UPDATED 10.04.12: People have offered some great additional questions which I have added below in BOLD ITALICIZED TEAL.
Of course there is something to be said about challenging the very notion of being “the” pastor of any congregation, but there are many who find great meaning and a deep calling to serve in the capacity as Pastor. Some folks are paid and others are not, but what is pretty consistent is that some group of people often chooses him or her. In my Presbyterian Church (USA) tradition we call this the group a Pastor Nominating Committee, but they are also known as pulpit nominating committees, call committees, pastor search committees, etc.
I have served in two churches for about 17 years and have been through the interview process and handful of times during that span. Currently, after taking some time away, I am exploring the possibilities of re-entering congregational ministry which has lead me to begin thinking about what I might ask any potential interviewing body.
There was a good list of 29 questions put together way back in 1998 by Christianity Today, but there are also some good ones here, here and here. I find it interesting, but not surprising, that there is an assumption that a pastor a he, is married and comes with a wife. While that may indeed be the preponderance of situations in the larger church, it illustrates the fact that, should questions from the aforementioned lists be used, translation will need to be done for any particular context.
So . . . understanding that context should shape and form any questions that one might ask a search committee, as I head into my next round of interviews, here are 25 that are rising to the top for me. Please feel free to add or nuance some more in the comment section.
THEOLOGY AND FAITH
- What Biblical passage/s anchor this congregation?
- How does the congregation most effectively express itself as a particular Body of Christ, Reformed and/or Presbyterian?
- With what questions of faith has the congregation most recently grappled and which ones have been avoided: authority of scripture, afterlife, nature of Christ, etc.
- Talk about this congregation’s understanding and expression of [x] Evangelism, Stewardship, Justice, Salvation, Mission, etc.
- How would you characterize the presence of “theological diversity” of the congregation?
CONGREGATIONAL LIFE – Internal
- What has been the most imaginative thing that the church has done in the past year?
- How does this community talk about money?
- Are there any topics, issues, situations that have been treated, intentionally or unintentionally, as “off-limits” and if so, what are they and why do you think they have been avoided?
- What have been the congregation’s behavior patterns when dealing with conflict.
- What events, both difficulties and celebrations, over the past 10 years have been transformative and defining for the congregation?
- On a scale 1-10, with 10 being REALLY WELL, how does the church deal with change? What have been examples of change handled well and change handled poorly?
- What are the biggest critiques and affirmations you hear about your worship experience?
- Where in the church do you see the most life and energy and where has the church become a little stuck or calcified?
- What are the largest untapped ministry resources in the congregation: people, talents, perspectives, etc.
CONGREGATIONAL EXPRESSION – External
- If the church closed its doors tomorrow, would the community miss its presence and if so, how?
- In 5-10 years how do you want people in the community to describe this congregation?
- How would you describe the congregation’s connection to the community: local, global, denominational, etc. in service, support and/or presence?
- How would your neighbors describe the church and how does this church embody a unique expression of church in the community?
- Over the past 10 years how have most people found this church and if they have visited, why have they chosen to stay or not?
- How does this congregation understand “diversity” of all kinds: class, race, family structures, sexual orientation, etc?
- How have people who are exploring faith for the first time experienced this congregation?
- How does the congregation approach the use of technology and social media in the life of the church: communication, pastoral care, evangelism, administration and/or worship?
- What is a hope you have for your next pastor?
- How does this congregation care for and nurture its pastoral staff?
- What are your expectations, spoken and unspoken, about how your next pastor will balance church and family time and energy?
- Is there a strategic ministry plan in place and what will be role of the new pastor in its implementation, adjustment and/or evaluation?
- What do you see as the relationship between pastoral leadership and congregants in ministries of the church: planning, participation, leadership, etc.?
- What were some of the strengths and weaknesses of previous pastoral leadership and how did those attributes effect the congregation?
- Quickly prioritize, in percentage or hours, your pastor spend his/her time between these five things: worship and preaching preparation, church administration, internal congregational care, external congregational expression, study and education.
- With what church tasks and activities is there is agreement that the pastor should NOT be involved?
- Understanding that pastoral emergencies are a natural part of the life of any church, what are the expectations of the number of hours and generally structure of generic week.
- What are or have been the expectations of previous pastoral leadership’s family?
- What about my gifts, experience and perspectives have lead you to think that there may be a call between you and I?
Again, this is far from an exhaustive collection of questions, but these are ones that are at the front of my list in order to discern whether or not my particular gifts align with the needs of a particular congregation and if there is a call. For as Frederick Buechner says about call,
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
And of course, there are great lists out there for search committees to ask potential pastors. A quick search yielded interesting lists here, here and here. So if you are entering this season of discernment and have been called into this stage with a congregation or faith community, know that there are many going through the same things and prayers lifted for one, can be seen as prayers lifted up for us all.