In this section, we review the process of candidating. If a congregation is interested in you as a prospective minister, they will often invite you to interview for the open position. This invitation will usually entail providing answers to a series of questions, preaching a sample sermon, meeting with church leaders, and other activities geared toward determining whether or not you are a good fit for the church and vice versa.
It is important to remember that this process is a two-way street. Candidating is as much about you evaluating the church as it is about the church evaluating you. For that reason, this chapter contains information on what types of questions you should ask of the church as well as factors to consider before accepting an offer.
Knowing, generally, what to expect when you are candidating will help you prepare better for the experience. The following steps will give you an idea of how churches go about hiring ordained staff (individual experience may vary):
- You send your cover letter, resume, Philosophy of Ministry, and Statement of Faith, which are then reviewed. If the search committee is interested in you as a potential candidate, one of the members will send you a questionnaire.
- You answer the questionnaire and send it back (after saving a copy of your answers!).
- Further communication. The search committee may ask you for an audio or video file of you giving a sermon (so make sure to have both on hand!). Additional information may be requested.
- Phone calls and other communication. You may receive a visit from a member of the search committee.
- Finally, at this stage, it is time for you to visit the church and candidate for the position.
Steps to Success
Pray: A theme throughout this handbook has been that prayer should be the foundation of any endeavor, no less so when you are journeying to find God’s will for your career. Be sure to request prayer from those close to you as well!
Preparation: Make sure that you are prepared for the candidating process. Talk with friends who have recently candidated to get a feel for what to expect, and also consider speaking with your pastor. Dr. Timothy Witmer, Dr. Brandon Crowe and others at Westminster are also great resources that you should take advantage of. Check your denomination’s website to learn more about the specifics of the candidating process. Answer the sample interview questions provided below. Have a sermon of yours recorded in both audio and video format in case the search committee requests it. The more preparation you do, the smoother your candidating experience will be.
Patience: The candidating process is likely to be long and time-consuming. Having realistic expectations will help you to remain patient and Christ-oriented throughout the entire experience.
Record Keeping: Keep track of the churches with which you’ve been in contact as well as your answers to any questions they ask. Often, churches will ask similar questions (if not identical ones), so you will save yourself a great deal of work by keeping records of all the interactions you have had. This step also allows you to remember what you’ve told each church.
Interviewing Yourself: Before you can relate your strengths to others, you need to know what strengths you possess. In this section, we explore ways you can get to know yourself better so that you can both help yourself in the search for ordained ministry and better serve members of the body for years to come. The following information is adapted from Dr. Witmer’s Seminar in Leadership (PT 332).
Interview Preparation: Preparing for your interview is always a good idea. Dozens of practice questions are available for your use (for a large sampling of questions you can expect to field in an interview, refer to the resources listed below). Practice your answers to these questions and then ask a friend or two to interview you. The more time you spend preparing for your interview, the more confident and comfortable you will be when you sit down for the real experience.
Before the interview begins, make sure that someone prays (whether you or a member of the committee), especially that the Lord’s will is done and that he is honored throughout the process. Pray that he’ll give you and the search committee wisdom and clarity to know whether or not you are called to be their newest pastor.
Keep in mind that the interview will allow you to make a first impression on the committee and church members you encounter. Have a positive attitude and use appropriate, professional body language. Be confident, but not arrogant.
Interviewing the Church
Part of your task during the candidating process is to evaluate the church and to think about whether or not it is a good fit for you. To that end, it is best to come prepared with questions to ask. This is particularly true if you have a family to consider. For example, you will want to know whether your spouse and children fit in well with the congregation. This section contains some suggestions for the type of information you want to acquire while candidating. For a list of specific questions, see the appendix to this chapter.
Information to gather about the congregation:
General Facts (growth history, mission/purpose statement, constitution/by-laws, written history, annual report/budget, etc.)
Ministry Model (purposes of the church, biblical emphasis of church’s purpose, church’s methods for carrying out biblical purposes, etc.)
