How good looking are people on staff? Do they root for the same sports team as me? Do they serve good coffee? Now obviously, these questions should be low on your priorities when deciding on your first or next church to work. But what questions should you be considering?
I was having lunch with a youth pastor in his early twenties who was transitioning out of his church and searching for another church. Since he had opportunities to intern at multiple churches, I asked him, “How are you going to find the right church?” He paused and shrugged his shoulders. He wasn’t sure.
I was in the same place nine years ago; I had no framework to navigate me in the decision making process. Most of us pastors aren’t taught this in seminary and so many of us don’t have a filter to choose. Some statistics share that the average length a pastors stays at a church is roughly 2 years. The impacts of such quick turnovers are being felt negatively by the pastors, their families and the church family.
To abate the tide of turnover due to a poor fit, and to help think through the decision of where to work that will best suit you, your family and the church, here are some questions that have helped guide me in the past. Now of course there are other practical, financial, and logistical factors to consider, but these questions are focused on helping you think about fit and vision..
1. Do you KNOW yourself as a pastor/leader?
Pastors are expected to be superman—good at everything to save everyone. And many pastors try to live up to this expectation, including myself. I’ll have the desire to be good at everything—preaching, teaching, leading, managing, and organizing. But I simply can’t. I’ve had to come to terms with who I was as a pastor. I’ve had people challenge me to discover the unique gifts and strengths God has given me based on my story, past experiences, failures, and passions – rather than trying to be what I perceived every other great pastor to be. Once I was able to understand my own unique strengths and passions, I was able to find freedom and fun, along with a sense of focus on what I wanted to do next. This is still a journey that I’m on with so much room to grow, but here are some follow up questions that have helped me process. I encourage you to reflect on these questions and get input from trusted friends, family and colleagues.
Follow up questions:
- What type of pastor/ leader do you want to be? (teaching/ preaching, admin, worship, executive, youth, children’s) Why?
- In what areas have you received affirmations from friends, family and church staff about your gifting and passions?
- What would you still be doing even if you did not get paid for it?
- Have you asked others about some of your leadership blind spots or area of weaknesses? What are they?
2. Do you KNOW the Senior Pastor or pastor overseeing you?
When I interview at churches, I prepare several questions to ask about the senior pastor or pastor who will be my supervisor. This is so important because these people will be your role models and spiritual guides. You want the right person leading you – someone whose vision you are inspired by and someone you are excited to support. When you go in for interviews, be prepared to interview your interviewers. Ask questions and do your research. Listen to their messages online and interview current and former staff if possible. Get a good grasp of who they are as far as a leader and family person.
3. Do you KNOW the organization, culture and value?
I interviewed and accepted a job at a church before I knew anything about the culture, value and organization of the church. In my youthful naiveté, I just assumed that they were all the same. After all, we all loved Jesus right? I sure was wrong! Just as there are 32 unique and different flavors at Baskin Robbins, each church has their own unique flavor, even within the same denomination. It’s important to know have a sense of a particular church’s culture and structure before you actually accept the job or else you may regret the decision and leave just as quick as you came.
Here are some follow up questions:
- Have you visited the church website and what have you learned?
- Have you interviewed and talked to people at the church specifically about work and relationship dynamics?
- Do staff members love, like or put up with the church?
- What is the vision, mission and values of the church and do you agree?
- Do they have a history of high turnover or is staff very happy there?
- What do your spouse and family think of the church?
Our church just celebrated our senior pastor for his 30 years of leadership. It was such a beautiful way to honor what God has done through him. I would love that for myself and for you—to find the right church where your gifts and passions align – and that we can participate in many more 30-year celebrations!