Pastoral Search Help

Searching for a pastor, whether your church is new or well-established, can be a daunting task. I pray that these resources may be of some benefit to you as you search for a godly shepherd.

Where to Find Pastoral Candidates

Where you look for a pastoral candidate will largely depend on your own theological and ecclesiological convictions. It’s not narrow-minded to look for a pastor that agrees with your church’s doctrinal, practical, and cultural convictions—it’s wise.

That being said, you may very well be able to find a student or graduate from a school who disagrees with the school’s convictions in a certain area. When contacting a school for recommendations, it’s entirely appropriate to give the school some basic criteria you’re looking for. Of course, the candidate’s personal views will also come out more through the interview process.

Two basic resources for finding a pastoral candidate are:

1 Other churches you trust (ask the pastor or elders about men in their church who have evidenced an interest and qualification in ministry, and whom they would recommend).

2 Solid seminaries or institutes with which you agree doctrinally. For example, I would recommend starting with one or two of these schools:

Questions to Ask A Pastoral Candidate

Introductory:

  • In 60 seconds or less, what is the gospel? In 5 minutes, how did you become a Christian?
  • Do you have a statement of faith we can look at? Also, perhaps a copy of the Constitution, Bylaws, and Church Covenant of your previous church? Are these documents representative of your views? Where might you differ from them?
  • Tell us about your family. How does your wife feel about being married into pastoral ministry? What are your children like?
  • How long are you looking to stay with your next church? Why?
  • What books have been most influential in your spiritual development? In your pastoral development? Why?

Theology:

  • Do you agree with everything in this church’s statement of faith? Is there anything missing from this statement of faith that you would like changed or added?
  • Talk through definitions of inerrancy, sufficiency, and presuppositionalism; do we have the same grounding?
  • What are your views on Calvinism/Arminianism/Free Grace?
  • What are your views on Covenant Theology, New Covenant Theology, Progressive Dispensationalism, Revised and Classical Dispensationalism? Where do you fit in that spectrum?
  • What has been a controversial theological question your previous church has faced? Where did you stand on the issue?
  • Thoughts on the role of counseling in the local church and pastoral ministry; the role of Scripture in counseling; Biblical counseling vs. integration, etc.
  • Can you articulate your views on sanctification, and the goal of the Christian life?
  • What would be your definition of spiritual maturity?
  • What are some theological issues that you think are especially important for Christians to get right in this time and place?

On his ecclesiology:

