“How much does it pay?” asks the would-be pastor during the interview.
This could be a good question, but can we agree that if this is the only question the would-be pastor is asking, then he is not called to a career in ministry?
Salary is important, and a generous salary might make a job a possibility, even desirable, but it’s certainly not everything. Therefore, if you’re a pastor looking for a new job, you must be evaluating more than salary; you should evaluate the complete fit. You can be sure a good church will be doing this with you.
I have a few friends and family members who are in various stages of the organ donation process. From watching this, I’ve learned how seriously doctors take matching the right donor with the right person in need. They do this because the better the match is across all of their criteria, the higher the chance of a successful transplant.
As pastors, we can learn from this. When God calls us to move, we need to pay attention to the appropriate match criteria, such as the job description specifics, theological positions, denominational affiliation (or lack thereof), organizational personality, continuing education possibilities, geographic location, church and community size, expectations upon family . . . and more.
If you’re rash and don’t consider the overall fit, it can end up hurting you, your family, and the church. In the most extreme cases, a pastor might even leave the ministry altogether, not because he wasn’t suited or adequately trained for pastoral ministry but because the mismatch inflicted emotional and spiritual, career-ending trauma.
To help avoid this, let me briefly mention four categories which can serve as significant indicators as to how well matched a candidate is for a position. Also, I’ll relay stories from my own experience in order to illustrate how these categories apply.
1. The Job Description
The first thing to consider is the job description itself. Ask questions like this: Am I qualified to do this, in education and experience? Do I have a passion for it? Could I do this for 50 hours a week, for 50 weeks a year, for the next 5 years—or more?
If you look at enough job descriptions, you’ll start to notice that the descriptions themselves often fall into two categories: too big, in that expectations are unrealistic, and too small, in that expectations are unclear. Neither is necessarily bad, but as a candidate, you should be able to figure out which you are looking at and develop questions accordingly.
Let me give you an example of descriptions that were both too big and too small. One job I interviewed for had a huge description associated with it. When I asked the church about this, I learned that in a year or two, they hoped that the job would be split in two, with a new pastor hired to do half the job. That’s okay, I guess, but I’m glad I found this out beforehand so that we could talk about which half of the job I’d (potentially) keep, and which half I’d lose!
In another interview, the job description was threadbare and ambiguous; I couldn’t tell what the church expected this “Family Pastor” to do. So I asked. They were still vague. So I asked more specifically, “Take preaching, for example; there will only be two pastors on staff. Will the new pastor ever preach?” From the look on the senior pastor’s face, not only did I know the answer was “no,” but I also knew I had offended him by daring to ask. I, however, am glad I asked.
2. The Size of the Church and Surrounding Community
Another thing to consider is size, both the size of the church (and its association, if affiliated) and of the community.
As I prepared to finish seminary and find a job, I wasn’t really sure I knew where my family and I would best fit, so naturally we pursued a few different churches. Over time, there was one church that seemed like it could be a good fit: the onsite interview went well, the people were very friendly, and the gospel was clearly at work. Their community, however, was very rural. As my wife and I drove away from the interview, we realized that we wouldn’t be a good fit in a country church, even though many other things were aligned.
On the other end of the spectrum, I once interviewed at a thriving church in a college town, but, if hired, I would have been one of nine pastors on staff with an MDiv. This meant I would specialize in a ministry niche.
Small and large, rural and urban churches—and everything in-between—display the glory of God. Nonetheless, not every church is right for you (nor you for her). Work hard to find where God is specifically calling you.
3. The Theology
Also be sure to evaluate theology. It matters what a church believes and how strongly (or loosely) they hold those beliefs. You’re probably equipped to evaluate this, but I bring it up to make sure that you actually ask the questions necessary to discover a church’s theological convictions. Don’t make assumptions based on denominational affiliation or where the senior pastor received his seminary degree.
During an interview with one search team, as we were wrapping up, they asked, in a roundabout way, whether I was Arminian or Calvinist. I gave my answer with conviction, but also with (I hope) appropriate humility. The search team nodded their heads as I answered, seemingly in approval.
When I finished speaking, however, the leader of the search team asked: “How do you think this will work out here, given that Steve [not the actual name of the senior pastor] has the opposite view?”
In that moment, it wasn’t clear if his question was directed to the whole search team (as though they had never talked about this before), or if the question was only meant for me. But if you want to know what happened next, I’ll tell you: long, awkward pause.
Both of us should have figured this out sooner.
Finally, evaluating complete fit means considering this intangible and elusive thing called “personality.” All churches, just like people, have one. You’ll need to discover it and find out if you can work naturally with one another.
In one interviewing weekend, the worship pastor gave my young children piggyback rides as we walked through my neighborhood. This told me a lot about who he was and what the church valued.
In an interview at a different church, I went to lunch with the three teaching pastors at a mega church. On a Thursday at noon, they all ordered beers—one of them ordered two. Some of you, as you read this, are wondering if that church is still hiring! And others, well, you’re wondering if these pastors were even Christians. This is what I mean by personality and whether you belong.
Ask Questions and Spend Time
The best way to discern the complete fit and avoid a mismatch is by spending time together and asking questions. Do this over the phone, through email, in person, and by whatever other means you can. If you want some potential questions to ask, a good list is found here. Also, spending time on the church’s website and listening to lots of sermons will help.
But whatever you do, don’t just ask “what does it pay?” or “how often will I preach?” No amount of pay or preaching, in the long run, will make up for a transplant mismatch.