Questions to ask about context:
What to Bring to the Interview: When you are visiting a church to begin candidating, make sure to bring copies of your resume, cover letter, Philosophy of Ministry, Statement of Faith, and any written interaction you’ve had with the church.
Salary Negotiation: Compensation can be a topic that is touchy, taboo even, for those in ministry. While salary should not be your motivation for pursuing ordained ministry, it is a reality that you need income to support yourself and your family. In fact, it is a Scriptural mandate to provide for your family (1 Timothy 5:8) and for the church to support you, as a minister, in that endeavor (1 Timothy 5:17-18; 1 Corinthians 9:14). Accepting a call that does not offer a livable income runs the risk of creating tension, stress, and resentment for all parties involved.
If you have received an offer that is just not adequate for your family, but you can see yourself working well at the church, you may want to negotiate humbly with the church for compensation that will meet your family’s needs. It is imperative, of course, that your request not be fueled by greed or arrogance. While the Master of Divinity degree is similar to a law or medical degree in terms of time investment and rigor, average salaries for pastors are far below those of lawyers and doctors. Tailoring your fiscal expectations will help you better evaluate whether an offer is fair. However, if you are not able to support your family on what is offered, consider communicating this information to the church in a godly and respectful way by framing your request in terms of needs.
Another option may be tent-making. Many pastors work jobs outside of the church to support themselves while at the same time serving as ministers. This is certainly no easy task, but if you feel the Lord is calling you to a church that does not offer enough income to live on, perhaps this route is the best option.
Accepting a Call
Before accepting an offer, it is important to evaluate the situation as thoroughly as possible. After praying, take the time to consider the following factors.
Is the Lord calling you to the church? How does your spouse feel about the offer? Can close mentors affirm that you would be a good match for the church and vice versa?
Can you support your family on the compensation package offered to you? Will your spouse work? If the compensation package does not meet your fiscal needs, is your spouse willing to work? These types of questions must be answered before you accept an offer. To help you evaluate whether the compensation package offered is livable for you and your family, the following considerations should be weighed carefully before deciding to accept or reject an offer.
Determining Fair Compensation: How do you decide whether or not what is offered to you is fair? Your denomination may have standards regarding minimum packages offered to pastors. Additionally, you can check out salary.com to get a very general idea of what pastors are paid in your area. Ministrypay.com offers access to a survey of ministry salaries across the nation (for a fee). You can also speak with friends in ministry and mentors to help determine whether or not what is offered to you is fair.
Cost of Living: Before declining an offer because you feel the compensation is too low, do some research to get a feel for the cost of living in the area. The cost of living may be significantly lower than where you currently reside, making the seemingly low offer fair. You can check local classified ads to find out how much housing costs. Gas prices should also give you an indication of the cost of living. The bottom line is that you should do your homework and research an area before accepting or declining an offer.
Elements of Compensation: Your take-home pay is likely only a portion of your total compensation. The following are other elements often included in packages:
- Salary: Your actual take-home pay, excluding any benefits or housing.
- Housing: Churches will often provide housing in the form of a manse/parsonage or a housing allowance for a pastor who owns a home. This and other compensation details are covered in Dr. Witmer’s Seminar in Leadership (PT 332).
- Benefits: This may include medical insurance, life insurance, dental/vision, or a retirement plan.
- Reimbursements: Some churches will offer reimbursements for educational advancement, travel for work, conferences, etc.
- Vacation Time: Your compensation package should outline how much paid vacation time you receive as well as when you will be eligible for a sabbatical. You might also receive time off for study leave and personal advancement. You should also know what holidays you have off.
For more information on evaluating a compensation package (including questions you should ask), check out the following compensation guide from Dallas Theological Seminary.
It is critical that you evaluate your prospective employer through the lens of your family, particularly your spouse. Is your spouse comfortable with the expectations that the church has for her and for you? Does she feel that she would fit in well with the church congregation? Does she like the location? Take time to pray together and to make an informed decision that both of you feel is right.
Below are more elements of a call to consider before accepting.
