Preparing for a Lead Pastor Job Interview

Hi this is Daren Wride and welcome to Priority Pastor.

Got a text yesterday from our friend who is interviewing for a lead pastor role. He’s pretty excited about it, as am I. I think he’s been shortlisted and they’re just checking out some more details about him.

And he wanted to know if I had any tips for him as he went into this interview and so I wrote him a note; spent some time and wrote him a note. It’s similar to advice I’d given to others in the past and I thought I would pass it on to you in case you’re ever interviewing to be a lead pastor or even a staff pastor. There are some principles here that I think will apply to you.

The most important thing in a job interview for a ministry is that your posture isn’t one of trying to get the job. That’s not the mindset to go into the interview. The mindset for the interview is that you are in discernment mode. That is you are trying to discern if you would go there, should you be called there.

And so rather than trying to sell yourself, you shift slightly and you try to represent yourself as accurately as possible. You tried to get them to know you and also learn as much as you can about them, since that’s the frame in which you would serve. So you want to make sure there’s no misrepresentation from you or from them, that everybody knows what they’re getting into.

In such an interview, I want to know that there’s a very clear job description. They should have it already at that point, at least an initial job description that talks about the purpose of the role and the lines of accountability, the key tasks. I really prefer what’s called a Position Focus- a one pager that talks about the purpose of the position, basic accountability, key tasks. But two pages is still fine.

If they give you a job description that’s much longer than two pages, I kind of suspect in that case they’re a little bit foggy about the job and/or maybe they’re trying to squeeze too much into it and you might want to refine that role a little bit.

Whether it’s a lead pastor or a staff pastor, I want to understand the governance structure that they have, not just on paper but also in practice. What kind of manuals do they have for the board, for the staff, and how do they actually function? How healthy is the leadership culture there?

Tied to that, I want to know about accountability of the lead pastor to the leadership team, (and) of the staff to the lead pastor and the leadership team. And a lot of places you discover that there’s this muddying of the waters in the relationship between the pastor and the staff and the board of elders or Board of Governors.

And a lot of times what happens is that the pastoral staff or the lead pastor find that they have multiple bosses; that each of the individual elders or deacons or whatever (they’re called in that context) think they are the boss (as individuals), when in reality in any functional system, the group is the boss, no one individual. And so I want to make sure that’s very, very clear because I don’t want to step into a situation and shouldn’t step into a situation where I will have multiple competing demands from multiple bosses.

And I’d also want to know what kind of educational or sabbatical policy options there are. What kind of development. If I can’t grow in a role, I don’t want to go to the role. It’s got to give time and space and resources for education and personal development, conferences, retreats that sort of thing. I would want that right in the initial contract or terms of employment. (Any hint of “We’ll figure that out when you get here” is a red flag.)

And then I shared with my friend what I believe is the ultimate question to ask when you’re in an interview and they’re interviewing you. Typically what happens you’ll ask (you) all these questions and then they might say, “Do you have any questions?” And I have done this so I say this is not theory. I’ve done this.

At that point I take out some 3×5 cards. I hand each person in the interview a 3×5 card and I say “I want you to answer three questions. Personally. What do you want to preserve? What do you want to avoid? And what do you want to achieve in relation to the church’s ministry?”

What do you want to preserve, avoid and achieve. Those are big questions and I get them to do it personally because otherwise it’s the kind of question where some strong, outspoken person might give an answer and everyone will just kind of parrots what they say. When you do it this way with the 3×5 cards, you begin to see if there’s overlap. If there is a common consensus about what needs to be preserved and avoided and achieved (that’s a good thing.) You get them handed back you and I typically will share the results with them a little bit.

And typically I would keep that kind of question for the actual candidating event. I might not, you know, pull the cards out of my sleeve early in the interview process, but those are powerful questions. And what you’ll discover, especially in higher level leadership roles, it’s not just about you being able to answer good questions, it’s about being able to ask the right questions and show that you’re thinking and that you’re probing and that you actually are thinking about the right kinds of things for that kind of role.

And I also mentioned to my friend, and if you’re married, what does your spouse need to know to make the decision? Where they at in the whole thing, not just about the role but about the community itself. I want to know about the reputation of the church and community. I want to know how they see themselves different from other churches. I want to know what they see as their current gaps or weaknesses in the ministry.

One church I interviewed at years ago, I said “Okay, you’ve been without a lead pastor now for almost two years. What kind of gaps are there in your ministry, like what gaps are you hoping this new lead pastor will fill?” And they said “Oh, there really aren’t any gaps.” “I said, well then you don’t need lead pastor. Why would I come here if you don’t think you need a lead pastor?” And they said, “Oh actually yeah there are some gaps in staff management and that sort of thing…” But you want them (and you) to understand what it is you’re actually being called there to do.

Ultimately the leadership context is huge, especially that relationship between the lead pastor, the staff, the elders and do you actually have the authority to exercise the responsibility you’re being given to manage the staff or the volunteers or the budgets.

Ultimately I’ve learned from experience that you can, you know write out a list of pros and cons and the reasons to go or not go. But ultimately, you’ve got to hear from God, you really do because sometimes he will lead you into less than ideal situations that you might not choose. Sometimes he will lead you away from situations that look great on paper, but he knows it’s not a match.

So there are some ideas as you look into possibly interviewing for a lead pastoral or a staff pastoral. Hope there are some nuggets for you that you can use now or sometime in the future. Thanks for listening. God bless. And press on.

If you have any questions about this or need someone to talk to about a role you are considering, feel free to contact me.

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