10 Questions Pastoral Candidates Should Ask a Search Team

Have you ever been in that moment in the interview process, seeking a call from a church, where after hours of interview questions, the committee turns to you and says “do you have any questions for us?”  Usually, by then, weary and tired, you begin to fumble for good questions.  If you are about to interview for a pastoral position, this article by Jeff Robinson, is GOLD.


When seeking a new pastor, most churches elect a search committee that accepts and sorts through résumés to find a few men who meet the criteria. The methodology is by no means perfect—it’s often as difficult for committee members as for candidates—but it’s typical. I’ve heard many who’ve served on these committees describe stress-filled seasons as they sought to discern God’s man to fill the sacred office. Some churches have elders who interview pastoral candidates, and that’s usually a better situation.

I’ve been interviewed a good number of times by such committees, and I’ve had experiences ranging from excellent (a church I served in Birmingham was exemplary) to excruciating (one committee said the only two attributes they were seeking in a pastor were a promise to use the King James Bible and a belief in once-saved-always-saved).

The head of one search committee concluded our interview with an excellent question: “Is there anything you feel we should have asked you, but didn’t?” I responded with several things, ranging from “You should ask me how I guard my mind while on the internet” to “Do you think what I believe about the Bible is important?”

Here’s one thing I’ve learned: you need to be prepared to interview them even as they question you. Here are 10 questions you should  be prepared to ask.

1. Ask about church finances and seek documentation.

A financial crisis can devastate your ministry, yet we tend not to think about it when considering a pastoral position. Theology? Yep. Methodology? Check. What happened to the last pastor? Got that.

The church’s money situation don’t often rank as a vital topic, but it is. Ask specific questions, such as how the church handles large, unexpected expenses. Inquire as to whether or not the church has a savings account or a rainy-day fund.

2. Ask them to define a healthy church.

Keep in mind that growth does not necessarily mean health. It can signal health, of course, but just as an apple tree must have strong roots to produce delicious fruit, so must health come before growth in a local congregation. But do they believe that?

3. Ask where the Bible ranks in importance.

This may be a subset of number two, but what you should be looking for in a church, most fundamentally, is a congregation that prizes God and his Word above all. They want to learn it, live it, and proclaim it themselves.

If a church loves the Bible and views it as sitting at the heart of all life, doctrine, and practice, then you may be a long way down the road toward seeing that church as a fit place of ministry.

4. Ask how the church has handled conflict.

This question may provide a window into the church’s soul. Ask for specifics, which will provide an opportunity to see if they have practiced church discipline—or at least gauge their disposition toward it.

Should you become pastor, this question may provide key information as to what still needs to be taught regarding issues like meaningful membership, corrective discipline, and how the membership rolls have been handled. These issues may require much teaching and patience on the part of a new pastor.

5. Ask why they’re interested in you.

To their minds, what makes you a more fit candidate than others they’ve considered?

6. Ask what makes a good pastor.

This is related to the previous question but isn’t exactly the same. You want to discern how they envision your role. Do they view the pastorate primarily as a teaching/preaching role, a shepherding role, or some combination? It will tell you how the view the pastoral office and will help you better understand their expectations.

7. Ask what the church believes.

Are they doctrinally aware? Does the church have a confession or statement of faith? Ask what beliefs from other Christians bother them. The last thing you want is to hide controversial theological commitments up front, only to learn later that your new church doesn’t subscribe to your confession of faith.

Ask what beliefs from other Christians bother them.

Be gracious, but try to be as clear about this as possible and to answer wisely. Make sure they understand what you’re saying. Biblical illiteracy may surprise a new pastor.

8. Ask what they expect from your wife.

What are their expectations for her? Are such expectations reasonable, or are they nonbiblical? Communicate your own expectations of your wife up front. I’ve usually told churches that my wife will be a faithful church member who will focus on raising my children and will serve in areas where God has gifted her.

9. Ask how they expect you to handle day-to-day shepherding.

Do they want you mainly to stay in the office? If they drive past the church two or three days in a row and don’t see your car, how might they feel? What will they assume you’re doing? What do they think you should be doing?

Are they okay with you working from home or “off campus” on occasion, assuming you’re available as needs arise? Make sure they realize ministry doesn’t magically and exclusively happen in a church office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

10. Ask about their former pastor(s).

What do they see as his strengths and weaknesses? Why did he leave? A word of caution here, for this can be a Pandora’s Box if not handled carefully: make it clear that you want to avoid criticizing or slandering the former pastor in any way.

