Questions for Pastoral CandidatesBe Sure the Man You are Considering is Qualified, Skilled and Called to the Ministry
Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.
How can a minister successfully minister to others? “To observe the order of St. Paul (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 4:16), a minister must begin with himself, fulfill his own duties, and care for his own salvation before all things. Before going abroad from love to his neighbor, let him withdraw into the secret place of the divine holiness. Before compassionating the misery of others, let him be sensible of his own ills and of his own weaknesses. And, before urging others to obey the law of God, let him first obey it himself. The first duty of a bishop is to be holy.” Jacqeus Joseph Duguet (1649-1733), Traite des Devoirs d’un Eveque, art. ii., § 1.
In choosing a minister, there is much to consider. If ministers are the means that God uses to bring a congregation closer to Jesus Christ, as well as the means God uses to bring His word to the people that they may mortify the deeds of the flesh, be more sanctified, and know how to draw closer to the throne of grace, then choosing a minister is more important that choosing a good surgeon, or a good lawyer. In fact, Thomas Murphy says in his work Pastoral Theology, “The work of the minister is the grandest and most important work in the world….the more we reflect upon it the more we must feel that we have neither thoughts to imagine nor words to express its greatness.”
Being called to the ministry is being called to the most important work in the world. William Perkins, in explaining the call to the ministry in his “Calling of the Ministry” exegetes two main passages, Job 33:23-24, showing the scarcity and function of the minister, and Isaiah 6:5-9 showing the actual call to the ministry. In Job 33 God uses means to preserve sinners from falling into sin, and going to hell.
The means God uses are messengers sent by God, and so this passage shows a very valuable description of a true minister.
“”If there is a messenger for him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, To show man His uprightness, Then He is gracious to him, and says,`Deliver him from going down to the Pit; I have found a ransom’;” (Job. 33:23-24).
Perkins shows the importance of this verse to the office of the “messenger or herald” of God by breaking down the passage in five ways: 1. By his titles (a messenger, and an interpreter). 2. By his rarity (he is one of a thousand). 3. By his office: (“to declare his righteousness”). 4. By God’s blessing to his labors (“Then he will have mercy upon him”). 5. By his commission and authority (where God will say, “Deliver him, that he go not down into the pit: for I have received a reconciliation, [or a ransom]”).
With this in mind, the church looking for a pastor has a difficult task to find a, 1) qualified individual, 2) a called individual, and 3) a skilled individual. Pastors are first scholars so they may be good pastors. In this way the following questions may serve to help both the church and the candidate for ministry to evaluate the qualifications and calling of the office of a minister, and some other points which may be useful in questioning the candidate.
1. Many Christians mistake their religious lifestyle for conversion. How do you know, and can you prove, you are converted?
Follow up with this statement: “Many a preacher is now in hell, that has a hundred times called on his hearers to use the utmost care and diligence to escape it.” Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor. How do you feel about that statement?
Other questions in this area:
What does it mean for a person to love God?
In what ways do you see true biblical love toward God demonstrated in your life?
Do you see true biblical love toward God in the lives of your wife and each of your children?
2. What is the Gospel?
Focused markers on this map ought to be 1) the glory of God, 2) the covenants of God, 3) the fall and sin, 4) the sending of the Son, 4) the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and intercession of the Savior, 5) the redemption of believers, 6) the new birth, 7) the power of the Spirit in the life of the believer. (All of this is summed up in TULIP).
Follow up questions: How is the biblical message different from the popular religious movements of our time? What is your concept of evangelism? How do your views of the gospel affect your methods of evangelism?
3. Explain your call to the ministry.
The minister should have a clear, concise calling to the ministry. All men are not called to the sacred office. Only God can call a man into ministry. The greater part of mankind are not called. Consider, first, that half of the human race are women, and they are not called, (1 Tim. 2:12). Wicked men are not called, (Psalm 50:16). Young converts are not called, (1 Tim. 3:6). Those guilty of infamous crimes are not called, (1 Tim. 3:2). This cancels out most people in history. The Scriptures require and teach that the minister is called of God to the office; Numbers 18:7; Deut. 18:20; Isa. 6:8, 11:2-3, 61:1-3; Jer. 1:4-19, 23:30-32; Ezek. 13:3; Matt. 4:18-20; Acts 13:2; Romans 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; Titus 1:6; Heb. 5:4. This is also corroborated by the judgment of the early church fathers, reformation and puritans.
