Asking Appropriate Interview Questions
Updated: Jan 18
Interviewing possible pastoral candidates is never a straightforward task. I’ve been on both sides of the interview process. Lately, I have been the one asking the questions, but I have likewise been on the receiving end of interview questions too. Occasionally I have asked both great and awful questions. There are points during the congregational search process when I get asked very improper questions. One illustration is: “How many more kids do you plan to have?” I was tempted to respond, “I could afford a lot more because you asked that question.” Some questions call committees to ask are illegal and could put the church at risk.
Illegal interview questions refer to any line of interrogating that solicits information from a candidate that can be used to discriminate against the candidate based on their status in a list of protected classes. These are good to know beyond calling a pastor but apply to all your hiring practices.
The specific protected classes you should know will vary slightly depending on your state and local laws, but they include:
Sex (gender, sexual orientation, gender identity) This is not an area that comes up in a pastoral interview but something to be aware of in other hiring situations.
Familial and pregnancy status
You also want to avert questions that are ineffective. Ineffective interview questions don’t rise to the level of being illegal, but can still harm your search process. This list is a bit more subjective and will depend on the congregation, ministry position role, and seniority of the position. Unproductive interview questions may be:
Overly aggressive, pushy, or digging too deeply into a candidate’s personal life
Designed to intimidate or “play gotcha” with the candidate
Irrelevant to the ministry, they are being called to serve
Cookie cutter, and can be prepared in advance and recycled for each interview
When selecting whether interviews are best in your process, every congregation and pastor needs to approach the process with this in mind. “Churches need pastors who have hearts that have been touched by God’s grace, heads that are growing in the knowledge of God, and hands that are ready to serve the church.” Darryl Dash
When trying to discover what type of interview gets at this kind of man of God, I gently attempt to guide congregations to a behavior-based interview technique vs a traditional interview method. A traditional interview process focuses mainly on education, qualifications, and the interviewer’s perceived experiences of the candidate. This results in the congregation projecting their identity on the candidate, clouds their vision,
and prevents them from seeing what the candidate can offer. We often ask traditional interview questions this way:
“If you were our pastor, how would you help us reach our community?
“Tell me about yourself.”
“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
“What is your greatest strength?”
“What is your biggest weakness?”
Questions such as these do not allow you to assess the actual abilities of the candidates but instead enable the prospective pastor to provide vague, idealistic answers to fit your expectations. It also allows the call committee to interject their hopes and dreams on the pastoral candidate as well, which is not fair to him or the congregation.
Behavior-based interviewing involves aligning the actual skills, talents, and abilities of the pastoral candidates with the needs of the calling congregation. Using behavior-based questions can help the interviewer reduce the tendency of calling a pastor who is in their image. This style also allows the pastoral candidates to reveal how God has uniquely gifted them and show their God-given capabilities rather than trying to project directly an image that they think the interviewing congregation wants to see. Below are some sample Behavior-based interview questions:
Tell me how you went about learning how your current congregation works.
No matter how hard we try, we eventually end up frustrating a congregational member from time to time. Please tell me about the time when one of your members became upset with you. How did you discover the member was unhappy with you? What steps did you take to rebuild the member’s confidence in you? How did it turn out?
Tell me about the hardest change you have had to make in your professional career as it relates to leading a congregation. What were some of the tough choices you had to navigate? How did that change turnout?
Describe a relationship you started and built with someone radically different from yourself
Describe a time when you reached an un-churched person who erected significant barriers. How did you deal with the resistance? What was the result?
This gives you some insight into some of the work I have done with calling congregations. It is such a joy to see how God works through human means to find the man of God for His church to assist it in carrying out its ministry in the world. May God bless you and may God continue to find men of God to serve His church.