Questions Pastoral Candidates Should Ask ChurchesBe Sure the Church You are Going to is Biblical, and Hold the Marks of a True Church
In choosing a church minister in, there is some trepidation that occurs with considering going into a situation that you might now have all the necessary details. From experience, I can tell you, going into a less than biblical church will be difficult, and often abusive.
Since due consideration of the church should be a key factor for the candidate coming to be interviewed, and to interview, to see if God’s providence would join them together, there are a number of good questions to ask a church if you are considering to become its shepherd.
A Christian brother reminded me of this important note:
The called (the minister) must make it plain to the callers (the church) that he is not the only one to be examined, but he has the right to interview them. The pastoral committee itself, in many churches, is going to be unknown to the candidate, or only known by perhaps previous preaching engagements. So that the true spiritual complexion of the elders, and thereby the church is really sketchily known by the prospective minister. Sadly many sessions have a fragile spiritual unity. Also there is often a dominance by an individual, or a power coterie. Therefore it is incumbent upon the candidate to graciously probe the doctrinal standing and personal relationships that pertain among the examining body. Their state is often a guide to the spiritual health of the membership. Any party spirit can be the ruination of the future ministry. The maxim, all cards on the deck, holds.
The prospective pastor ought to know if the church is a biblical church, and that it hold both to the Bible, and a solid confession, such as the 1647 Westminster Confession. In viewing the marks of the true church, one must be sure that the category by which these marks are measured are done as they so reflect the invisible church, but are necessary to the visible church. The Reformation set down unalterable “marks” of a biblical church (see the full article here).
Mark 1: Sound Doctrine (John 8:31, 47; 14:23; Gal. 1:8-9; 2 Thess. 2:15; 2 Tim. 3:16-4:4; 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 9-11). The first mark of the church is the pure preaching of the Word of God and sound doctrine, for without this, the church could not possibly exist.
Mark 2: Right Administration of the Sacraments (1 Cor. 10:14-17, 21; 11:23-30). The second distinguishing mark of the true church is the right administration of the sacraments, which is birthed by sound doctrine and spills over into the unity of fellowship.
Mark 3: The Right Administration of Discipline (Matthew 18:17; Acts 20:28-31a; Rom. 16:17-18a; 1 Cor. 5:1-5, 13; 14:33, 40; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 5:6, 11; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; 1 Tim. 1:20; 5:20; Titus 1:10-11; 3:10; Rev. 2:14-16a; 2:20). The third distinguishing mark of the true church is the holiness of her members which is directly related to the right administration of church censure and discipline.
Calvin laid these out meticulously in his The Necessity of Reforming the Church (4 parts).
The true Church of Jesus Christ manifests itself by a true confession of Christ and His truth as seen in the above marks. There must be taken into account the reality that the Church will be more or less visible as a result of its inherent sinfulness and imperfections, (Rom. 11:3-5; Acts 2:41, 47; 9:31; 18:8-10; Acts 2:41-42; 1 Cor. 5:6-7; Rev. ch. 2-3). This external condition should be of great importance to the members of the visible church since the Church should always be a light on hill (Matthew 5:14) and a beacon to those traveling and wandering about the darkness of the world. The minister who is interviewing the church should be able to successfully discern these marks, and other important and practical notes about the church, in one or two visits to the fellowship.
1. Do you believe the Bible, desire to be led by the Bible, and led by your Confession of Faith?
Can your elders explain the gospel to me?
What sort of biblical/theological training has been provided for the leaders in the past 5 years? (Or evangelism, counseling, etc.)
What is your understanding of the pastoral office?
Why does your church exist?
What is your role as a congregation in the Kingdom?
2. Why did the previous pastor leave?
Retired? Problem? Was there a previous pastor? (It could be a mission plant.)
What are the five biggest issues confronting this congregation?
What did you love/not love about the last minister? (and his family?)
What could have been done differently? Why?
3. What do you think the 'right size' is for this church?
How does the church view evangelism?
Are there any new folks that were converted from “scratch” and were not due to movement from another Church in the past couple of years? If not, why not?
How faithfully do the leaders share their faith?
What do people in the community know about your church?
How is your church involved in the community?
How faithfully do the people serve in the ministries of the church?
4. How does the church handle conflict?
When was the last time it had a conflict?
Suppose the pastor “steps on someone’s toes?” Does the congregant see that as a ministry issue, and therefore feel free to talk to any number of people before they talk to the pastor about it? In other words, does every small issue become a mountain?
5. How do the officers of the church relate to the congregation?
6. What do you expect of my wife?
This is an important question based on the gifts and graces of the pastor’s wife. Important distinctions must be made between the pastor and the wife and the office of minister.
7. How well do your men lead their homes in godliness?
How well to the husbands lead their families?
How well do the elders and deacons lead their families?
Are the members of the church at all stated meetings?
8. How often does the church pray together?
Is there a stated prayer meeting?
How long is it?
How many people attend?
Who generally prays at those meetings?
9. Is church discipline practiced?
If not, why?
If so, when was the last case of it?
If it has been a longtime then why are there not more immature Christians in the congregation?
10. Is there an "unofficial" pastor of the church?
These are the people who lead church without being pastor – they are the big tithers, who lord authority over the congregation whether explicitly or passive, or possibly even aggressively? Is there fear of disciplining this man/woman or challenging their fiscal or authoritative bullying?
11. What ministerial/missions associations does the church maintain?
What are the expectations concerning them?
12. What was it about my resume that caused you to want to consider me for this office?
One Christian minister said:
Understanding why a church is attracted to a particular candidate reveals quite a bit about their mindset and their expectations. I asked this question of both churches where I have served and received an interesting answer both times that greatly helped in my decision to accept the call. My first church was apparently attracted to my resume because I mainly spoke of God and what he had done, rather than myself and what I had done. My current church indicated that in my email and phone exchanges, I was the only candidate who said I would be praying for the church to find the right candidate, whether that was me or someone else. I thought that was a normal thing, but apparently not.
What is your relationship with the presbytery and the denomination? Is the local church actively involved in the wider work of the denomination?
In light of the fact that you have been observing my life and walk with the Lord for the last few years do you believe that I am biblically qualified and called to the ministry?
13. Have you ever failed to pay the minister's salary before?
If money gets tight, what gets cut before my salary? My kids have to eat and my landlord must be paid, just like at your house.
What medical insurance do you supply, if any? Retirement? Dental?
Is there any book allowance or mileage reimbursement?
14. What are the qualities of an effective sermon?
How long, do you think, the sermon should be?
Is there a set time for worship? An hour; an hour and a half?
Does the time matter? Why?
15. How important is pastoral visitation?
How often do you think visitation should occur throughout the church?
what do the current elders or last pastor have/had as a regular schedule?
16. Can you give me an overview of what you think is a typical day for 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.”
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?
What are the reasons why you have exceptions?
Does this affect the church in any way? Either positively or negatively.
18. What should the pastor teach on during the first year in coming to your church?
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 church in reforming?
What are your goals for your particular congregation in reforming?
19. What are the church's greatest weaknesses and strengths?
20. What should the Pastor change in the church during the first year?
This can be very telling about the life of the congregation and what they are looking to see happen by the minister’s work.