What Questions To Ask Potential Pastors

I was asked by a friend of mine to put some questions together for her father’s church – which is just getting to the point of interviewing potential candidates. Below are the questions I submitted, along with my thoughts as to why they should ask them. What questions would you add to the list?

  1. Name four books you’ve read in the past year. If they can’t do this, wave good-bye. If they are only reading pop Christian writers, that’s not good either.
  2. Ask how far in advance they plan sermons. 3 months is acceptable, 6 months is better (I do a year, but I’m a freak). Any other answer means the pastor is likely only good at maintenance.
  3. Ask about hobbies, hobbies are good.
  4. Ask for them to summarize their beliefs. I know baptists “don’t do creeds” but I think that’s kinds dumb. At any rate, a clear sumary of basic Christian beliefs is what you’re looking for: Trinity, Incarnation, Jesus’ dual natures, purpose of the Church, etc. If they can’t do this, or can only say what they are against, you don’t want them.
  5. Ask about their friendships. Pastors who don’t have some deep friendships are burnouts waiting to happen.
  6. Ask to hear 2 regrets they have in their ministry experience, if they can’t, or if they are only regretful about what “they did/didn’t” do, you don’t want them.
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10 responses to “What Questions To Ask Potential Pastors

  1. While these things are very important, I think you missed what may be the most important thing: prayer. How much time does the candidate spend in prayer?

    To quote from a recent post by Father Stephen Freeman:

    ‘In a book by the mother of Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev (Pilgrimage to Dzhivari), the abbot of a monastery says to the main character (a woman who has largely found her way into Orthodoxy by an intellectual path): “You should read no more hours in a day than you pray.” …

    Books should never be disparaged (least of all by someone who tends to write as much as I do). However, by their very nature, books will not bring us into the Kingdom of God. Indeed, the intellectual life can often be a poor substitute, even a delusion, when it comes to the truth of our life in Christ.

    One hour of prayer, or one hour of Church, is worth far more than one hour of reading in the same way that one hour of walking is of more value than one hour of reading about the benefits of walking.”

  2. Yup, in retrospect you are absolutely right. Other Spiritual disciplines make an appearance, but not prayer.

    In additions to “time,” you’d probably want to ask what kinds of prayer they practice as well.

  3. Couple of comments:
    1. True, though I do want a pastor is knows what is out there that the laity might be reading, and can talk about it with firsthand knowledge.

    2. Totally disagree. There’s a lot of pastors out there who only plan a few weeks ahead of time. It’s all about style. Some people just don’t work well on an extended timetable, they need the pressure to produce decent material.

    3. Agree

    4. Yep, and bonus points if they can recite an ancient creed :)

    5. Totally.

    6. I’d phrase this as “Talk about a time when you tried something new and failed, and how you dealt with that.”

    I’d also agree with Matt about the prayer piece. However, I know most protestant pastors are quite busy with work/home life that often their own spirituality suffers.

  4. Oh, I like that addition to point one. You could almost expand it to pop-culture in general too.

    You and I disagree on point two, and yet we are still friends. Oh my gosh the scandal!

    On four, “Ding!”

    On six, you phrase it better than I did.

    And I’m not sure that just having a family really qualifies as a reason for not spending time in prayer. There’s a cultural acceptance of busy-ness in general that keeps people from being deep. Protestants in general, and Evangelicals in particular, don’t really have the theological defenses necessary to act counter-culturally there, married or not.

  5. Regarding family life and prayer, in Orthodoxy priests are normally married, so they have family lives, etc. to deal with, too.

    Also, I agree with Jamison on #2.

  6. Here’s an interesting thought regarding #2. In a liturgical setting the readings are set by the Church, not the pastor. In a low-church setting, the pastor picks them out. So, if they aren’t working ahead – then they’re likely going to get swamped. This happened to me early on in my pastoral journey. If a week came up where there were some meetings, or a conference, or several people went into the hospital I would stress out completely because I felt like I was under the gun to get my sermon finished. Right or wrong, in a low church setting if the sermon isn’t “on” then it doesn’t matter what else the pastor did that week – he/she isn’t doing their job.

    I watch my friends who don’t plan in advance, and they are always stressed out about how to stay on top of things. My friends who intentionally use a lexicon, or who mix both lexicons and planned ahead maps – are all doing better work at helping their congregations to deepen in the faith.

    So, I like #2 – it doesn’t have to be to the extent that I take it, but it’s certainly better than what happens in a lot of Baptist churches, which is that the pastor picks on Friday what is going to be preached on Sunday.

  7. Once through the set of questions you have I would then move on to ask about whether or not they have a family (assuming you don’t already know), are married, etc. If not, how do they feel about being married/have they ever considered it, and how do they feel about/deal with kids.

    These aren’t as important as the questions you’ve posed and might not be necessary but at least for most church settings I’ve been in it’s nice to know before hand that the incoming pastor hates/loves kids. This way things like children’s ministries won’t be thrown at them.

    For some reason people seem to assume (wrongly) that pastor and youth pastor are the same thing with a different title.

  8. Well, even if they have a family, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be handling the children’s ministries.

    I might expand your point to ask something like, “What types of ministry tasks to you feel particularly gifted/called to do?”

  9. Before considering the first such question, I would deeply emphasize the need for heavy spiritual discipline on the part of those tasked to be finding the next pastor. This is both personally and individually, and as a group. And there needs to be a commitment to patiently follow the process through, no matter how long it takes. This is the most important advice I could give. It’s not so much about good questions leading to discernment. It’s about closeness to God leading to discernment.

    I’d ask questions trying to get at how they view ministry, and avoid anyone who sees it as a job/career and anyone who sees themselves as a “professional” or any such.

  10. Pingback: 25 Questions to Ask a Pastor Search Committee

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