Church Environment: Do you enjoy the church environment and feel comfortable enough to minister there?
Ministry Model: Do you and the church have a similar style of ministry, vision, and purpose? Will you be a good fit for their future plans?
Pastoral Expectations: Do you know what the church expects of you? Are you comfortable with the church members? Do you know how many hours per week you are expected to work? Which day(s) will you have off during the week?
Assessing Church Leadership: Will the church leadership support you? Can you work well with other pastors and elders? Is there enough support staff for you?
Region: Do you and your spouse like the geographical location of the church? The neighborhood? This is especially important to consider if you will be living in church housing.
Declining a Call
If, after prayer, consultation with family and others, and careful evaluation on your part, you have decided not to accept an offer, let the church know graciously that you do not feel that you are the right candidate for the job. This situation may require delicate handling. You do not have to (and probably shouldn’t) divulge specifics regarding your decision. It should be sufficient to tell them that you feel that you and the church are on different ministry paths, or have different styles of ministry, or that you’ve decided to take another offer. Be careful not to burn bridges; the Christian world is small, and, if you handle declining an offer badly, it could affect other ministry prospects.
Appendix: Sample Questions to Ask a Church:
The following will give you a feel for the types of questions to ask a prospective church while candidating. Do not ask them all of these questions, but use them to help figure out what is important to you and how best to frame what you do wish to ask. (This list was compiled by Will Spokes and John Larson, July 2011, and is drawn from Dr. Timothy Witmer’s Seminar in Leadership, PT 332.)
1. What should your pastor be and look like?
2. What should the pastor’s wife be and look like?
3. What kind of involvement do you think the pastor’s wife should have in the church?
4. What do you think about the pastor’s family (e.g. how it shapes the pastor’s time)?
5. What do you think about church choirs, Christmas trees, Easter egg hunts, etc.?
6. What do you consider to be “billable hours” for the pastor?
7. What do you think is reasonable vacation time for the pastor and his family?
8. How often do you expect your pastor to preach?
9. Should the pastor always be at every church function?
10. What do you think about church functions?
11. Are you willing to call a young pastor to lead, teach, take care of the congregation, moderate the session, and to make mistakes?
12. Is the session constantly aware of and making allowances for their own failures and mistakes?
13. What do the ruling elders perceive to be their responsibility to the congregation?
14. What kind of church do you envision?
15. Who do you want to worship at your church?
16. How should the lost be reached?
17. What fears do you have about calling a pastor?
18. Worship: what do you want or not want (what’s wrong and what’s right)?
19. Are church facilities good, bad, or are you happy with them?
20. What are your ideas about deacons and mercy ministry?
21. What are your thoughts on Christian education (expectations and "strategies")?
22. How much should you pay your pastor? How do you make this decision?
23. What is your stance toward those outside the church?
24. What about teaching and training covenant children? What does this look like to you?
25. Are ruling elders willing to be perceived as having made mistakes as they work out their principles?
26. What is negotiable and what is non-negotiable in the church? (e.g. nursery, sunday school, youth group, Trinity Hymnal, etc.)
27. What ministries do you support? How do you make those decisions?
28. What is your view of para-church ministries?
29. What should or should not happen at a session meeting?
30. What does fellowship look like?
31. Is there an implicit or explicit dress code at your church? Why or why not?
32. Small groups or not?
33. How many "official" church meetings are/will be held weekly?
34. What do you think about Christian coffee houses, sports/recreation leagues, support groups, etc.?
35. Would you be in favor of a numerical growth ceiling for your church? Why or why not?
36. When (if ever) would you want to think about planting another church? How would you go about doing such a thing?
37. How much money would it take to do what you want/need to do?
38. Would you be in favor of spending down a budget surplus? Why or why not?
39. What dictates what does or does not happen your church?
40. What does it mean to the officers when they take vows of doctrinal subscription?
41. What kind of relationship do the ruling elders want with the pastor?
42. What do you want from your church?
43. Are you willing to examine your practice in light of biblical principle?