Follow up questions:
What are the main duties of the minister? Acts 6:4, prayer and ministry of the word.
That means – prayer both private and public, and the word ministered both “house to house” in its various forms, and in preaching the word.
The nature of real earnestness in a minister is a distinct, explicit, practical recognition of his duty to labor for the salvation of souls as the end of his office.
Follow up questions:
Why do you believe God wants you to be a pastor? (See Jeremiah 3:15).
What have you told your current congregation about coming here today?
Are you concurrently seeking several churches?
Why do you think you’re being called from there to here?
4. If you were amidst 1000 ministers from all over the area, would you be the minister who is 1 in 1000 according to Job 33:23-24?
“”If there is a messenger for him, A mediator, one among a thousand, To show man His uprightness, then He is gracious to him, and says,`Deliver him from going down to the Pit; I have found a ransom’;” (Job. 33:23-24). Ministers who are sent from God, skilled and qualified in the office, are 1 in 1000. See William Perkins’ “Calling to the Ministry” for a full explanation of this passage.
5. What is your view of being an overseer of the never-dying souls of those in the congregation?
In the commission and authority given to the minister he is to be a savor of life and death. God has given him authority to redeem the penitent individual from hell and from damnation. If this does not shake up a minster, then they ought not to be behind the pulpit. Perkins says, “This is the greatest honor of all in the call to the ministry. In fact it is the greatest privilege given to either man or angel because it is clearly a commission to go and deliver people from the power of hell, to redeem them to be God’s children, and to make them heirs of heaven.”
Follow up questions:
How will you involve yourself in the lives of your people as their shepherd?
Is Christ the all consuming passion of your life?
Are you willing to be poured out like a drink offering?
Do you see pastoral ministry as a calling or a career?
Are you compelled to fulfill your ministry under any circumstances, or is your willingness to minister contingent upon the right financial reimbursement?
6. Calvin said, “I am a good scholar and theologian that I may be a good pastor.” Are you a scholar?
Scholars should occupy the pulpits today, imitating the dictum of Calvin. This echoes “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.” (1Tim. 4:15).
Those who teach must first learn. Scripture and reason declare that knowledge is essential to a minister. Otherwise he cannot, “speak unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort,” (1 Cor. 14:3).
William Plumer says in his work on Pastoral Theology: Learning should be extensive, and not merely elementary. It should be various, and not confined to one or a few things. Robert Leighton said that there could not be too much learning, if it were but sanctified. And John Owen says, “The cursory perusal of a few books is thought sufficient to make any man wise enough to be a minister. And not a few undertake to be teachers of others who would scarcely be admitted as tolerable disciples in a well-ordered church. But there belongeth more unto this wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, than most men are aware of…The Gospel, the dispensation and declaration of which is committed unto the ministers of the Church, is “the wisdom of God in a mystery;” and so their principal duty is to become so wise and understanding in that mystery as that they may be able to declare it to others, without which they have no ministry committed unto them by Jesus Christ.” A few hurried weeks or months of study will never do.
The minister’s study must be conducted with humility. It should include a wider range of study than simply divinity, and should also include the study of biblical languages.
Follow up question:
Are you a better teacher or a better preacher. (Trick question of sorts.)
7. Where were you trained for the ministry and who were your principal teachers and pastors?
Paul had oversight of Timothy. “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” (1 Tim. 4:13). Paul, then, was a one who prepared well and taught Timothy to prepare well in 1 Timothy 4:13-15.
Seminary teaches the basics. Training should extend further than seminary.
Ask, where did you learn pastoral theology and ministry?
Follow up question:
Who are your favorite Christian writers, commentators, theologians, etc.? Why?
8. Explain for us the manner in which you conduct your personal devotions.
Clarification questions: Are they daily? How long are they? Do they incorporate 1) bible reading, 2) prayer, and 3) godly meditation? What will real Christian piety do for you as a minister?
