The following is geared for minsters in transition and for churches seeking pastors and staff members.
By: Robert L. Withers
Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22 (NIV)
The plans of the diligent lead to profit
as surely as haste leads to poverty. Proverbs 21:5 (NIV)
There is an old adage that those who fail to plan, plan to fail. Just as competent preachers spend hours in sermon preparation, and just as teachers spend hours in lesson planning, so candidates and search committees will find that prayerful and thoughtful preparation is a key to fruitful discussion and decision making.
Candidate Preparation and Interview Dynamics
Normally by the time you attend the group interview you will have had preliminary conversations with the search committee liaison in which a number of questions will have been answered and conclusions drawn about the church. Your interaction with the liaison and your evaluation of the church profile will enable you to formulate questions for the entire search committee.
Just because you’ve had certain questions answered by the liaison in previous conversations, or just because you’ve had a question answered on the church profile, does not mean that you shouldn’t probe the issue in the interview. Profiles can be inaccurate and often the liaison is only giving his opinion on a subject rather than an objective overview of the church. Therefore, if a matter is important to you verify it in the interview.
Prioritize your questions in case you are pressed for time and organize them into logical groupings such as:
Missions and evangelism
Financial position of the church
Past and current conflict in the church
Strengths and weaknesses of the church
Immediate needs of the church
Request as much information as possible prior to your first interview, thus better preparing you for your group interaction. Included in your information request could be the following:
Constitution and by-laws
Statement of faith
The most recent financial statement
A history of the church
The past twelve months' newsletters
If the church is affiliated with a denomination to which you do not belong, check the denomination's web site for additional information, including governing documents.
The Candidate’s Vision of Congregational Life
You should have an opinion and a vision for each facet of congregational life and be able to clearly articulate it. Some of these points may be "housekeeping" in nature, such as requiring criminal background checks for youth workers, Sunday school teachers receiving training or frequency of leadership meetings. Others may be strategic in nature; such as missions, evangelism or small group development. Examples of how these subjects might be approached are:
Candidate: "Do Sunday School teachers, nursery workers and youth leaders receive background checks?"
Committee: "No they don't. We've never even thought of it."
Candidate: "This is probably something that needs to be considered. I know that it can be hard to implement a new policy like this, especially when you've known everyone for quite a while, or maybe even all their lives. However, if we're going to grow then we will have new folks coming and hopefully new folks serving our children in various ways and it's better to begin a policy like this now so that we can have it in place as we grow. We need to protect our children and families in every way possible. It is sad, but we do live in a fallen world.
"Also, the leadership has a duty to do all that a reasonable person would do to screen church workers and protect the congregation. If the leadership fails to do what a reasonable person would do it may open the church up to liability and the members of the leadership to personal liability.
"So, I think background checks are probably something we should consider. What do you think?"
Candidate: "Can you please tell me about the missions program?"
Committee: "Well, we really haven't done much lately. When Mary Franklin was in charge of missions she kept in touch with a couple of missionary families that we supported and gave us updates a few times a year. Mary also went to denominational missions’ meetings and had us do fundraisers for special projects. However, since she moved three years ago no one has taken her place."
Candidate: "What percentage of the budget goes to missions?"
Committee: "I don't know, I guess we'd have to look at that."
Candidate: "That's okay. Let's do a quick calculation. Let's see, I think that's two percent, does that look right?
"The church of Jesus Christ exists for three reasons: to worship God, to build each other up in Christ, and to share the Gospel with others. Those are like three legs of a stool and when any leg is shorter than the other the stool will be out of balance.
"Focusing on others is a key element of both spiritual and numerical growth; it is also what God has called us to do. When we forget about ourselves and focus on Christ and others we place ourselves in a position where some wonderful things can happen.
"I'd really like to see us develop a renewed sense of missions and outreach. How do each of your think and feel about that?"
In the above interchanges the candidate is obtaining information, processing the information, and comparing the information received with legal and moral responsibilities in the first instance, and mission responsibilities in the second instance. Then the candidate is exhibiting leadership by pointing out a legal and moral concern in the first instance and a missions concern in the second instance, in both instances providing explanation and asking for input. Note that the candidate is using the pronoun "we" when discussing the church, he is speaking as a pastor and identifying with the people.
