Things to Ask a Church when Considering a Pastorate
A close friend recently asked me what I’d ask about if I was considering a pastoral position at a church. Good question. Young pastors are too often focused on what they’ll be asked rather than on what they should ask. If this is the flock God is calling you to shepherd, ignorance is not your friend. The list below is not complete, nor should it be used exhaustively. It is simply a list of some things you may want to consider.
1. Statement of Faith. Is it available, used, and understood? Can I affirm each section? Does the congregation live this out? Is it an adequate statement about Scripture, God, and salvation? Does it require anything that the Bible does not require of being a Christian, i.e. abstinence?
2. Church Covenant. Is it available and practiced?
3. Constitution (bylaws). Does one exist? Is it updated and used? In it you’ll learn how they choose officers, accept new members and much more. Constitutions are generally invisible until there’s a problem and then they become incredibly important. Know what it says.
4. Budget. Does a budget exist (you’d be surprised!)? How is it formed? Does the congregation vote to accept the budget? A church’s budget will tell you a lot about the vision and priorities (i.e. heart) of a church.
5. Balance sheet. Don’t just look at the church budget; look at the balance sheet. It will tell you things about debt, designated funds and valuation of buildings. These things are not as important as a statement of faith, but there not unimportant, often dictating what a church can and cannot do financially.
6. Missions. A part of the budget should be international missions. You’ll learn a lot about a church through their missions giving. Do they give? Are they going to hard-to-reach places? How do they pick who to support? Do they support a few people very well or a lot of people poorly?
7. Order of service. Ask to see several weeks’ bulletins to get a feel for what the church does when it gathers.
8. Programs. Are they program heavy? What’s the focus of the programs – insiders or outsiders?
9. Church calendar. Do they have one? Again, what’s the focus?
10. Denomination. Do they support the denomination at the national, state and local level? Is that a good thing? Are they aware of denominational priorities and problems?
11. Membership. How many members are in the church? How many attend? Do they have an inactive list? What’s their understanding of membership? Do they live close to each other and to the church building?
12. Church Discipline. Any understanding of the idea? When was the last time the church removed someone from church membership for unrepentant sin or non-attendance?
13. Former pastor(s). Consider asking for the names and contact information of the last pastor(s). Be careful here. You will learn a lot about that pastor and the flock, but you also owe it to the flock to grant a fresh start and benefit of the doubt (…believing the best). But you also may find pressure points that need to be addressed before you accept a call.
14. Elders/deacons/leaders. Consider asking to have private meetings with key leaders in the church. You can only gain in learning the prejudices, hopes and expectations of the next pastor through these leaders. An easy way to learn is by asking the leaders to review the ministry of the last couple of pastors.
15. Ambitions. Ask this question: If you could be like any church in America, which would it be?
16. Staff and office support. One new pastor I know was surprised to see how much time out of each week was taken up with cleaning/repairing the church building and making bulletins. Find out who does what on the current staff and whether or not there are plans for increased paid or volunteer staff.
17. Weddings and funerals. Are there any policies surrounding functions like these?
18. Living as a pastor. Maybe you don’t take these issues on in the first interview, but eventually they need to be addressed:
a. Cash salary (you need to eat)
b. Housing benefit (you need to sleep)
c. Healthcare (you will get sick)
d. Retirement (you will get old)
e. Days off during the week (you need to rest)
f. Holidays and vacation (you need to get out of Dodge)
g. Sabbatical (you need to recharge)
h. Children’s schooling (they need to learn)
i. Pastor’s wife (she needs to know if anything is expected of her)
No one or any combination of these issues should be regarded as deal breakers. The goal of this list is not to create picky pastoral candidates who will never find a church that satisfies all their criteria–sheep who already have their act together! Rather, asking these types of questions will help you know what you’re getting into from the start, and it will give the church some indication of what they would be getting in you–that is, a man who pays attention to these types of things and just might, one day, have an opinion about some of them.