Such piety will make a minister charitable in every good work, and will give him important knowledge which is only derived from Christian experience. Piety will make a minister a man of prayer, and constant in their profession of the Gospel. William Plumer says, “Where piety is genuine and growing, there will be a symmetry in the character which will otherwise be lacking. Doctrine and morals, precept and practice, study and pastoral labor, closet and pulpit work, will thus be likely to have due proportions.” Such piety will make men truly happy. The joy of the Lord will then be their strength. They will be anointed with the oil of gladness, and will enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise.
9. Explain for us the manner in which you conduct family worship.
Family worship is outlined extensively in the Directory for Family Worship.
Follow up questions should be directed to the wife and family about the manner in which family worship takes place.
“The ordinary duties comprehended under the exercise of piety which should be in families, when they are convened to that effect, are these: First, Prayer and praises performed with a special reference, as well to the publick condition of the kirk of God and this kingdom, as to the present case of the family, and every member thereof. Next, Reading of the scriptures, with catechising in a plain way, that the understandings of the simpler may be the better enabled to profit under the publick ordinances, and they made more capable to understand the scriptures when they are read; together with godly conferences tending to the edification of all the members in the most holy faith: as also, admonition and rebuke, upon just reasons, from those who have authority in the family.”
How would your friends honestly describe the disposition of your wife and children?
What does your family think about your desire for ministry?
10. What are your favorite books on preaching and the pastoral ministry and why?
Besides Scripture, this will tell you volumes about how the minister views pastoral ministry.
He should have read at least these works:
The Best Method of Preaching by Peter van Mastricht
The Art of Faithful Preaching and The Calling of the Ministry by William Perkins
Sacred Rhetoric by RL Dabney
The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter
Thoughts on Preaching by JW Alexander
Pastoral Theology by Patrick Fairbairn
An Earnest Ministry by John Angell James
Lectures to My Students Complete and Unabridged by Charles Spurgeon
The Ministry of the Word by William Taylor
Hints and Helps in Pastoral Theology by William Plumer
Thoughts on Public Prayer by Samuel Miller
Pastoral Theology by Thomas Murphy
The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges
Pastoral Theology: The Theory of a Gospel Ministry by Adolphe Vinet
11. When you boil down any sermon into a formal outline, after reading the text aloud what are its three parts?
Perkins and van Mastricht show emphatically:
READ THE TEXT, then
- Explain the Text
- Pull a Doctrine from the Text
- Apply the Text
12. Do you formally practice reading the passage of Scripture you will preach on?
Why or why not?
William Taylor said, “Extempore preaching may do for some, but extempore reading is impossible for anybody. Of course it is easy to name the words correctly, but that is not reading. That is only accelerated spelling. Reading is the presentation through the voice of the thoughts which the sacred author has put into words: and for that, study is indispensable. You might as well expect an actor to give a perfect presentation of a character, on his first reading of a play, as imagine that a preacher can, without previous preparation, give a proper rendering of any passage in any author, how much less in a book so many-sided and suggestive as the Bible. Always prepare yourself for this exercise, therefore, and at length your reading of the Scriptures may be as effective in the conversion of sinners, and the edification of the people of God, as any sermon.”
13. How long does it take for you to regularly prepare a sermon?
For every minute the preacher preaches, he should study an hour.
14. What are the qualities of an effective sermon?
Taking those which are in the sermon itself, I name as the first, definiteness of aim; or in other words, precision. Every sermon should have a distinct object in view. One must preach, not because the Sabbath has come around, and he has to occupy the time somehow, but rather because there is something pressing on his mind and heart which he feels impelled to proclaim. Have precision of language. The relation of style to thought is of the closest kind; and the aim of the preacher should be to get the clearest possible medium for the transmission of his thought. How? This happens only, in my judgment, by the careful writing of every sermon. Taylor says, “It seems to me that the importance of the work we are engaged in demands this exactness of written preparation at our hands.” If the minister does not write his discourses, the result, in ninety-nine cases out of every hundred, will be that he will write nothing at all, and then his sermons will become like Gratiano’s reasons, having about a grain of thought to the bushel of words. He must cultivate precision of language. And in writing things out in this way, each portion of the sermon will have its due course of attention. Taylor says, “It is, therefore, with the strongest conviction that I am giving you the best possible advice, that I say to you, write your sermons. This will give precision to your language more effectually than any other process.” This will help you consider the precision and clarity of the arrangement of the sermon.