If you become the pastor, it may be helpful to ask people to avoid speaking negatively about the former pastor, even if it didn’t end well with him. But it is helpful to know what they think about how well he shepherded the flock, and where he misstepped. This will provide insight into what things they most prize.

I’m certain there are many other good questions, but these have helped me to learn much about churches, even as those churches have sought to learn about me.

Jeff Robinson (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a senior editor for The Gospel Coalition. A native of Blairsville, Georgia, he also pastors Christ Fellowship Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and serves as senior research and teaching associate for the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and adjunct professor of church history at Southern Seminary. Prior to entering ministry, he spent nearly 20 years as a newspaper journalist in Georgia, North Carolina, and Kentucky. He is co-author To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Mission Vision and Legacy and co-editor of 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me(Crossway, 2018) Jeff and his wife, Lisa, have four children.

Insightful Words on Burnout


This morning, in my daily office reading, was an insightful quote by Parker Palmer about burnout. I am sure that many of you have, at one point or another, experienced burnout. I have always considered burnout simply me giving TOO MUCH but Palmer turns this on end by showing burnout to not be giving too much of ourselves but giving of ourselves from a STATE OF EMPTINESS.  He says it is giving what we do not possess.  We think we are giving a great GIFT but in reality it is a DANGEROUS and LOVELESS act of proving ourselves.  And in turn it is giving TOO LITTLE.

Can you relate?

From Peter Scazzero’s Daily Office reading —

“When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality, loveless — a gift given more from my need to prove myself than from the other’s need to be cared for. . . . One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess — the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have; it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.” — Parker Palmer

Question to Consider:  What would it look like for you to respect yourself in light of your God-given human limits?

Prayer Jesus, you know my tendency to say yes to more commitments than I can possibly keep. Help me to embrace the gift of my limits physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And may you, Lord Jesus, be glorified in and through me today. In your name, amen.

Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day (p. 50). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.


Fear & Faith


When was the FIRST time that you realized that what you were feeling was fear? Strange question?

It struck me this week that I can remember learning to tie my shoe for the first time (an older girl taught me when I about 3 years old).  I can remember the first college basketball game I attended (Memphis State and Keith Lee).  I remember my first concert (I am a little embarrassed to say it was Steven Curtis Chapman… now, my second was RUSH and they opened with Tom Sawyer… Epic.)

There are a lot of FIRSTS that I can remember. BUT I cannot remember the FIRST time I FEARED. 

I definitely remember fearful times in my life.  The first day of Kindergarten was terrifying.  I cried.  Singing a solo at church when I was 8 ended with a disaster.  I forgot the words and went mute while the taped accompany played on. In my adult life, my first panic attack. I thought I was having a stroke.  We were in a new city and so my wife tried to find the hospital.  We couldn’t…  so, the first responders met us in a Kroger parking lot.  They had me breath into a brown bag to get my hyperventilation under control.  Wow.  Yes this happened.  And they said “sir, we believe you are having a panic attack.”

Fear. I remember the events well but the FIRST fear?

Why is the FIRST Fear so hard to remember?  I believe it is because fear is so prevalent and apart of our normal psyche. We live with it daily.  We are either overwhelmed by it. We ignore it.  We stuff it. We might even try to counter it with various forms of entertainment, food, sex, drink.

Why does fear have this effect?  Fear defined is an “unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”  It has been said that 95% of the things that we fear don’t even occur.  We all know FDR’s famous statement “The only thing we have to fear Is fear itself” But we FEAR.

Fascinating.  Fear is caused by the BELIEF of someone or something that is dangerous.  A BELIEF.   It is not something that has actually come true.  It is a BELIEF!  So, where is the relief?  How do we find hope in our fear?

The Scriptures call us to BELIEVE differently.

In Isaiah 57:11 God calls his people to believe differently. Whom did you dread and fear, so that you lied, and did not remember me, did not lay it to heart?  Have I not held my peace, even for a long time, and you do not fear me?”  God was calling Israel away from idolatry and into Himself. Why? Is this a power play?  I would suggest not.  God was simply calling them and us away from reflected glory to the source of glory and grace!  This is a repeated call.  In Isaiah 43 God says “Do not fear… I am the holy one of Israel… your savior.”  The refrain of scripture is to call us away from making the created our savior and seeing God as our hope.

But notice the progression of redemptive history.  In the NT, God does not just call us to Himself but in Jesus, we have God come to us.  He comes to us in the incarnation, the cross and the resurrection.  God invites us to lay hold of Jesus. It is a call to our fearful heart into His love, peace and rest.  1 John states There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out all fear.  

What an invitation to a different kind of belief.  Instead of masking our fears we are invited into the one who faced the fear of the cross for you and me.    Personally, I want to continually grow in this kind of hope and love!

