Ah, yes. Actually, it's graduation season, and we anticipate many recent seminary grads might be facing this exact question.
Sometime this fall/winter, I will be officially "in the call process." In my denomination, my name will be given to several congregations and I will interview. If the congregation and I agree that we are a good match, they issue a call. I can accept or decline. I have a series of related questions—read on.
For what types of things should I be on the lookout?
PPB: Sheesh, it seems like I'd have an answer to this. My bottom line advice is this: if something feels funny, it probably is. If something feels right, it probably is. Pay attention to who is and is not on the interview team. Do you meet any youth? Any senior citizens? Any fairly new members? If not, why?
Google the church. Go back more than the front page. What are they known for in the community? If it's an associate position, google the pastor. Pick up some local papers on your way out of town. What can you tell about the community? Most call systems list references for the church. Check them.
Ask what they hope to be doing in 5 years, 10. If they have no idea, or if they want to be doing the exact same thing as they're doing today, note that. If they want to be a mega church with a staff of 300, note that, too. Be a sponge.
Interviewing is a wild ride,and it will eventually leave you to two things: a bunch of really great war stories and a fabulous job!
Jan: You don't want to go to serve a church you are not called to serve. Be yourself and enjoy. Remember our RevGal sister: You've really got to love your people. Try to discern if you could love them.
Any super big red flags?
Singing Owl: See my story, below.
Jan (and this ties back to last week's question): One of the best questions I've heard asked by a candidate is this: "Can you tell me about the skeletons in the congregation's closet?" (Just their reaction alone will be worth asking this. You can catch a glimpse of their ease in talking about conflict. Or you'll see their sense of humor.)
How many interviews should I expect?
PPB: This is very largely denominationally based. I probably did 10-15 phone interviews and 5 fly-outs before I got my first job, but I'm not necessarily typical. Some people get lucky with just one. Some spend a long time on the market.
Can I/should I bring my spouse to meet the call committee/congregation?
Singing Owl: Bring the spouse, if at all possible. And then listen to his opinion afterwards. He may have a "red flag" or a green one, for that matter, that you missed in the nervousness of the moment.
On the other hand, PPB: No. Not unless you are specifically invited to, and even then, I'd tend to hold off until you've been offered a call. By doing this, you're setting up the expectation that the church is "getting" your spouse, too. And unless your spouse hopes to be the unpaid associate, I'd avoid this. BUT this is denominationally contingent. In the Presbyterian tradition, for example, there is usually an in-person interview, followed by a weekend where the congregation hears you preach and then votes. That second weekend might be a perfectly fine time to bring the spouse. The first one: not so much IMHO.
What should I wear?
PPB:I would opt for a suit in most cases, especially if you are young. No one will ever fault you for over-dressing by wearing a suit. It need not be a skirt-suit (trousers are fine), and it need not be a blue or black suit (pick a color you like), but that's my vote.
You might check out this blog post out of Yale Divinity School's Career Office for some denomination specific advice (not all denominations are represented, but you can estimate).
Singing Owl: As for what to wear, I suggest dressing as you would for a secular job interview. Not too flashy, not loaded with jewelry, but also not too casual, no cleavage ;-) ! No flip flops for shoes, but maybe not a suit and heels, unless you know the congregation is that kind of place. Professional, but comfortable. You want to look like you are not to be trifled with, but you also want to be reasonably relaxed and comfortable.
Can the matriarchs share any funny stories about interviewing?
PPB: Oh, let me count the ways. We can start with the college in a very rural area where a small group of students picketed my interview with "No girl preachers!" Once, I brought one blue shoe and one black one. Another time, I forgot an iron and tried to de-wrinklify my clothes by "steaming" them with scalding hot water in the bath-tub—and then ending up scalding my hand while I tested the water. I was so embarrassed that I told people it was a rash. I've been asked a slew of crazy questions.
Jan: When my husband and I were interviewing to be co-pastors, the first question was about our names. (We have different last names.) Search Committee Member: Have you noticed that you have different last names? (Yes, she really asked this.) My husband: Oh my gosh! That must be why the mail's so screwed up. (Good-natured laughter, but then serious again) Search Committee: Will you (meaning me the wife) be changing your name if you are called to be our pastor? Me: No. They still called us.
Singing Owl: My husband, not I, was the prospective pastor at that time. The interview took place about six hours from where we were still living in our little campus housing mobile home. We had been hoping and waiting for "the call" for some time and were getting a bit desperate to get moved somewhere and start bringing in a paycheck. We were broke, idealistic, fresh-faced innocents, and we were VERY nervous. Summer was turning into fall and we would soon be forced to move—but where?
The interview was to take place at the church. A parsonage was next door, and the board had mailed us a key, telling us we would be sleeping there that evening after the interview and dinner. They suggested we let ourselves into the parsonage and unpack and clean up and then meet them next door at the church at 5 p.m. A little odd, but okay. We drove an ancient Ford Falcon (air conditioning? What is that?), with our two kids in the back. Someone was going to watch them while we interviewed. They were sweaty and irritable, and so were we. We were wearing tee shirts and shorts; our suitcases with appropriate attire were in the trunk. We left with plenty of time to spare, we thought.
But a flat tire, a horrendous accident involving cars backed up for two hours, and one car sick child took care of that. We stopped to call and say we would be delayed and could the interview be postponed one hour? The board chairman agreed, but either forgot or neglected to pass that message along. So we arrived in town, hot, miserable, nervous—but consoling ourselves that a quick but cool shower awaited. After more delay getting lost following the truly terrible directions we had been given, we pulled up to the glass doors of the church.
To our horror, on the other side of the doors were five men lined up watching for us, dressed in suits and ties, two with arms crossed and all wearing expressions of irritation. We piled out, straightening our rumpled clothes and glancing at each other with dismay. The babysitter had left. We had the interview on straight-backed chairs in the office, them in suits and ties and us in rumpled shorts, our kids noisily playing across the hall in the nursery. They actually extended a call, and we accepted. It turned out that we wished we hadn't.
When I started typing this story I did not realize it would be about red flags. Was there a red flag? Looking back, yes. They should have seen our distress and urged us to "freshen up" and they would meet with us in 30 minutes or something. Perhaps the shower was out, but it would have been nice to wash my face! Their disregard for our comfort and for courtesy did extend into our time there. So perhaps a suggestion would be to note how they treat you. Is there kindness, humor, flexibility? How they treat you in the interview will likely be how they treat you later.