Thursday, January 14, 2016

Don't be afraid to ask a pastor search committee hard questions

Several years ago I interviewed with a pastor search committee that was of a different denomination than the one I was serving. The interview had gone very well. They asked the usual questions I've heard from previous search committees, and when they finished I began asking my questions. As usual, I had many more questions than they did.

The interview was nearly over when the chair of the committee commented he believed I was the person they should present to the church. The other committee persons agreed. I thanked him for his support and said that I only had one more question. "Are people of all races and cultures welcome to attend and become members of this church?" The chair responded that the church loved everyone and that minorities had attended there in the past. I then explained that I asked that question because my daughter is married to an African-American, and I wanted to be sure they could attend church with us when they came for a visit.

The atmosphere in the room changed immediately, and everyone's discomfort was obvious. The chair stammered and stuttered until he finally asked, "If you preach a trial sermon here will you tell the people what you just told us?" I replied that if this might be a problem the committee should tell the church before I came for a trial sermon. The interview ended within minutes, and I never heard from this church again. In two minutes I went from being the person the committee wanted for their next pastor to "Don't call us, we'll call you."

What if that question had not been asked? I may have gone to that church only to run into certain problems within a very short period of time.

I tell this story and provide a list of all the questions I asked of search committees in my book The Bivocational Pastor: Two Jobs, One Ministry. As I point out in the book it's important for a pastor to be a good match for a church, and by asking the right questions it becomes easier to determine if you and the church will be a good fit. No matter how tempting a church might be, or how good of a church you think it is, if you are not a good match for that particular congregation you will soon have serious problems.

I often find the pastor search process resembles a mating ritual. The church and candidate are both putting forth their best appearance hoping to attract the other. Everyone is smiling and saying nice things. Hard questions are often avoided by both parties. I have found search committees in many smaller churches don't know what questions they should ask. Few people get married after only one date, but churches will sometimes call a person to be their pastor after only one interview and a trial sermon. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it leads to a big disaster.

When you interview with a pastor search committee, don't be afraid to ask hard questions. Ask about their finances, their board and committee structure, their vision for the future, and anything else that is important to you or that will impact the future ministry of the church. It's better to find out upfront that you will not be the right pastor for that church than to find it out six months into your ministry.

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