Interview Dynamics – Part 1
By Robert L. Withers
Few people in the business world experience the rigor and complexity of a pastor-search interview process. Consider the following:
1. A search committee may consist of between three and twelve people. While some corporate processes may require multiple interviews, few will require an interview in which the job candidate is interviewed by as many as four people at the same time, let alone ten or twelve people.
2. In the business world spouses are seldom interviewed by prospective employers, in the pastoral-search process spousal participation is vital.
3. In the business world it is unusual for a single interview to last more than two hours; it is not unusual for a pastor candidate to be interviewed over the course of an entire day or weekend.
4. While a pastoral candidate’s acceptance of a “call” often means a geographical move, moving is not as common in business employment. It is not unusual for a business person to spend his entire career in the same city or region; it is not unusual for a pastor to make two or three significant regional moves during the course of his ministry.
Planning by both candidate and search committee can facilitate a fruitful interview process. Below are some areas of consideration:
The Interview Venue
It is usually better to hold the initial interview at the church rather than in someone’s home. The church is preferable because it is a more professional setting and the candidate has the opportunity to tour the facility. Additional meetings can be held in a home in order to provide both a change of venue and a lighter atmosphere.
The search committee should avoid conducting the initial interview over a meal, whether in a restaurant or in a home. People are not as focused when they are eating and it is far too informal an atmosphere for the weighty matters that arise in an initial interview. While it is fine to have a meal surrounding an extended interview and while general discussion over a meal is beneficial, focused discussion should be held in a place free from the distractions of a restaurant or even a meal in a home. Mealtimes are best utilized for getting to know people. Furthermore, if there are a number of members on the search committee it may be difficult for members on one end of a table to hear what the candidate is saying on the other end above requests to “please pass me the salt.”
Many formal interview questions lend themselves to reflective responses, responses preceded by a pause; pauses do not make for good dinner conversation. Mealtimes are a great opportunity for the candidate to ask pastoral questions about search committee members and their families, about the community, and of course about the church. It is also a great opportunity for the search committee to get to know the candidate in a social setting and to observe his interactions.
Take a Break
Interviews can be draining. There is often a full agenda, the committee has questions, the candidate has questions, discussions expand on subjects, there may be tension from time to time between committee members, and people are apt to get tired. If discussion gets bogged down on a particular issue, the committee chairperson should not hesitate to suggest moving on to something else and perhaps returning to the subject at hand later – should time permit. If you are the candidate or chairperson and you sense fatigue setting in suggest a short break, show consideration for the group, be a leader.
If you are the candidate, use the Bible during your discussions with the search committee. While, in the interest of fluid discussion, you may not want to read chapter and verse on each issue, you can refer to Scriptural paradigms and principles throughout the conversation. Demonstrate your pastoral and Biblical skills throughout the process.
The search committee will want to note the candidate’s use of the Bible in their meetings with him. Does the candidate easily refer to Scriptural principles and paradigms? Is he able to explain why he is applying them to topics of discussion? Do you sense that Christ and the Bible are the candidate’s center of gravity and magnetic north?
When Salary and Benefits are Discussed
The candidate should be prepared to talk about salary and benefits. While salary details are seldom discussed in-depth during the first extended interview, the candidate should nevertheless be thoroughly prepared. The committee may want to try to get a preliminary feel for a candidate’s salary requirements, or it may want to get right to the details. In either case, the candidate should go slowly.
The interview process typically covers a lot of ground and if, after a few hours, the committee wants to discuss salary the candidate and committee may both be tired. Since folks will be discussing what is often a tension-laden issue when they are tired, the possibility for misunderstanding is increased. Once again, if candidate or chairperson sense people need a break, suggest one.
If the candidate is presented with a salary package and he needs time to consider it he should request time to do so – the search committee will not only understand, they will expect the candidate to take time to process something so important. If the candidate is married it is vital that candidate and spouse have time together to carefully consider any offer.
The Issues You Don’t Want To Discuss
If there are tough issues that need to be addressed, the interview is the time to discuss them. Major unresolved issues that carry over into the issuance and acceptance of a pastoral call are a setup for future conflict, tension and heartbreak. If you are concerned about putting an issue on the table, that's a sure sign it needs to be addressed. If you leave the interview thinking, "I should have really pursued that subject," or, "I should have brought up that subject but I was afraid of their response," then you probably need to follow-up on the matter.
Should a spouse participate in an interview? As a rule, yes. An exception might be a preliminary interview that conflicts with a spouse’s work schedule, in that case, with the understanding that the spouse will participate in any further meetings, it might be all right for him or her not to attend, though it certainly isn’t the best choice. If an out-of-town trip is required for the interview, due to travel considerations it is often even more important that the spouse attend the interview to form a preliminary sense of the church.
One of the issues that the candidate will want to discuss are the church’s expectations of his or her spouse. It is just as important that the church be a good fit for the spouse as it is for the church to be a good fit for the candidate. Candidate and spouse will need to gently but firmly and clearly communicate what the spouse’s church involvement will be. It is reasonable for the spouse to indicate that she/he will wait until the move is made and then get a feel for where she/he best fits in prior to making a commitment to specific areas of involvement.
A spouse is an integral part of pastoral ministry. From the church’s point-of-view the spouse represents both the pastor and the church, regardless of the level of her or his “official” participation in church activities.
From the ministerial perspective, there can be little effective pastoral ministry without the support of the husband or wife. This support need not take the form of any official activities but it is vital that it is present in the marriage. When spousal support is lacking the undercurrents are likely to be felt both in the marriage and in the church.
Because pastoral ministry requires the pastor to be broken bread and poured out wine, because it is sacrificial in nature, the spouse invariably finds herself participating in many of the experiences of her husband, if only as a trusted companion and support. Therefore, fruitful pastoral ministry is always a “we” proposition when the pastor is married.
Practice the Basics
For the candidate, one of the best means of preparation for a group interview is a review of the basic principles of small group dynamics and leadership. Prepare to assume different roles during the interaction: facilitator in which you draw others out, teacher in which you sensitively share Biblical insights, priest in which you lead in prayer, and pastor in which you gently direct discussion down a defined path.
Careful planning helps us avoid the quandary expressed by baseball great Yogi Berra: “You got to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there.”
How much better to be good stewards of the pastor – church interview process!
Copyright © 2009 Robert L. Withers, all rights reserved