Last week Sports Illustrated's Monday Morning Quarterback released an incredible article that gave a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into an NFL head coaching interview. Even though the average tenure of a coach is 38 months, the average salary of nearly $3.5 million and the fact there are only 32 in the world make this an in-demand and competitive process. In these interviews, coaches are given the opportunity to talk about their philosophy, their vision, and how they have grown in their career. Team executives get to ask about personnel issues, the locker room, and overall team culture. Ultimately when a new coach is named, it's the result of a lengthy process of vetting, negotiating, and data analysis.
So far in ministry I've accepted 2 positions, but in the process of those positions interviewed with at least a couple dozen churches. Interviews provide a great way for a search committee to get to know you in a focused time, and for the candidate to get a sense of who the church is and what they're like. It's not the only step in a healthy search process, but it is a necessary step. Here are 10 Do's and Don'ts for effective interviews.
1. Don't assume you have all the answers - With all our preparation and experience in ministry, it can be easy to assume we can take what we know and what we've done and apply it to whatever situation we're walking into. Many times in our ministry our success is due to us staying out of God's way! The difference between an NFL coach and a ministry position is the coach is self-dependent, but in ministry we are Spirit-dependent. He has the answers, not us.
2. Do listen carefully to the search committee - These are volunteers who have been chosen by their church to help find new leadership. The church may be hurting, may feel lost, or have gone through a crisis in leadership before. The search committee represents all of these feelings, and they have a vested interest in finding God's choice for the position.
3. Don't go in with a list of things you'll change - Sadly too many ministry leaders make plans to blow things up before they even arrive. That doesn't make you a "visionary change catalyst," that makes you an idiot. All churches and ministries are fluid and will need change, but you can't determine that until you learn the culture, history, and above all the people.
4. Do ask them hard questions - When you go into a search process, you could be moving your family somewhere. You owe it to them, and to the church, to ask hard questions of the committee. David Prince, a pastor & professor, offers 14 questions to ask a search committee. It shows a prepared committee and a healthy church when they can provide answers to your hard questions, a church that is looking for solid leadership.
5. Don't hide your theological positions on things that can be divisive - In the SBC right now there are a couple of theological issues flying around, but the largest is over the issue of Calvinism. Regardless of your position on that issue (or any number of others like women in ministry, speaking in tongues, or Bible translation), you need to be honest with the committee, and they need to be honest with you about their church's position on those issues.
6. Do your homework on the church, leadership history, and community - Just about every church has a website or social media page. The content on those pages, and how recently it's been updated, can give you a lot of information on a prospective church. Many times these are used as a front door for visitors, so find out what they want them to know about. Check out the demographics and nature of the community (is it middle class or poor? ethnic or white? urban or rural?) to see if it's a potential fit for you and your family.
7. Don't be scared to say "I don't know" - I'll admit there have been several times in interviews I was asked questions that I honestly had no idea what to say. I can remember a few times I winged it to try to say something, and others I told them I didn't know and would have to think about it. Most of the time committees are patient, and you should be with them when they say they don't know the answer to something. If we're comfortable in our skin and in our place in Christ, then we can be ok not knowing everything.
8. Do find out what happened to the last guy - Unless it's a brand-new position, you're going to take over for someone who resigned (or was fired). It matters because you're going to inherit the ramifications of that transition. I took over for someone who had been dismissed and had to deal with the fallout from those who vehemently disagreed with that move. I've also taken over for someone beloved, and couldn't do anything right for a long time because it wasn't like how he did it.
9. Don't proceed without involving your spouse and family - Moving in ministry is a lot more than taking a new job. It's the only field that depends on your spouse and family like no other can. That's why it's so important for you as a candidate to involve your spouse as much as possible. Trust the spirit of wisdom God has given that He will lead both of you. It will become their church too, where they go to meet with God in worship and other believers in fellowship. If you have kids, it will be the church you trust your kids with on a regular basis.
10. Do make sure you soak everything in prayer - I saved this for the end because it's the last thing I want you to remember. Throughout the entire process, it needs to be soaked in prayer. Pray for yourself to know what God wants, your family to recognize God's plan, your current church because of the gap you'll leave, and the potential new church that God would give a healthy and effective ministry there. Hopefully you're dealing with a search committee that is committed to prayer too, because when everyone is in tune with the Spirit the right answer can be obvious to everyone.
What interview advice would you share?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.