POV: You know you’ve been called to serve as a leader in a local church.
You absolutely believe that the Lord is calling you to move from your volunteer* position to a vocational staff role or from one church staff to another. So… How do you know where to go? And… what are the questions to ask when interviewing?
It’s one thing to choose a community of faith to be a part of as a congregant. It’s a whole ‘nother space of discernment to determine where you could step onto staff and embrace a mission you’re responsible for helping others embrace, too.
So, here are the questions to ask when interviewing at a church. Full disclosure: Did I have all these questions answered when I started applying for my first ministry job? Nope. I sure didn’t. Rare is the leader who does. In fact, there are a few I still wrestle with after many years in ministry. But this will give you a good starting set of questions to consider as you navigate the world of interviewing.
1) Consider your non-negotiables.
ASK: What are the things I absolutely believe and don’t want to have to “unteach,” should another leader in the church say differently?
“Hot topics”: Socially relevant issues often include intersection of politics and faith, abortion laws, gun ownership regulations, and the like. You’ll come up with a list that’s right for you but what you don’t want is to land a job, find you disagree significantly, and need to leave a community because the teachings aren’t how you understand God’s Word on the matter. This isn’t good for you or them.
Sacraments: If you’re called to work with children and youth specifically, you might also ask what position you can hold with some of the following experiences:
- Baptism: Can babies be baptized or just people who can profess their faith for themselves?
- Confirmation: Is this necessary or no? And, are you one of the teachers or is it another leader?
- Marriage: What is the definition of marriage? How do you celebrate marriage? When can divorce happen, if ever?
- Communion: Are you a part of a tradition that invites everyone to an open table or no?
- And any others…
Leadership: This might not climb to the top of your non-negotiable list but asking how a church approaches leadership roles could impact the ways in which you can build a team (and maybe serve).
- Gender Differences: Are there restrictions on which roles men and women can hold in a church?
- Relationship Status: Does a person’s relationship status change how they are able to serve? (married vs. single vs. divorced vs. dating vs. ____)
- Accountability + Decision-making: Is there a board or a council of elders that provides oversight and accountability? Or is it all up to the staff?
- Pastoral Selection: How does one become ordained in the tradition? And how are pastors hired (and fired)?
IF THE TURNTABLES ARE TURNED…
Churches should be able to state their non-negotiables, too. An organization will be wise to vet applicants early on and only consider those who align well on some of the most impactful tensions of our day. If you’re an applicant interviewing with a church team who can’t answer these, you will want to consider if their absence-of-stance matters.
2) Consider your worship.
ASK: Is this a community, and are these leaders, I want to inform my personal faith journey?
Everyone who follows Jesus has a preferred way to connect with Christ in community.
You’re not just working another job; as a church staff member, you’re a part of the community. And while some folks choose to work in one place and worship in another, wouldn’t it be great if you could be at home in just one place? Check out a church’s online service, listen to past sermons, experience their offerings, and really ask yourself if you can worship there.
IF THE TURNTABLES ARE TURNED…
As part of an interview process, a church should incorporate an opportunity for applicants to experience worship with them. Ideally, if a community worships in multiple styles, candidates will get to see all the options.
3) Consider your community.
ASK: Are there people here I can connect with and be myself around?
People need people. We all do. Even if we think we’ll be okay without.
If you don’t see “your people” in the seats of the church, a thoughtful question to ask during an interview is if there are others in the church or around the town who are of a similar life stage (or whatever qualifier you know you’re looking for).
Ministry can be very lonely. (Don’t believe me? Check out #4 on the “Should I Quit My Job?” list.) And, while it’s easy to learn what fun things-to-do your new church is close to, you’re going to want friends to do those fun things with. If those people are not in the church, it’s okay to ask the questions about what’s around town and ways you can intentionally meet new people.
Another important question to consider has to do with your current community: How close do you want to remain to the friends and family who know and love you right now?
Do you want to be within a day’s drive? Or is taking a flight aokay with you? Getting home for holidays and other happenings will matter. And only you know how much. In my first ministry job, I could work a half day on Thursday, make it home for a late dinner, and stay through an early dinner on Saturday, making it back to my church’s town a little after midnight – getting just enough sleep before Sunday. That 7-hour drive was “nothing”… until it was something. So building your search radius around proximity to people could be a good idea.
IF THE TURNTABLES ARE TURNED…
One way churches can care for their staff is to have a guide that clearly states parameters around office hours, health leave, vacation days, etc. I use the word “care” because, being a church, the leadership can take into consideration the needs of staff beyond the “standard operating procedures” most businesses hold. As an applicant, knowing the questions to ask when interviewing is important. Asking about the flexibility of work space and hours may make or break your decision – and that’s okay. It’s better to know before stepping into a job how a church values a healthy approach to work rather than experiencing unhealth, firsthand.
Last but definitely not least: A heart to serve the Lord and a call to work in ministry doesn’t need all this figured out. These are just some questions to ask when interviewing at a church. And… over time, where you and the church just aren’t aligned, you’ll start to feel some internal tension. Plus, if you work with kids, youth, or young adults, someone’s bound to ask some question along the way that will lead you to wrestle with most of the questions above. And the more you can put words around some of all this now, the easier it will be to apply to the kinds of churches you’re in sync with, and the more likely it is you’ll stick around for a good, long while when hired. Which is good for you AND them AND all the people you’re serving.
And whether you’re a leader who’s looking or a church who’s searching, if you want to talk more about any of this, let’s plan a call.
*HOT TAKE: If you’ve never served as a volunteer in the ministry area in which you’re about to pursue a paid position – DO! Go ask the current leadership, right now, if you can join the team! You’ll start learning the ins and outs of what makes that ministry happen – a ministry that’s a part of a church you already know (and love) – and it’s free, on-the-job experience you can take with you into your next.
Renée Wilson will tell you the best advice she ever received as a volunteer in youth ministry was “prepare well and love ’em to Jesus.” And that’s exactly why she’s a part of our team. Through her 15+ years of mentoring and ministering with children, youth, and young adults, Renée knows the value of building healthy teams and loves creating approaches around the vision of seeing more and more people come to know Christ.