Church hiring committees have relied on the same pastor interview process for years. But they’re not always effective.
Asking the wrong interview questions, or asking them the wrong way, is a serious problem because it leads to poor hires and high turnover.
You need to ask interview questions that get to the heart of who a person is, what they are looking for in their next ministry opportunity, and whether they’re a good fit for your church.
Whether you’re hiring a senior pastor, worship pastor, or youth pastor, this will apply to you. So let’s discuss five reasons why your pastor interview questions aren’t working and suggest some alternatives!
Table of contents
- 5 Mistakes You’re Making With Pastor Interview Questions
- 1. Pastor interview questions that only emphasize the highlight reel
- 2. Interview questions that aren’t tailored to your specific church
- 3. Interrogations that don’t allow for an honest conversation
- 4. Pastor interview questions that don’t balance spiritual and practical
- 5. Questions that focus too much on the past and neglect the present and future
- Summing it Up
5 Mistakes You’re Making With Pastor Interview Questions
According to the landmark Leadership IQ “Hiring for Attitude” study, 46% of new employees fail within 18 months, and only 19% achieve unequivocal success.
Furthermore, they rarely fail because they lack technical skills. Instead, the main reason for failed hires is poor interpersonal skills, and issues with attitudes drive 89% of hiring failures.
So how do you ask pastor interview questions that uncover character? First, let’s address these five big mistakes we see with most pastor interview questions.
1. Pastor interview questions that only emphasize the highlight reel
Most interviews are similar to a person’s social media feed: they only showcase the big moments, which are carefully filtered. As a result, what you see on social media and what you hear about in an interview is rarely an accurate picture of the day-to-day realities of working with that person.
For example, even when someone shares a “raw and authentic” moment on social media, it’s still been scripted, edited, and curated for public consumption.
The same is true of interviews. Candidates know they’ll be asked about their biggest failure or the time when they faced the most significant challenge. So they carefully prepare the “right” answer before entering the interview room.
To get around this, ask scenario-based questions.
For example, instead of, “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with conflict with a co-worker?”
You can ask: “What would you do if you’ve been on staff for seven months and realize that one of your team members is engaged in [specific behavior] that was against the church’s policy?”
Or, “What would you do if you preached part one of a four-part message series and nobody responds well to it?”
2. Interview questions that aren’t tailored to your specific church
Another big mistake is only using generic interview questions you find in a book or internet search. Every church is different!
Before you interview your pastoral candidate, your team must define your church culture and determine what it takes to be successful on your team.
Questions to ask internally before you finalize your pastor interview questions include things like:
- Why do people end up being a poor fit for our church culture?
- Why do people quit/get let go?
- What traits and attitudes do our successful team members have in common (that transcend their unique personalities)?
- What is unique about our congregation/staff team?
Armed with this info, you can craft the best pastor interview questions to see if candidates possess the character qualities and attitudes needed for a successful long-term fit.
3. Interrogations that don’t allow for an honest conversation
The interview process should be a conversation, not an interrogation. A conversation is more true to life than the typical interview format and artificial environment.
You can learn more about a person by observing them in real-life scenarios and in personal interactions. That’s why it’s often more helpful to ask questions encouraging candidates to share stories and experiences rather than information.
Also, when you can spend time with the candidate outside the interview room and ask your pastor interview questions on the fly or in the context of a conversation, you’re more likely to get honest and helpful responses.
When possible, have multiple people spend time with the candidate in real-life settings such as sharing a meal, attending church service, and sitting in on a staff meeting. Ask your interview questions along the way, and see how they respond.
Keep in mind that this can make for a long interview process. In many cases, the interviewee has to take off from other work, so be sure to show you’re appreciation for your pastoral candidate.
4. Pastor interview questions that don’t balance spiritual and practical
Pastor interview questions need to cover their spiritual background, health, and depth, as well as their practical leadership, communication, and people skills. Being a pastor is a blend of both.
You must ensure that they have a solid understanding of the Bible and are aligned with your theology.
Don’t shy away from tough and controversial questions. Although some issues may not be primary doctrine, they can still cause controversy down the road. Better to address them now!
The best pastor interview questions assess the candidate’s spiritual and practical sides. They also look at the health and integrity of the individual.
Don’t shy away from asking questions on:
- Tough and controversial
- Theological nuances
- The candidate’s personal health and well-being practices
5. Questions that focus too much on the past and neglect the present and future
So many interview questions start with, “tell me about a time when you…” In other words, they’re focused on the past, which may or may not be an accurate picture of how the person operates today and going forward.
While past experiences can reveal patterns in someone’s behavior, you need to focus on how they process things now and where they see themselves in the future – because that’s where you’re going with them!
For example, questions like:
- What do you think is the most important thing for our church to be doing right now?
- What do you think our church’s three biggest challenges/weaknesses are currently?
- How would you go about achieving [fill in the blank] goal for the church?
It also allows you to see if their vision for the future aligns with yours. Are they thinking long-term and future possibilities? Are you both aiming to reach the same destination?
Summing it Up
So here are some tips for avoiding these five major mistakes and asking the right pastor interview questions instead:
- Ask hypothetical questions they haven’t scripted out ahead of time. Uncover their attitudes, values, and decision-making process.
- Create questions that focus on specific attributes of your unique church culture.
- Make the interview process a conversation and use practical, real-life environments to assess the candidate.
- Assess both the spiritual and practical attributes of the candidate, as well as their personal health and integrity. Ask hard questions!
- Don’t focus too much on the past; ask questions that apply to the present and future.
Also, be sure to check out our post on 30 Pastor Interview Questions to Truly Know Your Candidate.
What would you add to this list of pastor interview questions? Let us know in the comments below.