctrinal statement?
Church Health and Planning
- May I please have a copy of the annual budget and some information on monthly giving from the last year?
- During this recent change of pastors, has a self-study been done by the church, either formally or informally? If so, may I please see the results?
- Did the leadership of the church conduct an exit interview with the previous staff member who did this job? If so, may I see notes from the interview?
- Are internal candidates being considered for this role? If so, who?
- Do you have a small-group ministry? If so, how many people are currently in small groups? What percentage of the church is this?
- If it were decided more people could be reached for Christ by changing the name of the church, would you be open to that?
- Do you own your church building/property?
- Is there adequate funding in the church budget for your leaders and staff to accomplish the tasks placed before them?
- Where do you see the Spirit of God working in your church?
- Are there regular times of prayer among the staff?
- What mechanisms are in place to help the staff avoid burnout?
- What are the demographics of your church?
- How reflective are your church demographics of the local community?
- If your church continued to grow for the next five years, what changes do you anticipate?
- Regarding ministry style, can you give an illustration of another church you are trying to model your church after?
- What ways do you see teamwork taking place among the staff?
- In which areas would you say your church is understaffed?
- How long have the other employees worked here?
- Besides calling a pastor, what other items are top priorities in the next year?
- Has the interim period been healing? In what ways?
- Could you tell me about other healthy churches nearby? Describe your relationship with them.
Facilities and Property
- Are the church facilities in good shape? Is there any work to the building that needs to be done right away?
- What is the seating capacity of the sanctuary?
- Is there adequate office space? Classroom space?
- What is (or would be) a limiting factor in church growth (e.g., parking, office space, sanctuary size, children’s classrooms)?
- What is the community like around your church (e.g., commercial, industrial, residential, rural, urban)?
- Do many people from the surrounding community attend your church?
- How far does the typical churchgoer have to drive to get to your church?
- Have there been any construction projects (upkeep or expansion) that have been put on hold? If so, why? Are there plans or hopes to do this work in the future?
- Does the church owe money on the property? If so, how much? What convictions does the church have about debt?
Leadership, Structure, and Conflict
- In what areas was the previous pastor specifically gifted? What areas were more of a challenge?
- What has been the most controversial thing in your church during the last year?
- What issues have regularly caused friction in this church? Among staff? Among the elder board?
- Do you have weekly staff meetings? If so, what do they look like?
- Do accurate job descriptions exist for each staff member? May I see them?
- What is your church polity? Are there elders, deacons, ministry leaders, etc.? How do they relate to each other?
- From the perspective of authority and structure, what is the relationship of a staff pastor to the elder board and congregation?
- Does your church have an organizational chart? If so, may I see it? Could you explain the relationships to me?
- Is this church affiliated with a larger movement or denomination? If not, what are some means and methods to cultivate healthy, structural accountability?
- To what extent are the non-staff elders involved in the planning of sermons and sermon series?
- Can you recount a time of church conflict that resulted in a form of discipline? Which current leaders in your church, staff or non-staff, are considered indispensable? Why?
- Have you had to let someone go in the last ten years? If so, what were the circumstances?
- Have any former staff members left ministry altogether?
- What happened to the previous pastor or staff person in this role? What were the circumstances for their departure? May I contact them? What are they doing now?
- If you could go back and change how a situation was handled in the last year, what would it be and why? What would you do differently?
- Are there issues among the current staff that will need to be addressed once the new hire arrives? Are there even staff members who may need to be terminated by the new hire?
- How is the annual budget prepared and approved?
- Who is responsible for keeping spending in line with the budget?
- Do you have any divorced persons in leadership? Can you tell me more about the church’s view on this?
- What are the expectations for my spouse?
- What roles do the spouses of other staff at the church play?
- What are the expectations for my children?
- How many nights a week do you expect the person you hire to have work commitments outside the home?
- If my children were to attend a youth group at a neighboring church, would that be a problem?
- If I had a Christmas party (with neighbors, friends, and church people) and alcohol was served, would that be an issue?
- Among families with children, is there a mode of education that is most common (public school, homeschool, private school, Christian school)?
- Are there any expectations regarding education of our children?
- Is there a certain proximity to the church, spoken or unspoken, in which the pastor should live?
Money and Job-Performance Reviews
- On which days of the week is the new employee expected to be in the office?
- Is there an openness to doing some work remotely?
- Do you conduct performance reviews at the end of each year? If so, what do they look like? And who does them?
- Can you please write up the salary package, including things like health, life, and disability insurance; health savings account; continuing education and conference money; funds for ministry tools such as books and computer software; cell phone; moving expenses; paid holidays; vacation; etc.? (For full list see chapter 9, section “Components of a Salary Package.”)
- Is there a church parsonage? If the candidate desired not to use it, would compensation be adjusted accordingly?
- If in three years I felt called to pursue an advanced degree (e.g., D.Min.), how would that be received? What support, if any, could I expect from the church?
- Does your church have a sabbatical policy? If so, what is it? If not, would you be open to creating one?
- Does the congregation have a policy of reviewing the pastor’s salary package each year?
- How will success be measured, formally and informally? By whom? How often?
- If I must move to take this position, what, if any, moving costs are covered?
- What are the time expectations in the areas of preaching/teaching, counseling, visitation, and office hours?
- Is there any allowance for a pastor to preach/teach off site, whether at another church, conference, seminary, or elsewhere?
- If a pastor preaches off site, what support do you offer (e.g., help with travel expenses, time to work on messages)?
- How accessible are pastoral salaries to the congregation? Are salaries printed in weekly, monthly, or yearly budgets, or are they only made available to a select group of leaders? Would your church be open to discussing changes to this policy?
- If you are not pursuing employment with a church but another Christian organization, consider asking this: Will this employee qualify for the IRS housing allowance available to ministers? (The answer will depend on a number of factors, including the specifics of the organization and the employee’s role within it.)
- Is there a severance policy? If so, what is it?
- Do you have a policy or opinion on who owns the material produced by pastors (sermons, curriculum, etc.) while employed with you? Would you be open to a discussion about it?
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 Some of these questions have been adapted from Umidi, Confirming the Pastoral Call, 127.
 Asking this question about church debt and evaluating the answer are two different things. If you do not have the education and ability to discern what is an acceptable and unacceptable amount of debt (and savings), consult with someone who can help you get clarity about financial matters. As a general rule, one author notes that unhealthy church debt occurs when total church debt exceeds three times the annual budget (Page, Looking for a New Pastor, 27).
 See Rainer, The Minister’s Salary, 96–99.