Are you asking the right pastor interview questions? If your interview process is less than solid and you end up with a poor fit for your church, it will create a mess down the road.
Determining whether a pastoral candidate has the necessary qualifications and experience is only the baseline.
Your church also needs to find the ideal match when it comes to personality, theological stance, and fit with your unique church culture. That sounds like a tall order, but a quality interview process will help you sort through candidates and make the right choice.
In this blog post, we’ll cover keys to generating successful interview questions that get to the root of things. Then, we’ll walk through a list of 30 pastor interview questions that will help you find the perfect candidate for your church!
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Table of contents
- What Are the Pastor’s Role and Responsibilities?
- Why Do Pastors Leave Their Jobs?
- 30 Pastor Interview Questions
- Steps to the Pastor Interview Process
- Red Flags to Look for in Responses to Pastor Interview Questions
- In Summary
What Are the Pastor’s Role and Responsibilities?
According to Lifeway’s research on why pastors leave their positions, “48 percent of the former pastors say the search team didn’t accurately describe the church before their arrival.”
Yikes! That means that before you start interviewing, you need to ensure you’re being upfront about your church’s culture and current condition, and give a realistic picture of the pastor’s role and responsibilities. This starts with an accurate job description.
A church pastor is primarily a leader, shepherd, and preacher. The size and leadership structure of your church will determine exactly how these roles function. In larger churches, the pastor may be primarily responsible for weekend preaching and take a high-level, CEO-style leadership approach to the organization.
In smaller churches, the pastor may be more hands-on when it comes to administration and leading staff and volunteers. The pastor may be the one primarily responsible for pastoral care duties such as weddings, funerals, hospital visits, and counseling.
Before you even start the interview process, clarify the responsibilities so you know what pastor interview questions to ask. Then, you can use specific questions to highlight their background, experience, and personal approach.
Here are some of the general responsibility categories to think about as you begin formulating questions.
If your church has a denominational affiliation, then the theological stance should be pretty clear for whoever is applying. Your denomination may even have a specific training and ordination process.
But for all churches and especially non-denominational churches, you need to ensure your theological stance and viewpoints are aligned with the potential pastor.
To start, cover questions about the pastor’s education. Dig into their church background, training, and how they felt about the common theological stances and Bible teaching they encountered. Asking questions about their favorite books, resources, and preachers will also help you glean insight on their views.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about specific theological beliefs or viewpoints. These don’t have to be controversial, but they should get to the root of their thinking process and approach. Also, if your church holds strong views on secondary or tertiary theological issues (that may not be spelled out publically), you’ll want to ask the candidate about how they would approach these topics.
Alignment in core theological beliefs is one of the most important factors for a church and its pastor, otherwise, conflict is inevitable.
Preaching and Communication
Are your services liturgical, traditional, or contemporary? Does your congregation expect relevant topical preaching or expository bible study? Does your leadership team help set sermon series topics or does the pastor have autonomy and responsibility for crafting the message week-to-week?
These are important details to clarify in your pastor interview questions because the pastor’s preaching style is one of the biggest areas of differentiation in churches. You don’t want a candidate who is uncomfortable preaching in your style or who has a radically different expectation and preference than your congregation.
Leadership style is a blend of personality and management skills. Do you need a pastor who is capable of managing the details? Or, would you prefer a more big picture leader who has minimal interaction with the staff?
The last thing you want to do is bring in a micromanager when your staff is used to leading independently. Conversely, if the congregation is used to having direct contact and care from the pastor, you need to hire someone who’s extremely personable and prepared to be hands-on.
Finding a good leadership fit for your church requires defining what type of leader you’re looking for. The best pastor interview questions for discovering a person’s true leadership style are situational, requiring the candidate to tell you about a past scenario they faced.
These questions often take the form of: Can you tell me about a time when you _____?
At the end of the day, churches are about preaching God’s Word and caring for people. So what approach should your ideal pastor candidate take when it comes to shepherding people?
The pastor will set the overall tone for how people should be treated. This includes staff, volunteers, and members of the congregation. When it comes to pastor interview questions, ask about their views on church discipline, how to deal with conflict, and whether or not they have experience managing people.
Church administration also encompasses finances and operations. Will the pastor be involved in budgeting and decision-making? What is the church’s giving philosophy? How often does the pastor meet with the finance committee?
These questions will help you get a sense of the pastor’s level of involvement in the day-to-day operations of the church.
Why Do Pastors Leave Their Jobs?
Before we dive into the interview questions, let’s revisit the issue of pastor turnover. Although it’s a sweet image to picture one pastor leading a church for their entire ministry career, this is an increasingly unrealistic expectation.
Some churches intentionally change pastors on a regular rotation. Others are forced to demote or fire a pastor because of poor performance or moral failure.
