Getting ready for a pastoral interview is a unique process. It’s not about brushing up on some interview techniques or considering frequently asked questions. It’s about you and the pastoral search committee discovering together whether you’re a good fit for this church. You don’t want to prepare by trying to stack the deck in your favor. The truth is you can totally nail the actual interview and fail the process.
The churches you’re interviewing with are looking for the ideal candidate: someone to shepherd and care for their congregation. You’re on the hunt for a church home where you can serve happily for the next five years (at least).
As counterintuitive as it may seem, you don’t want to go into this kind of interview with the mindset that you need to secure this position no matter what—even if you really need a job.
So here are nine prepping tips for your first pastoral interview:
1. Be able to tell the church’s story
Do what you can to delve into the church’s history. Learn about how it started and why. Gather information about the important figures in the church’s history. Are there notable landmarks like a new building or the birthing of a particular ministry? Has there ever been a church split?
What about the pastor you’re replacing? Did he take another pastorate? Was he removed for impropriety? Everything you learn about the church’s story will help you better discern where they are now and what they’re looking for.
2. Get to know the congregation
As you research the church’s history, get to know what you can about the people that go to the church. What can you learn about them from the church’s website? How about the church’s social media accounts?
Spend some time looking at the church’s Facebook account or blog. Pay close attention to the comments.
What can you gather about the relationships in the church from the way they interact online? What glimpses do you get into their values and focus?
Many churches struggle with underwhelming or declining church participation. If you recognize this pattern or see low online engagement for the church, be prepared to lead the charge at helping to boost engagement when you get hired. Look critically at the demographics and do research on what you can do to help encourage engagement. A helpful resource you can use is the free ebook, The Definitive Guide To Successful Church Engagement. Download it today to better prepare for day one at your new position.
3. Get to know the surrounding community
Once you feel you have a good handle on the church’s history and people, start looking at the surrounding community. Is it a city or a suburb? What kind of character does it have? Blue collar? Tech-oriented? Young professionals?
What are other successful churches in the area doing? What needs in the community are not being served? What kind of local businesses does the city have? Charities? Ministries? Schools and universities?
Having a working understanding of the community where the church lives is a great way to know if it’s a fit for you, but it also helps you plan to serve the community with your new church.
4. Be open to ways you might not be a good fit
As you’re looking at their history and their social media accounts, pay attention to areas where you might not be a good fit. Does their statement of faith include theological stances you don’t share? Do you get any red flags as you look at their social media accounts? Do the postings and comments reveal a communal acceptance of opinions or views you don’t hold? That might be something to note.
In prepping for other job interviews, you’d be inclined to hide those ill-fitting areas or spin them into strengths. You don’t want to do that here. It’s really important for all involved that these areas are brought to light. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about areas where there might be incongruities.
A few potential trouble areas may or may not cost you the position, but it’s important for you and the committee to examine them together. (Who knows? You may get points for being willing to consider them.)
5. Have 20 ideas to build a stronger church
As you research the church and its surrounding community, start compiling a list of ideas for ministries, outreaches, and services. Think of suggestions for growing the church and increasing its visibility and influence. Why 20 ideas? Because they’re not going to all be winners. You want to come up with quite a few ideas and prioritize them from best to worst. Also, it doesn’t hurt for them to see that you’re a strong problem solver and able to generate your own ideas.
They will likely talk to you about pain points they’re experiencing as a congregation and it will be good to have thoughtful ideas for different kinds of questions and scenarios. You might end up sharing a couple of them, or you might end up not sharing any. But you’ll be thankful you have them ready.
6. Don’t give the impression you want to make sweeping changes
This is the other side of the last suggestion. While it’s always good to be prepared with suggestions, you want to be very careful not to give the impression that you intend to come in and start implementing a lot of changes.
They’ll likely be resistant to a newcomer who’s essentially communicating, “This church is all right, but it would be a lot better if it did things my way.” And you never know what situations in their history might make them nervous and more resistant to change.
If you give suggestions, make sure they’re delivered in a way that feels collaborative: “What if we tried this….” And not with a flavor that communicates, “You should be doing such-and-such.”
7. Pay attention to red flags during the interview process
It is incredibly important to remember that you’re interviewing this church, too. Pay attention to the way they talk about people and ministries. Take notice of the way they interact with each other.
You want to make mental notes about things like:
- Negative talk about other churches
- Attitudes about the last pastor and current staff
- Defensiveness about their church
- Hostility toward the community or community leaders
None of these things are necessarily deal breakers, but you do need to make note of them. If they leak out in a situation where you’re both on your best behavior, it might be indicative of some bigger issues beneath the surface.
8. Ask lots of questions
What are some instant deal breakers for you? What knowledge would help you make a decision about whether this is a good fit? If you’re married, ask your spouse what they really want to know about potential churches where you might serve.
Potential questions could include:
- What is your job description for a pastor?
- What characteristics does the ideal pastor have?
- What do you feel is your church’s target demographic?
- To whom would I report?
- What changes would you like to see?
- What would be expected of my spouse?
- If I was to join your congregation, what would a successful first year look like?
9. Learn what you can about their tech savviness
It’s good to gain an understanding of what kind of technology (if any) they’re using. If you can, take a tour of the facility. How old is their website? What kind of church presentation software do they use? Is their sound system pretty up to date? Do they have a church app? Do they use mobile giving?
It’s important to know what you’re working with before you jump in. If they’re more comfortable doing things in archaic ways, it’s going to be important to get them up to date. If you notice some glaring updates that need to occur, gently probe to find out why they’re still using these systems.
Becoming a Church Detective
Focusing on making sure that you’re the best fit for a prospective church is the best thing you can do to prepare for your interview. Trust God, trust the process, and be careful not to feel like you need to secure this job even if you’re not a good fit. If you end up serving in a church that doesn’t fit, it can be painful for everyone involved.
This doesn’t mean that there won’t be challenges in a church that matches your vision, theology, and personality. But the fulfillment that comes from working out your pastoral calling in an environment that suits you is immeasurable.
Finally, as you prepare for the interview, be sure to come with ideas for boosting church engagement. Underwhelming or declining participation is a huge pain point for many churches. If you’re ready to interview with a particular ministry, also be prepared to show them how you can be an asset to the church and help improve congregational engagement. Download The Definitive Guide To Successful Church Engagement to learn the simple strategies that you can take into the interview to show them that you care about boosting engagement and are willing to lead that charge when hired.