  • What would be your definition of a local church?
  • What is your understanding of the universal church? Relationship between universal and local?
  • What are some of the most important ideas and practices that you think cultivate health in the local church?
  • How do you know a healthy church when you see one? What are the leading indicators in your mind?
  • How do you think churches grow, biblically?
  • What is your theology/philosophy of ministry? What is the place of preaching in that philosophy/ theology?
  • What is your philosophy and theology of evangelism? How do your thoughts on biblical conversion intersect with your thoughts on evangelism?
  • How would you encourage a congregation to engage in personal evangelism? What tools would you use? What program(s) would you implement? Will you depend on programs to accomplish evangelism?
  • How would you take new members into a church? What process would you use? Why?
  • What do you think is the purpose of church membership? Why?
  • How do you cultivate a sense of biblical, godly community in a local church?
  • What form of church government and leadership are you committed to? Why? Can you talk about authority relationships in the church, particularly between the pastor and other elders, elders and deacons, elders and congregation, and pastor and congregation?
    • Note: I believe the deacons’ primary function is to protect and preserve unity in the church by tending to practical matters, so as to both aid the elders and free them up to focus on the oversight and spiritual care of the church; the elders’ role (a responsibility shared by the whole council) is to teach, lead, protect, and care for the spiritual well-being of the congregation.
  • What is your position on women deacons? Women’s role in the church in general? What can women do or not do? Theological reasoning?
  • Is practicing church discipline important to you? Why or why not?
  • What is a local church supposed to be biblically? How would you seek to cultivate that identity?
  • What do you think the purpose of the church is? What is the church’s social responsibility? What are your views on the recent social justice movement within evangelicalism? Define “outreach.”
  • What are your views on the importance of missions, and the relationship between foreign missions and local outreach? Does the local church have a biblical mandate to financially support foreign missions? Do individual believers?
  • Do you think it’s important to do things well and to strive for excellence, even in a small church?
  • What are your thoughts on music in the worship service? What role does music play? How important is theologically sound and rich music?
    • Have you studied the area much? Do you have resources on philosophy of worship, sources for good music, etc.?
    • What should be the pastor’s relationship to the planning of the worship services?
      • Note 1: I believe singing theologically sound and rich songs is essential for the church. I view the church’s singing as an aspect of the church’s teaching ministry; thus, I believe an elder, or at the least an elder-qualified man, should be in charge of music.
      • Note 2: We love and appreciate skilled instrumentation, and believe we should always be striving for undistracting excellence, yet at the same time believe the primary sound heard in worship music should be the congregation’s voice. (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16)
  • How do you understand the importance of baptism in the life of the believer? What is baptism’s relationship to the local church?
    • Note: Baptism is explicitly commanded in Scripture for all Christians; as such, I believe baptism should ordinarily be expected for church membership. Think of it as a passport. You may very well be saved—the church is not saying you are not. You may very well be a citizen of the kingdom; but the church, as an embassy of the kingdom, just simply does not have the authority to grant certain rights and privileges of citizenship to someone who does not have a passport. Baptism involves publicly declaring my allegiance to Christ and my desire to pursue a life of discipleship. Jesus commands us as Christians to make disciples, and one of the steps involved in making disciples in the great commission is to baptize them. Peter commands new believers to be baptized in Acts 10. Baptism is the mechanism—the rite—that Jesus has given us for publicly declaring someone to be a member of his body. It’s like a team jersey that lets everyone know which team you’re playing for. Jesus instituted baptism as the distinguishing line between the church and the world, and He commands all those who have placed their faith in him to publicly declare that faith and identify with Him and with His people through baptism.
  • Why do you think the young people are graduating and not coming back (to the church or to the faith)? What do you think we can do to address that?

On his leadership:

  • How would you characterize your understanding of biblical church leadership? (servant-leadership? Serving by leading vs. leading by serving?)
  • What is your style of leadership (hands on, laid back, quick paced, CEO, facilitator)?
  • How do you preach (i.e., expositionally, topically, textually, doctrinally)?
  • What is the primary responsibility of the pastor? What are the next few priorities under that?
  • What’s your view of the pastor’s use of the original languages in the pulpit?
  • What are your thoughts on the importance of continuing education? (Conferences? Formal education? Books? Journal subscriptions?)
  • How would you decide who the church should associate with—partner with, support, etc?
  • What are your thoughts on having an office/study at the church? Would you be interested in working from the church, or prefer working from home?
  • How do you see your time being managed (what will you spend time doing—proportion given to study, counseling, visiting, etc)?

Get to know him better:

  • What is a position you hold with which few others would agree? [this not only let’s the candidate volunteer a position they hold that may be more controversial or obscure, but also allows you to see his attitude and comportment in his answer—humility with conviction, etc.]
  • What are one or two things about you that we might not like if we knew them (doctrinal position, method, personal weakness)?
  • Who are some women Bible teachers you would recommend to a ladies Bible study group? Who are some you would caution them about?
  • What kind of groups or organizations have you been involved in?
  • How do you regularly pursue holiness and communion with God?
  • What sins do you struggle with most?

Matters of Finances

  • Those who labor in teaching are worthy of double honor (ample pay) because the worker is worthy of his wages (1 Tim. 5:17–18); and the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:14).
  • So, the question is not merely a matter of what you think you can comfortably pay; the question is one of giving your pastor a reasonable living wage (not just enough that he scrapes by, can never save, etc.).
  • Talk through ministerial tax issues (dual status—see below; housing allowance; insurances; retirement)
  • It’s also common for a church to not account for what all is involved in a pastor’s pay [he must take into account insurances, retirement, taxes, loans (student loans accrued in gaining the training needed to be an effective pastor is often a significant concern), etc; most of these are accounted for in a business’ salary, so it is often overlooked for pastors]; not to mention anything on top of bills, such as books/commentaries/resources, any travel, starting a family, etc; it’s also important for churches to recognize that their #1 missionary to support is their own pastor.
  • For more on a pastor’s salary, start here.

