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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ask the Matriarch—Who's Interviewing Whom?

As chance would have it, we had another question about intervews come in this week, so I don't want the person asking it to think we're answering the wrong question—we'll feature that one next week.

This one's a little interesting, though—not exactly the question you'd expect from someone about to face her first interview at a small country church very different from the suburban parishes she grew up in:

I am a seminary student and for my supervised ministry (internship) I am considering taking on a parish quarter-time. My intake interview is next week. I have been advised that I need to be be prepared to ask questions as well as being asked questions.

Any advice as to the kinds of things I should ask? Any advice for things you wish you had known entering your first parish?

Singing Owl writes:
The things I wish I had asked firstwere about THEM. I was so anxious to make a good impression and be honest about who I was that I neglected to consider the fact that it was also important that I know who THEY were. The focus was on getting to know me, or us as a couple. There was something very lopsided about that! It resulted in a not-so-good fit, in our case, and we left that parish after a relatively short time.

I'd probably ask questions that would help to reveal their philosophy of ministry--some churches want the pastor to decide everything, others hardly give the pastor room to decide what scripture to preach on...etc.

What are their values? The stated ones, yes, but also the ones indicated by where the time and the money go. Are they at least in the same hemisphere as you? If you are passionate about children's ministry, and the church is all over 50 and happy to be that way, it might not be the best choice. Or if you love contemporary praise music and the church has a pipe organ, period. Or vice versa.

Secondly, I'd ask questions that would clarify expectations. I have a friend who discovered after taking a church, that she was the part-time pastor, part-time secretary, part-time janitor. And I mean she had differing salaries for each, so had to keep track of the time it took to prepare a sermon, print a bulletin, and clean a bathroom. (She stayed for eight years. I would likely not have done that, but it was clear the job description must have been lacking.)

Perhaps an internship is a bit less critical in the sense that if you make a mistake it isn't quite so permanent? If the internship is for six months to a year (as mine was) just chalk anything up to experience and ask better questions next time. ;-)

St. Casserole suggests these questions:
What is this parish known for in this community? (This will let you know how they see themselves in the community.)

Who served this church over the years? (Do they keep up with any of the pastors or interns because of friendships? This points to their relationships with staff.)

Who knows everything about this church? (Write down any names you get, because those named may be information leaders who can give you background info.)

How does the congregation feel about staff serving as I will serve?

Who is the best cook in this congregation? (This is a light-hearted question, but useful.)

Now it's your turn
Imagine yourself having to interview your parish before accepting a call. What sort of questions would you ask? Share them in comments.

And, oh, this is important! We need questions too! Send your questions on entering ministry, coping with transitions, dealing with people, adjusting to change—anything having to do with being a revgal. We're at, just waiting for your call. I mean email. :D

And yes, my arm is getting better, slowly. Thank you for your prayers. See you next week with our next chapter on... "The interview!"


  1. glad your arm is recovering Gallycat- still praying... for the chance to ask questions, it would be good to ask about their vision/ expectations for you, and also to get to know the church a little better, so what do you want to know about- childrens programmes, fellowship times, how they feel they relate to the local community etc

    Prayers for anyone undergoing interviews...

  2. Great GREAT book you might want to pick up...
    "Confirming the Pastoral Call" by Joseph Umidi...

    It gives you a thought process to use as you consider where you might/won't serve. Talking about "dating" a church as you consider them and they consider you.

    I had the prof and it's about the only book he required that I got anything out of... smile...

    But there's my free advice which is worth the price! ;)

  3. I would definately ask them about their relationships with their previous pastors and interns. This should tell you a lot about their underlying expectations, things which they might not asnswer in a question about their expectations.

    Also, when interviewing, I like to ask where they see themselves in x number of years (in other words, their vision), with the follow up question of "what are you absolutely not willing to give up in order to get there?" This tells you where the values (and sacred cows) are.


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