Pastoral Search Committees – Ask These Questions!

The author of this article is available for consultation with search committees and pastoral candidates.  Please contact if interested…
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…

  1. 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).
  2. 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…
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 If he’s not willing to be accountable in those ways, then reconsider his fit at your church.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

18 thoughts on “Pastoral Search Committees – Ask These Questions!

  1. I presupposed a “male” for two reasons…

    1) I believe that Biblically the primary leaders of a church are intended to be men, so I spoke according to my beliefs. I’ve done a series of posts that outline my views on that. You can find them under “leadership” if you are interested.
    2) While I realize that these questions can be used for more than just primary leadership positions (associates, women’s ministry, etc.) I felt it was too cumbersome to say “he/she” every time I wanted to refer to the candidate in question.

  2. I know it is hard finding the right Pastor and you have great suggestions however where is God in the process. King David who was filled with God’s Spirit and hand picked by God could not pass your test. Why? He had sexuall imorality problems, murdered Uriaha, and commanded on his death bed for Solomon to kill all his enemies like some dying Mob Don. Paul was never married and did not want to take Mark with him on the mission field, because of Mark’s prior failures. This caused Barnabus to admonish Paul. Later toward the end of Paul’s life he sends for Mark saying he is valuable to me in the Lord. My point everybody would want older seasoned Paul for a Pastor but not so much younger brash Paul. Peter seperated and ate with visiting Jews before Paul had to admonish him in front of his flock. Peter suffered from poor doctrinal practices and was causing divisions. James and Paul were in a on going disbute that was know by all the churches.God puts sheppards in peoples lives with all their short commings and faults and if people are looking for a Pastor that meets certain requirements here are all they need Husband of one wife, Not a striker, Not given to much wine and not a novist in Christ who runs his family well. Lastly since when does the flock pick the Sheppard? Churches should know who is the right one by consulting the Lord daily in prayer until he sends that person.When Judas was out, the Disciples tried picking Mathais as the new number 12, but Paul indicated he was the chosen of God an Apostle out of time not Mathais.

    • Hi Matt, and thanks for your input.

      My article is in no way intended to say these are the ONLY things that should be considered. Nor is it an attempt to skirt the entirely adequate qualifications listed in scripture. My articles on this subject are intended to cause churches to think of how serious this task is instead of taking such a non-critical look at the role and need that it meets in their church. And I assume (perhaps wrongly so) that most search committees will be prayerful in their decision and will wait on the Lord to direct, as you suggested. Thanks for your input.

  3. Pingback: Top 10 suggestions for Pastoral Search Committees « the passionate follower's journal

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