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Back in August of this year (2007) I wrote a post giving tips to Pastoral Search Committees regarding things they should pay more attention to in the search process. As I said at that time, I’ve been on the “candidate” end of that process more times than I’d have liked… evidence that God’s ways are indeed NOT my ways! Anyway, this post is going to cover some more stuff along that line, beginning with some questions that HAVE to be asked…
- How do you go about maintaining your relationship with Christ? – Whether you believe it or not, I’ve gone through the candidation process many times WITHOUT ever being asked this question! No kidding! Isn’t this the most important thing you want to know about a potential pastor? If he doesn’t have the ability to take HIMSELF deeper with the Lord, how can he do so for a church? You might want to ask for details… what sort of stuff does he DO in order to accomplish that? (fasting? prayer? study? reading? meditation? solitude? personal retreats?) With what regularity is he in the word and prayer? Weekly? Daily? Monthly? You’ve got to KNOW this without a doubt. That’s where your spiritual trust of him will come from initially. Ask his references about this too. They may not know the details of “what” he does, but they’ll know the character and strength of his life that comes as a result (or the absence of it).
- What does your wife think about you, and you in ministry? – Again, this sort of question has seldom been asked of me when interviewing for a pastoral position. And I think it should also be asked of the wife separately. Think about it – the Pastor’s wife is the one person (besides Christ) who has the most influence in his life. Don’t you want to know if she believes in him, is “for” him, and has a heart for the ministry of the church herself? You’d be surprised how many Pastor’s wives DON’T actually want to be in ministry. Honest…
- What is your view of doctrine? Does it build up or does it divide? – I know, I know – doctrine CAN do both in certain contexts. If it’s applied wrongly or harshly it will hurt and divide. If it’s applied rightly, it can divide and sometimes NEEDS to divide (as in the cases of heresy or church discipline). But what I’m getting at is this… some Pastors have developed the attitude that an emphasis on doctrine won’t grow the church, so they downplay doctrine in order to get people through the doors. But my question is this… “What are you going to TEACH them once they are there if you don’t care deeply about doctrine?” Right belief brings about right thinking, acting, and (eventually) feeling. All that starts with clear, unapologetic doctrine. To water down the doctrinal side of things is to teach the people of the church that scriptural truth is not really all THAT important, reinforcing the “take it or leave it” attitude of church-goers all over the country (USA). If you get the sense that a candidate would down-play or side-step important doctrinal issues (atonement, sin, hell, deity of Christ, Biblical sexuality, etc.) for the sake of making people feel comfortable at your church – you are probably better off passing on him as a candidate. The last thing you want is a guy who has jell-o for a backbone when it comes to doctrine.
- What is your history in regard to sexual temptation, pornography, etc. – This conversation should probably be done with only the male members of the committee. You’ll all be more comfortable and the candidate will speak more openly in that setting. Find out where he’s struggled in the past, how recently the last episode was, etc. Find out in what contexts he is most tempted (when he’s tired, stressed, alone, etc.). If it were me, I’d ask the same questions in multiple ways – to find out if he’s trying at all to “snow” you. Maybe that sounds too pessimistic, but I think this is one of the most destructive issues in the church right now. Our leaders are not men of integrity in this area too much of the time. You might approach it this way, “In considering you as our next Pastor, we’d like to know how we could best support and pray for you regarding some very important issues. With that in mind we’d like to know…” Don’t let your church be hurt by another Pastor who’s never come clean with these struggles. If you DON’T ask these kinds of questions, you deserve what you get.
- What sort of safeguards do you have in place to protect yourself sexually? – Again, the “men only” context may be best for this one. It should be obvious that this question has to be asked, but sadly it’s not very often. With all the Ted Haggard-type situations that continue to be repeated you’d think we would have learned by now. Find out if the guy has accountability partners, if he’d be open to having one or two within the church (he should be open to it… if not, then reconsider). Ask him if he’d be willing to put accountability software on every computer he has access to (home and office and laptop). A good program for this is www.covenanteyes.com If he’s not willing to be accountable in those ways, then reconsider his fit at your church.
- Ask him how he would rate himself in terms of “humility.” – A Pastor, though a leader, must be like Christ. Meek, considerate, leading by example – not by fiat. He must be teachable and approachable. If you get a hint of arrogance or “self” in his responses then you need to dig deeper to see if what you are sensing is a reality or a mis-perception. Ask his references about this issue too.
- Ask him about his attitudes/relationship with women. – Utilize the discernment of the women in your group on this one. You want to be listening for any of the following: antagonism toward women, beliefs that women are “less than” men, flirtatiousness, innuendo, lack of concern for women and their issues, etc. Maybe have this part of the interview a “women-only” context to see how he relates to a room full of women. With the majority of most churches being women, you need a Pastor who can relate well and properly toward women.
- Ask for additional references. – Most people on the planet will give you their “top” references. Nothing wrong with that, it’s very natural and understandable to do so. So ask for 3 or 4 more. Here’s why: 1) You want to know if these isolated 4 or 5 are the only people who have been blessed by this man’s life and ministry (or snowed by him). 2) You want to have a greater pool of references from which to draw a conclusion. For example, one of the references may come out sounding negative, but if you have 8 or 10 others who are very positive, you might legitimately be able to chalk that one up to disgruntlement about how he left his past ministry (or that he left at all), a misunderstanding, or a touchy personality. See my previous post about what to do with the negatives you may get from references.
- Ask him how he deals with conflict – REALLY! – Do whatever it takes to find out if he handles conflict Biblically, gracefully, and kindly. You don’t want a heavy-handed, “my-way-or-the-highway” type of guy. As well, you don’t want a guy who pushes every conflict underground with hopes that it will eventually go away. He’s got to deal with conflict and he’s got to do it well. The church is full of conflict – some seasons and churches more than others - so you need a leader who will set the proper tone in dealing with conflict while maintaining loving relationships throughout.
- Find some way to observe him with his family. – What I’d suggest is that you find a way to get a couple of your committee members (ones with healthy, mature families) to visit him at his home for a weekend (not his home church – his home). You don’t have to stay with him (though that would be great if he’s open), but you want to spend a lot of time with him and his family. Listen for how they interact. Is Christ present in their conversation and attitudes? Is the atmosphere of the home organized, healthy, Christ-like? You will find out the true story of who this guy is by seeing how his personality and relationships play out in his own family. Remember Paul’s words to Timothy – “for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” – 1 Timothy 3:5
I’ve recently published my first book – “The Elder Training Handbook” that covers how to identify, assess, and train men for the Eldership. If you’d like to get a copy for yourself, go to the FREE tab at the top of this blog. There you’ll find options for the free E-book download of the ETH, as well as an option to buy a hard-copy and have it shipped to you.