Tax Issues Related to Church Ministry

Wading through taxes can be very challenging. That’s because taxes for churches and for pastors are quite different from taxes for businesses and non-ministry employees.

How does a housing allowance work? What expenses are covered under a housing allowance (why do wall-hangings and decorations count, but not toiletries)? Why should I choose a 403(b) rather than an IRA? What does it mean that a pastor is considered by the IRS to be “dual-status” (an employee for all purposes except social security/Medicare, for which the minister is considered self-employed)?

Trying to guess where to start can give you quite the headache, and trying to make sure you’re doing it right can be rather frightening. So, for those who may need to know a little more about tax issues, either for churches or for pastors specifically, I’ll just share a few of the resources that ended up being helpful to me.

  • Guidestone is a good resource to have on hand in general. They have some really helpful online resources, especially on housing allowance, but the site is kind of difficult to navigate. Their PDF on Ministerial Tax Issues is very helpful though—that’s probably where I’d start.
  • Clergy Financial Resources is the other main site I used when I was figuring out tax issues for my own ministry.
  • Free Church Accounting has some helpful blog posts.
  • You can also find stuff on the actual IRS site like here and here, but the other resources may be easier to wade through than the actual tax code.

Sundry Thoughts for the Church to Work Through

  • What are your thoughts on the role of trust between pastor and congregation? I believe trust between a congregation and its leadership is critical. The pastor of course should do everything he can do be worth the church’s trust. But that kind of trust ultimately cannot be earned; it must be given. The Bible commands congregations to trust and submit to godly leadership (Heb. 13:17). People sometimes think that a pastor must not try to implement any change whatsoever for years and years, so that he can slowly earn the trust of the people (which the people are determined to make difficult for the pastor to earn). While the pastor’s goal will certainly be to earn and be worth the deep trust of the congregation, that kind of trust cannot ultimately be earned (since it’s purely retrospective); it has to be granted by the congregation in obedience to the Word, up front. This is crucial for the congregation to understand before they call a pastor.
  • Sometimes church’s believe (whether consciously or not) that it will be the congregation’s responsibility to mentor, or coach, the pastor, and “show him the ropes/teach him how things are done here.” I don’t understand that as the congregation’s role. A pastor should eagerly seek the advice of his fellow elders, as well as other people he can view as mentors. He should certainly value the input of others. But it’s not the pastor’s job to simply learn how things are done here and do them that way. If there’s nothing wrong with it, and it seems to be working fine, then wonderful (why shake the boat). But if it seems unwise, or it’s something that isn’t accomplishing the church’s mission of making disciples, (and certainly if there is something biblically wrong with it), the pastor must not just do things “the way they’ve always been done.” It’s not the shepherd’s job to simply take the sheep where the majority of the sheep think it’s a good idea to go.
  • What would be the pastor’s relationship to the planning of the worship services?
  • What items in the current services are non-negotiable? Who is currently responsible for putting together the orders of service? How tied are you to the current order of service? What are the “sacred cows” in the church?
  • If you could have any (well-known) pastor you wanted, who would it be?
  • What did you like about your previous pastor’s shepherding? Dislike? Where is he going? Are you ready to view your new pastor as your pastor?
  • Are you willing to talk through making changes to the constitution in the future? Or do you feel that that is set in stone and you have no interest in dealing with that?
  • Do you feel that getting a seminary education is important?
  • In your opinion, what areas of concern need to be addressed by this congregation?
  • Expected dress code for pastor? Stage dress code?
  • What is your church culture? Age and occupation demographics? Small town, rural, city? Does everyone need to like the paint color or carpet color in order for it to be approved? How are decisions like that made?
  • What is the average pay of public school teachers in the area? A pastor should make at least around the same salary as a teacher.
  • What is the average household income of your church?
  • How do you view the importance of casualness/familial atmosphere vs. “professionalism” vs. reverence?
  • What are your plans on licensing or ordination?

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I’m grateful to 9Marks for providing some of these useful questions to ask pastoral candidates. Much of this information I’ve gathered out of my own experiences—positive and negative. My sincere aspiration is to be of help to pastors, potential pastors, and churches so that they can move through the search process in a wise and Christ-honoring manner. If you have any further questions, or would like to talk to me about your specific situation, please don’t hesitate to email me directly at christopherpreston [at] protonmail [dot] com. Godspeed!