Thursday, June 14, 2012

Pastor Search Team, Installment Three: Don't Ask Stupid Questions!

When teaching Evangelism at a Baptist University years ago I would often say this to my students at the beginning of the semester: "Contrary to popular belief, there IS such a thing as a stupid question."

I didn't say that to burst a students' bubble, but to encourage them to ask the right questions.  Regardless of the context, questions that don't reveal needed information are useless!  Unfortunately, lots of useless questions usually get asked during an interview process.  And Pastor search teams made up of volunteers don't have time to waste by asking questions that reveal nothing.

Once you have narrowed your search to a single candidate, you should have a very good profile built of this individual.  Before they sit in front of you, you should already know their education and experience, their criminal and credit history, and the gifts and skills they bring to the table.  Additionally, you should already know--at least to a large degree--their doctrinal commitments, and whether those commitments are compatible with the theological identity of your church.

In short, by the time you get to a face to face interview with a candidate, the only things you don't know can only be revealed in one way:  by asking the right questions.  And the number one way to ask the WRONG questions is to make them hypothetical.

Anyone sitting in front of you with average intelligence can knock a hypothetical question out of the park!  Ask them what they would do in the event of a church conflict, and their answer will make them appear to embody the term "peacemaker."  Ask them what they believe about the balance between ministry and family, and you will get an answer that came directly from the lectures they received in their seminary "Formations" class!  Instead, ask them about the last time they had to deal with conflict at a church, and then ask them to get specific with you about what THEY did.  And don't ask them what they believe about balancing ministry and family.  Ask them what they DO currently to strike that balance.

In other words, don't ask hypothetical questions.  Ask behavioral questions!

Why?  Because the best predictor of what a man will do tomorrow is what he did yesterday!  Generic positional questions about hypothetical situations rarely if ever allow you a genuine, "inside" look into a candidate.  But when you seek to discover past behaviors, you are uncovering things that reveal what a man truly believes, and observing how he is likely to conduct himself as pastor of your church.

And how do you ask such questions?  Are there examples of such questions available?  Absolutely!  Our Association has a guide for conducting a behavioral interview with a prospective pastor in which the questions were designed around the Biblical qualifications for the role in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5.    For example, Paul tells Timothy that pastors must exhibit self control.  In light of this, you may ask a potential pastor about the last time he had an argument or disagreement with someone, such as a church member, or even the cashier at Wal-Mart.  Get him to describe for you how he approached the situation, what he said, and how he sought to bring reconciliation.  Conversations like this will tell you a lot more than simply asking a man if he is a "peacemaker."

For more information on this approach to interviewing potential pastors, and sample questions, check out our behavioral interview guide here.

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