An effective sermon will only find success in the power of the Spirit. It is only by the power of God’s grace that a revival of earnestness in the ministry will take place. Ministers now are working under the privilege of the Messiah who came in the fullness of power, and has delivered his Spirit from the throne of grace to his ministers for their good and work.
Explain how you rely on the Holy Spirit for your ministry.
15. How important is pastoral visitation?
Explain how this part of the ministry is accomplished.
The pastorate and the pulpit react on one another, and are joined to one another. One cannot happen without the other. Ministers should move their people by influence, not mere authority.
Concerning visitation, the pastor’s first care should be for the aged, the sick, the bereaved, and those who are suffering from any kind of trial. Do not think of such work as if it were a task, or even simply a duty, but esteem it a privilege, and seek, “to lift up them that are bowed down.” Let the sick one and his nurse feel as if a ray of sunlight had come in to gladden them.
16. Give us an overview of a typical day as a minister.
Thomas Murphy gives the following model for the minister, “We would venture to suggest as a rule about five hours a day, or from eight o’clock in the morning until two, with a recess of an hour. Our program, then, for the ordinary day’s work would be — one hour of devotion before breakfast; five hours of study; two hours and a half of visiting; and in the evening one hour and a half for reading and correspondence — ten hours a day for these various duties of the office.”
Seldom have I personally seen a minister take up this charge in this manner, which is certainly part of the deficiency of the office today. Jonathan Edwards found himself 13 hours a day in study, among all his other duties, and look what kind of preacher he was.
17. Do you take any exceptions to the Westminster Confession?
If your church does not hold to the WCF, then ask this in light of what they hold as a confessional Christian.
You don’t ever want to hear “It’s just me and my bible.”
Follow up questions:
Why would you need to take any exceptions to the Confession?
Do you believe the framers have done a poorer job than you could do?
Is it safer to take an exception or to adhere to the historical standard?
Why wouldn’t you want to be a subscriptionist?
Would it be a safe assumption that whatever the Westminster Confession states as your standard, that we can expect to see that in the life of your family, and the life of the church? (Here a number of points can be worked out in dealing with corporate worship, the Lord’s Day, etc.)
What are your views on the New Perspective on Paul or the Federal Vision? Or on Republication views of the Covenant of Works?
Do you believe in theistic evolution?
What is your view on homosexuality?
How is belief in the Trinity a practical doctrine? (Diving line between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. Foundation of the Christian Religion. Tells us everything we need to know about God in all its practical array). Tells us who to worship (including giving God his descriptive designations), who to pray to, who the Savior is and what he did, how to love others, etc.)
18. What are some theological issues that Christians must unequivocally understand in this age?
Follow up questions could be:
Please define the word “Reformed.”
What are the priorities for reforming the Church in the present era?
What are your personal goals as a minister in reforming?
What are your goals in relation to your family in reforming?
What are your goals for your particular congregation in reforming?
19. According to Scripture, how do churches grow?
Other follow up questions:
Based on what you know about our church, what would you concentrate on right now?
What topics would you cover in your sermons for the first six months?
20. What are your greatest weaknesses and strengths as a Christian and then as a pastor?
Consider 1 Timothy and Titus for lists of qualifications. If, for example, qualifications are encumbered by an addictive personality or that the candidate is a novice in theology, they are disqualified from the ministry until those things are remedied. Or, from any of the positive traits, if they are not hospitable, or don’t have patience, these too will be disqualifying. (See the full list here half way down the page.)
Follow up questions:
Tell us something you’ve repented of recently.
Explain how you walk by faith each day.
21. What was the last movie you watched?
This can be very telling about the personal life of the pastor.
One minister commented and said, “Discern the potential pastor’s character.” Character is everything. The minister continued, “A prospective candidate can have an imposing presence, pulpit persuasion and oratory, an amiable demeanour, and a mouthful of promises, and yet have a deficiency in character that can blight the church in days to come. Another important element is to probe and judge whether he has a love for souls. One who has no love for the smell of sheep, ought not to be a shepherd.”