Vision casting, as for a missions program, begins in the Candidate Profile and carries through via phone conversations, interviews and candidate preaching. Set the visionary stage early and reset it often.
It is nearly always better to overdress than to dress down. Many churches whose members attend worship in casual attire nevertheless expect their ministers to wear suits or robes.
Remember that God has called you to vocational ministry, therefore do not approach the interview as someone looking for a job. If you are just looking for a job then do something else in life. Do not approach the interview primarily as a candidate but rather as a pastor. You are there to interview the committee just as they are there to interview you. Exhibit your pastoral leadership skills in the interview.
Allow the committee chair to take the lead, while ensuring that everyone introduces themselves and that there is opening prayer. By allowing the committee to put the ball in play by asking you questions before you ask them questions, you are deferring to them while also gaining a sense of committee members and their concerns. This in turn enables you to formulate additional questions of your own.
Write down the names of each participant as they introduce themselves. Bring a copy of the church profile with you, your candidate profile and your statement of faith. Bring your Bible. Come prepared.
Speak clearly; don't mumble. Make eye contact with all participants throughout the meeting. If you didn't understand a question or comment, politely ask that it be repeated or restated in another way to help you better understand.
One of your goals in a group interview is to get a feel for each participant. If you are in a situation where only one or two committee members do the talking you will want to ensure that you draw others into the discussion. You can do this by calling people by name and asking their opinions. You may also do it at some point towards the end of the interview by requesting concluding questions or concerns from everyone. You can also ask questions such as, “I’d like to know what each of you consider the top three priorities for Antioch Church in the coming year.”
Drawing everyone into the interview will give you a sense of whether there is unity on the committee and whether there are major concerns about you or about the direction of the church. It will also give you insight into group dynamics, the more participation from the members the more you’ll be able to observe.
For the Search Committee:
You about to meet the person who may become your church’s new pastor; this may be the person who rejoices with you in the birth of a child, and consoles you at the death of a spouse. This may be the person who you telephone at 3:00 A.M. to meet you at the hospital because there has been an accident, and the one who performs your daughter’s wedding. This man or woman may be the public face of your church, the person people associate with your church when they see him or her at little league games, high school dramas, or town council meetings. Based on your recommendation the members of your congregation will open the doors of their lives to the new pastor – you have a weighty and a sacred responsibility.
Prioritize questions and areas of discussion. What are the most important areas of pastoral ministry in your church? What specifics in those areas are important to you? If a member of your committee is involved in a particular area of church life, for example Christian education, you might consider having that person take the lead in that segment of the discussion.
The candidate may be a bit nervous at first but then should warm up; allow time for this to occur. This is not only an important season in the candidate’s life, but he is meeting a number of new people at the same time. On the other hand, the more pastoral experience the candidate has the greater your expectation should be in terms of his smooth engagement with your committee – after all, this is what pastors do, they engage people.
Have copies of the candidate profile and the church profile for every committee member.
Have practical application questions for the candidate. For example:
What does the candidate’s devotional life look like?
How does the candidate prepare her sermons?
How does the candidate develop leadership within the congregation?
How does the candidate handle conflict?
How does the candidate personally share his faith with those who don’t know Christ?
Does the candidate exhibit leadership in the meeting by facilitating conversation, asking probing questions, suggesting prayer, incorporating the Bible, identifying teaching points to stimulate thinking, and acknowledging all the participants? A passive candidate will likely be a passive pastor; an arrogant candidate will be an arrogant pastor; a candidate who exhibits servant-leadership in humble confidence, will likely continue to display that character as your pastor.
Prayerful and Thoughtful Preparation
Thorough preparation on the part of both candidate and search committee will result in fruitful time spent together by providing a plan to guide discussion, stimulate thinking, and facilitate an awareness of Christ in the midst of His people.
Commit to the LORD whatever you do,
and your plans will succeed. Proverbs 16:3 (NIV)
May he [the LORD] give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed. Psalm 20:4 (NIV)
Copyright © 2009 Robert L. Withers, all rights reserved