Good On Paper

look-good-on-paper-e1344115951450Some of us look great on paper.  Others of us look mediocre on paper, but we happen to be quite impressive in person.

This is where the face-to-face interview becomes important.  And search committees need to be ready to discern who looks good on paper and who is actually a good match for them.  It’s a bit crushing to 1) interview someone who is amazing and then that person doesn’t show up and/or 2) have a pastor but wish you didn’t.  Pastor Nominating Committees are sometimes not prepared to call the best pastor.

Among the questions I have been asked in interviews:

  • What would you do if your child threw a rock through the rose window?  (Note:  I was 27 years old, child free and single at the time.  My response:  “Call the insurance company?”  Apparently the former pastor’s young child had broken a stained glass window and the congregation didn’t think he had been properly disciplined . . . so this became an interview question.)
  • Is there any way you could be a homosexual?  (Note:  I was being interviewed with my male spouse and baby spit up on my shoulder.  #BestBeardEver)
  • Would you ever protest anything?  (Note:  I re-asked:  Are you asking if there is anything in the world worth protesting?  That would be a yes.)

Church Search Committees sometimes ask questions based on issues with the former pastor, fears, or not-well-considered generalities that might or might not shine light on political proclivities.  We can do better.

Some of my favorite interview questions between Search Committees and Candidates:

  • Share a time when you transformed your church.  (Note:  It’s also helpful for a Search Committee to share a time when the congregation was transformed.)
  • Describe a time when you were a resilient leader.  (Note:  I’d also like to hear church leaders share how the congregation was resilient.)
  • What books did you read last year?  (Note:  Ask if the congregation reads books together.  #OneCongregationOneBook)
  • What kind of things feed your soul?  
  • What sucks the life out of your soul?
  • What would your non-Christian friends say about you?

What questions would you add to discern who looks good on paper and who is actually a 21st Century leader?

Image source here.  Note:  Looking good on paper is not our goal.

3 responses to “Good On Paper

  1. I asked a potential (and later hired) interim pastor, “What do you do to get fed spiritually?” His answer: “I walk.” That was it. Should have been a warning sign and had we paid attention, would have avoided much heartache and trouble.


  2. Whether being interviewed or doing the interviewing, I often as a question in return to a question. Using the example of the rock through the stained glass window, I might respond, “Oh, sounds like there’s a story there. Can you say more about it?”

    I also make note of interviewees who do this – ask for more info or clarification before responding. It can be an indication of good listening and communication skills.

    Other lines of questions:
    Tell me about a conflict that you felt went “well”, as these things go. About one that was difficult. What did you learn from each? How have you put it into practice?

    Describe a time when you were a collaborative leader. Describe a time when you were a directive leader.

    All for now – this is another of your “best of Jan” posts. Thanks.


  3. i wish you’d reflect on the sermon tapes. I hate those, and so often, that’s the first thing search committees ask for.


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