Our question this week:
In four (probably very short) weeks I have my first ever interview for a call. In our system one is "settled" (placed, sent, appointed) to their first call following ordination but from that point on it is a application, interview process.
So what should one expect in a job interview for ministry? How should one prepare? What sorts of questions should the candidate ask of the committee?
Preparation for the interview is crucial.
I'd ask for the following at least a few days before the interview: Annual Reports for previous year; 3 most recent monthly newsletters; last three sets of vestry minutes and operating budget reports; membership figures for the past five years; reasons of the last two pastors for leaving.
In terms of preparation, I would want to know as much as I could about the church I was interviewing with as possible, and how I would see my own ministry style and priorities fitting with theirs. In my experience, the interview really is a two-way street - for both you and the congregation to learn about each other. It's kind of like going on a date! So I would read their website thoroughly, and if there is crucial information missing, I would ask for that (either ahead of time or at the interview) - things like church history, a current budget, a church profile, a profile of what they are looking for, a stated mission and/or vision. Look for what might be missing as well - no youth meetings on their calendar? lots of fellowship opportunities but no opportunities for mission and service? These kinds of things might inform any questions you would want to ask.
Jan suggests that a look into the information the call committee makes available may shape the questions you want to ask:
Look for what is not said but is alluded to (e.g. "We are looking for someone with a calm presence." Did they have a former pastor with a temper? "We want a pastor with good organizational skills." Was the last pastor disorganized?)
Sally deo Gloria notes:
I like to think about what I'm hoping for in a position (for me and for the community). I like to think about what's important to me, and what gifts I bring. With clarity on all that, most questions are easy to answer. Prayer is good too.
On the question of what questions to ask, our matriarchs and friends offer the following:
Questions might include their understanding of the relationship between pastor and leadership and pastor and congregation.
What are the pastor's specific job responsibilities and are there areas or ministries in which the pastor is not involved?
What's the relationship between the congregation and the local judicatory?
How do they feel about the pastor taking continuing ed time and retreat time?
Are there expectations of the pastor that are not written in the job description or letter of agreement?
What has the interim period been like?
Have they done some in-depth self-examination? What have they learned about themselves?
Who makes up the core leadership of the congregation and how long have they been in those positions?
How are new leaders encouraged and integrated?
What are the top two largest challenges for the congregation in the next three years?
If they say they want more young families in the parish, ask them why and who will be attracting those families. (Do they realize that young families do not bring in big bucks?)
And how will an influx of young families change the relationships among members of the congregation?
Would there be a number of members that would make the congregations too big?
Sally deo Gloria suggests that candidates ask questions reflective of what is important to them and whatever might be vitally important to the calling congregation :
Ask the "hard" questions -- whatever they are.
Do I have to live in the parsonage?
Are you willing to change the service times?
What sorts of things is this congregation most likely to get anxious about?
Tell me about a conflict this church has dealt with in the past 10 years - how did the church handle it?
Is the church still dealing with the effects of it in any way?
What do people love about this church?
You might want to ask what the church's priorities for, in terms of what they seek from their pastor. They may want someone who can do all aspects with equal excellence, but since that's not realistic, I would press them on what ranks higher. If they are looking for exceptional preaching, what do they also expect from the minister in terms of pastoral care and visitation, or administration, etc.? They won't give you any kind of ranking (most likely), but you should be able to get a sense of how their priorities mesh with your own gifts and priorities. It might be helpful to find out what they think previous ministers excelled at, and what gaps there were.
Jan offers some questions that can yield valuable insights:
What are the sacred cows of this congregation?
What skeletons are in the closet?
(Asked of each person on the committee individually) What about this church community personally deepens your relationship with Jesus Christ?
The committee should also hear about your own vision for ministry and your commitments:
My biggest piece of advice is to be yourself, and to be honest. Just as you want a clear assessment of who they are, you want them to get a realistic idea of who you are.
Jan passes on some advice that served her well:
The best advice I was given - especially as a twenty-something single woman moving to a small town - was to say something like this when they ask if you have any questions for them:
As a single person with no family or friends living in the area, I will have people visiting me in my home from time to time. Sometimes they'll be friends and sometimes they'll be family. Sometimes they'll be women and sometimes they'll be men. I just want you to know up front that it's important for me to keep my connections with people.
This made it possible to have lots of people visit me in the manse without ever hearing gossip - even in a tiny town where everyone watched the pastor's house like a hawk. It made a huge difference.
Finally, a wise layperson writes about the unique nature of the call/hiring process:
One thing that I took away from the process is that when an individual church is responsible for the hiring/calling process all the participants are amateurs and are frequently making things up as they go along.
Another thing to realize, if you haven't been through the process in your home church as a congregant, is that the hiring process itself is frequently the last few steps of a much longer process of congregational discernment. The committee handling the hiring process may have been working together for a year or more and may be somewhere between a well-oiled-machine and people who feel that if they have to attend one more meeting they will scream.
Our matriarchs have offered some excellent advice...what would you add?
May you live in God's amazing grace+