Pastor, Don’t Interview like Michael Scott

by Benjamin Vrbicek November 22, 2019

In one episode of The Office, branch manager Michael Scott interviewed for a role at the corporate offices in New York. David Wallace, president of Dunder Mifflin, asked Michael, “What do you think are your greatest strengths as a manager?” To this, Michael answered, “Why don’t I tell you what my greatest weaknesses are? I work too hard. I care too much. And sometimes I can be too invested in my job.”

In job interviews, it’s become cliché to ask about a person’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. The fact that The Office would spoof the questions tells you that. Still, if you’re a pastor considering a potential transition from one church to another, you’ll likely be asked. And when you are, please don’t interview like Michael Scott; do not answer the question about weaknesses with positive sounding “flaws.”

Have a Mock Interview

When looking for my first pastoral job, I had been interviewed many times but never in the context of pastoral ministry in a local church. All my interviewing experience had been in the business world. To be sure, there’s some significant overlap, but when I interviewed with engineering firms, no one ever asked me to articulate the gospel, explain the Trinity, tell them whether all the small groups in a church should use the same curriculum or choose their own, or what are my wife’s spiritual gifts. They didn’t ask these kinds of questions, so I needed practice at answering them.

One of the elders at my local church wisely offered to create a mock interview for me. He recruited several other mature Christians at our church, and they grilled me for about two hours on a Tuesday night in a classroom at our church. Then, after the mock interview, they gave me feedback for another hour.

It was miserable.

But why? Were they mean? Not at all. Were they unfair? Nope.

It was miserable because I thought naturally excelled at interviewing, but as it turned out, I didn’t. The experience was deeply humbling, maybe even humiliating. Invariably, my answers stretched too long. Sometimes I didn’t even answer the actual question asked. I had a lot to learn. Likely, so do you.

Before you begin the interviewing phase of a job search, schedule a mock interview. The best people to conduct one are those in your church who have sat on search committees before or those who have hiring responsibilities in their own job. If you can’t find these types of people, just recruit some friends to grill you.

To conduct a mock interview you need to know the right questions to ask. Below is a list of 15 questions you can use as a starting point. The last question is something of a theological “catch-all.”

Behavioral Interview Questions and Answers

Before I turn you loose, let me point out one thing. Most of the questions below fall into the category of behavioral interview questions. This is intentional. Behavioral questions focus on what a candidate has done, not what he or she might do in some hypothetical scenario. For example, one question might be, “Tell us about a time in ministry when you were in conflict with a person and how you resolved it,” as opposed to, “If someone didn’t like one of your new ministry initiatives, tell us how you might respond to them.” Another could be, “How have you chosen which passages to preach?” not, “How might you choose what passages to preach?”

If the search team asks you hypothetical questions, do your best to ground your responses in concrete examples. What you’ve done in the past and how you’ve learned from it is by far a better predictor of what you’ll do in the future than your theoretical pontifications. Wouldn’t you rather know if a football coach did go for the end zone on a fourth and goal with twenty seconds left when he was down by three, rather than what he might do if such a situation ever arose? I sure would.

Potential Interview Questions

1. How did you become a Christian?
2. Tell us about your daily walk with God and your call to ministry.
3. What are you reading these days? Who are some of your favorite authors and speakers?
4. What movies and books have you enjoyed recently?
5. If you are married, how did you meet your spouse? Tell us about your children (if you have them).
6. Why are you leaving your current ministry role?
7. Tell me about a time when something went very wrong in ministry. What did you learn?
8. Tell us about some of the unchurched people you have invited to your church and interacted with in the last six months.
9. What are some of your favorite sermons and why?
10. Of the spiritual gifts noted in Scripture, what are yours? How have you seen these spiritual gifts affirmed?
11. How important are small groups in a local church? Of the different groups you have participated in, describe what made them healthy or unhealthy.
12. Name a doctrine you hold that you consider to be of secondary importance. How have you taught about it publicly?
13. How have you maintained the balance between cultural relevance and faithfulness in gospel ministry? Or is this something that can’t be, or shouldn’t be, balanced?
14. What theological positions do you hold that might be considered controversial?
15. What is your view of men’s and women’s roles within the home and the church? What is your view of the end times? What is your view of the days of creation? What are your views on the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healing? What is your view of the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, specifically in salvation? What is your view on Christians and alcohol consumption? Do you personally drink alcohol? What is your view of divorce and remarriage? How should the church approach homosexuality and issues of gender?

Debrief the Interview

Be certain to debrief your mock interview shortly after it’s completed, if not right away. If you don’t, valuable feedback will slip away. Again, it’s better to be humbled in a fake interview than a real one.

Interviewing can be a rough experience for most pastors, but it doesn’t have to be. If you understand the process and you’ve prepared accordingly, it can be a wonderful time to articulate your gifts, theological convictions, and philosophy of ministry. And it can be a time where, in a very palpable sense, God speaks to you and guides you to the place he’s calling you to serve.