Hymn writer E.E. Hewitt wrote:

My faith has found a resting place
From guilt my soul is free
I trust the Ever-living One
His wounds shall plead for me.

I need no other argument
I need no other plea
It is enough that Jesus died
And that He died for me


Living Hope

“The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t leave us passive, helpless spectators… We find ourselves lifted up, set on our feet, given new breath in our lungs and commissioned to go and make new creation happen in the world.”

-N.T. Wright

Prayer for Gospel Rootedness

Lord, our efforts at faithfulness are fraught with failure more often than we care to admit. Thank you that your love for us is never wasted. Keep us rooted in your word, eating at your table, and praying by your Spirit, so that we may remember when we fail that we are part of your family not because we deserve to be but because you want us. Amen.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

The Gift of Lent

by Scott Lowe

Lent is funny. The season of Lent often feels like the red-headed stepchild of the church calendar. Nobody counts down to Lent, as we do with Christmas, saying, “There are only 2 weeks to Christmas.” Or, “We better get those Lent gifts for the kids on Amazon.” There are no Lenten dinner parties or company Lent bonuses. Nope. None of that.

Lent is a season of fasting, and fasting is not the most desirable activity. Delayed gratification is not a popular notion in our culture. We see this in how we handle money and debt. We see this in our sexualized culture. And this is true of our Christian life. One particular author noted in his study that he could not find a single book on fasting from 1861-1954. That is nearly one hundred years. More has been written about fasting recently, but the list is not long. I believe, much like the subject of money, it’s a discipline or habit we reject because it reveals the things that control us.

Well, each year I try my hand at giving up something for Lent. I have fasted television, sugar, beer, and other things over the years. I will never forget giving up television. A few days in, it hit me…“What was I thinking? March Madness?!” I remember even trying to make concessions. “I’ll make it up for catching that game.” Ha. Funny. And to be honest, Lent became my own red-headed stepchild.

How can Lent be a joy and a gift? First, we have to address our mindset. Lent is not a second chance at our New Year’s resolutions. And it is not simply finding something to give up. Rather, it is more about what we “take up.” It is the joy and gift of “taking up” Christ. Richard Foster said, “Fasting is feasting… Fasting reminds us that we are sustained ‘by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ (Matt. 4:4).” Lent is about centering our hearts on the ONE who sustains us. The things that we have, eat, or consume often serve to cover up the real struggle and need within us, and many times keep us from the hope that comes in Christ. Fasting helps brings this to the surface.

Second, we must know that fasting is not about making God like or love us. Any habit or discipline can easily become legalism. And that legalism is crushing because it is filled with guilt and shame. The power of practicing our faith is found in Jesus from start to finish. In Philippians 2, we are told that Jesus gave up heaven to go to the cross for our sin so that we might be rescued and forgiven. So, as we follow Christ Jesus as our example, we must remember as Scott Sauls said in a recent post, “More than coming to be our example, Jesus came to be our rescue. Without his rescue, his example will only crush us. But with his rescue, his example will inspire us.” Christ is our joy and our gift! May this season of Lent be filled with joy in our fasting as we are inspired to “take up” the beautiful sustaining grace God offers us.

Everything Is Going to Be OK

by Scott Lowe

I recently took a personality test that revealed some things that I have been aware of for many years—I struggle with fear and anxiety. My fear can rear its ugly head in a couple of ways, such as rehearsing worst case scenarios and listening to negative thoughts that tell me I have very little value. At the end of the explanation of the personality test, the counselor said that the words most helpful for someone with my personality are “You are safe. Everything is going to be okay.” Whew-I could feel my shoulders drop when hearing those words. Yes, deep down I long to know that things are going to be okay. I long for security. I long to know my family is thriving.  I long for Grace Church to continually grow stronger as a community and in its understanding of the Gospel.

If you are like me, you long for these same things in your own lives. The season of Advent offers us hope in the midst of our worries, fears, and anxieties. Advent is the season to remind our forgetful hearts that, in Jesus, everything is going to be okay! When I want to run from my worries and fears, I am reminded that Jesus does not run away; He enters. God, in the person of Jesus, in a manger, and ultimately on the cross, enters our lives and promises to make everything that is wrong right.The hymn “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” says, “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” True peace comes as we are reconciled to our God and King through Jesus. And Jesus’ coming and entering our world tells us that God is serious about making wrong right. He is serious about bringing peace to our anxious souls. My prayer this season is for all of us to know more fully this peace that God offers. In Christ, everything is going to be even more than okay. He has entered our suffering,worries, and fears to give us His everlasting peace!