In other cases, the pastor decides to quit. We’re probably all aware that burnout and mental health concerns are increasingly common and destructive for pastors.
According to the Lifeway study mentioned earlier, five of the top reasons why pastors leave their positions are:
- Change in calling 40%
- Conflict in a church 25%
- Burnout 19%
- Personal finances 12%
- Family issues 12%
(Respondents could select “all of the above”)
High turnover is not ideal in any situation, so the issues above should be a focus in interview questions, examples being:
- Can you tell us more about why you feel called to pastor here?
- How do you deal with conflict?
- How do keep yourself mentally and emotionally healthy?
- What are your salary expectations?
- How do you create work-life balance?
30 Pastor Interview Questions
Now that we’ve gone over some of the key areas to focus on during the interview process, let’s dive into a list of questions you can use to screen candidates.
Although this list was compiled with senior pastors in mind, you could also use these questions for screening youth pastors, departmental pastors, executive pastors, etc.
Remember, the goal is not to trick anyone or trip them up with “gotcha” questions. Instead, you want to get a sense of how the pastor thinks and responds to various scenarios. With that in mind, here are 30 pastor interview questions to help you find the perfect candidate:
- What made you want to become a pastor?
- What have been your favorite and least favorite experiences in ministry?
- How would you describe your personal relationship with Jesus Christ and how does it affect your daily life?
- How have your family, friends, and community shaped your faith journey?
- What are some of your favorite Bible passages?
- How do you study the Bible?
- Can you describe your preaching style?
- Can you share a sermon with us that you’re particularly proud of (and why)?
- What is your process for planning and preparing your sermons?
- Who are some of your theological influences?
- What is your view of church discipline?
- How do you deal with conflict?
- What is your vision for this church?
- What do you think the role of a pastor should be in the life of a congregation member? How do you see yourself fitting into that role?
- What are some of the unique gifts and talents that you bring to ministry?
- How do you see the church serving its community?
- What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the church today?
- How would you deal with a member of the congregation who was openly rebellious and disruptive during services?
- If a member of your staff came to you with a concern about another staff member, how would you handle it?
- What do you think is the most important thing a church can do to reach its community for Christ?
- How do you view the role of technology in church?
- What is your experience with finances and budgeting?
- How do you deal with difficult conversations, such as asking for tithes or confronting someone about a moral failing?
- Can you tell us about a time you had to lead people through a difficult change?
- How would one of your former staff members or lead volunteers describe your leadership style?
- How much vacation time do you think a pastor should take in a year?
- Tell us,how do you deal with and avoid burnout?
- Are there any red flags in your personal or professional life that we should be aware of?
- Why do you feel called to this church? Is there anything that would change that calling?
- What questions do you have for us?
Steps to the Pastor Interview Process
When looking to hire a new pastor, your church should have clear and consistent application and interview steps to ensure your process is fair. This may include:
- An online application requiring a cover letter and resume.
- An initial phone interview with a member of the hiring committee/department.
- A series of in-person interviews with the search committee, staff, and/or lay leaders.
- A sample sermon or live preaching demo.
- A “meet and greet” with key church members.
- A final interview with the church board or council.
- Phone calls to references and former employers/churches.
After each step of the process, take time as a hiring team to debrief and discuss your top candidates. This will help you move closer to your goal of finding the perfect pastor for your church.
The search for a new pastor can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. By taking the time to ask the right questions and involving key members of your church, you can find the perfect candidate for your congregation. Having a variety of perspectives in the interview process will help you get a more well-rounded view of each candidate.
Red Flags to Look for in Responses to Pastor Interview Questions
Do you know what red flags to look for in the interview process? Although there are general ideas about this, you should also make it personal. Consider what issues have been a source of conflict for your church and staff in the past so you can avoid them in future hires.
- Be wary of any candidate who seems evasive or unwilling to answer questions directly. It’s important to be able to trust your pastor. If they’re not being upfront from the start, that’s cause for concern.
- Pay attention to how the candidate interacts with other people. A good pastor should treat everyone with respect and kindness. If the candidate seems tense or combative, that could be a sign that they’re not well-suited for pastoral work.
- Make sure the candidate is actually interested in the position – in other words, this is a true calling to YOUR church, not just a job. If they seem disinterested or unenthusiastic, that’s a sign that they’re not fully committed to the role.
Finally, be sure to ask follow-up questions if anything raises red flags during the interview. It’s always better to take extra time and do your due diligence than end up with a poor fit.
While there are a few potential red flags to watch out for, the interview process is ultimately an opportunity to get to know the candidates and see if they’re a good fit for your church. By asking the right questions, you can get a sense of their character, values, and abilities. With a little effort, you can find the perfect pastor for your congregation.
What questions do you think are important to ask when interviewing a pastor candidate? Let us know in the comments below!