Visit our new site at

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - Preparing for an Interview

Our question this week is one for which a lot of you probably have some wisdom to share:

I am in the process of seeking a new call to a congregation. In my denomination, we must interview with
a committee composed of members from the congregation. I would love some interview tips from some
of the veterans. How do you prepare yourself? How do you relax? How much do you share from a personal
standpoint? Any tips would be great!
Seeking A Call

has a lot of good thoughts:

I think your anticipatory questions will serve you well. I’d suggest that you find out as much as you can about the congregation prior to your interview. Checking their website, asking for some copies of past newsletters and a copy of the most recent annual report and the budget are good resources. Don’t hesitate to contact your higher governing body (if applicable) and speak with someone who knows the congregation well. Regarding how much personal information to share, I think there are some wonderful previous installments of Ask the Matriarch that address this very question. You may want to hunt through the archives for more wisdom!

Often committee members raise questions about relationships, marital status,or plans to start a family. Sometimes committees ask questions about expected length of tenure, as though we have crystal balls and can foresee the future! I try to remind myself that these kinds of questions are almost always about the congregation and/or a previous pastoral relationship, and rarely about me or any current candidate. Have they had a negative or a positive experience in the past? Are they trying to take the same path or a different one? What role does a partner or spouse have in the life of a congregation? I think that how one fields personal questions is very important and can set the tone for future discussions and one’s relationship with the congregation.

As someone who has interviewed for church positions as a single person and as later a married person (and as half of a clergy couple) I have tended to be pretty forthright and transparent, answering any questions that felt comfortable, and gently, humorously reminding a committee if they’re getting too personal, and asking them to clarify why the information is important to them. I’ve learned a lot from hearing what a committee’s expectations and biases or openness might be.

How to relax? Dress professionally, but in nothing that is uncomfortable or binding. Try to remember that you’re interviewing them just as much as they’re interviewing you. As you prayerfully discern whether God is calling you to a new place, recall that the committee is probably nervous and excited, too. Listen closely and feel free to pause a bit before responding to a question. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand a question. Be yourself!!!

Blessings as you find the best place to which God is calling you!

Sunday's coming offers this helpful insight:

In my denomination, too we seek a call in a similar way.

If it helps: the last time I went through this I managed to alleviate the stress quite considerably by not thinking ‘I want this job, how do I get it? - but instead approaching it as a piece of consultancy. My task as consultant was to help this pastorate decide whether they wanted this woman for their next minister. I tried to put the fact that I was the woman in question to one side, and instead to take my knowledge of who I am and try to find out more about who they are and help them to decide whether there is a good match and a call from God.

It might sound a bit weird but it helped a lot. As it happened they DID call me (and it’s working out pretty well) - but if they hadn’t I would just have felt I had helped them reach the right decision and been happy to walk away without feeling bruised by the whole thing.

God be with you.

What about the rest of you? How have you prepared yourself for dialogue with a congregation? What have you learned from the process that might benefit our friend who is seeking a call? Please share your wisdom!

We have a number of good questions in the queue for the next few weeks (so don't fret if you've sent one and don't see it yet - it's coming!). As always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to address, send it to Thanks!


  1. Remember that you are interviewing them as well. It's easy to think about how much you want a job but you want to make sure it's a good match for you as well. So ask them questions about how they see their role in working together with you. Also ask them how representative they are of the whole congregation. Sometimes committees make up the more progressive members of the congregaton and you don't get a realistic view of the situation.

  2. I once had a committee--near the end of the neutral pulpit weekend-- ceremoniously usher me into the side chapel (while a wedding was taking place in the sanctuary), invite me to stand in the pulpit, (while they sat in the pews) and ask me one final question: "Why should we call you?"

    I answered,"You should only call me if the Holy Spirit tells you to."

    From the look on their faces, you'd think I'd peed in the baptismal font. lol

    They could not get me to the airport fast enough.

    The moral of this story is be very clear about who is in charge. There is likely no one question or lack thereof which will totally derail this if the Spirit wants it to be. Have a question or two or three in your pocket when you interview, but rest on the Spirit.

    (And no, the Spirit did not tell that church to call me, TBTG.)

  3. After I was appointed to MH & U one of the members of the search committee published a personal testimonial in the parish newsletter that she had wanted the other candidate but the Holy Spirit spoke to her in a dream the night before their final committee meeting and so she changed her vote. THAT, my dear sisters, does not represent the voice of the Holy Spirit. She has been perfect poison to me ever since. Just sayin.

  4. Pastor Joelle, that's what I was going to say as well.

  5. My clergy coach suggested that I prepare cards with my responses on various topics that were likely to come up (stewardship, evangelism, education, etc.) and to study them so that I would feel prepared--and it did really help. If you have a profile of the congregation (common in my denomination) look for things that stand out as issues for them and be ready to address them. Read everything you can find about the church--web site, etc.

    As for personal stuff--some of it is technically off limits (your plans for starting a family for instance, or your spouse's plans) but you may get asked any way. I tend to self-reveal a bit before being asked (about my children for example) but I think it depends a lot on your own comfort level and your "read" on those interviewing.

    Good luck!

  6. The church in which I am the assistant just called a new rector, a fabulous match. Although I didn't know details of the search process, members of the search committee sometimes talked to me about their experience and impressions.

    One of the things I heard over and over was how impressed they were that the top couple of candidates were very familiar with the parish profile and information from the website. To me, that seems stunningly obvious as preparation, but apparently a lot of the candidates hadn't read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested the material the church had offered up.

    I also heard later that in some interviews, the right decision had been reached, but by the wrong process, due to issues/attitudes some of the committee members had. So as best as you can, I'd also keep in mind that even a difficult or discouraging interview may result in the Spirit's will being discerned (if in a clumsy way), and that when it goes badly, it is often not anything about you!


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.