9 Questions To Ask When Interviewing An Executive Pastor

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From the time I was a teen, I knew I was destined to work at a church. The problem was, I didn’t see any roles that fit me. I didn’t have a drive to preach, so I didn’t want to be a senior pastor. I didn’t like teens even when I was one, and so figured I shouldn’t be a youth pastor. And my musical ability wasn’t awesome, which meant being a worship leader wasn’t in my future.

Then I met an executive pastor, and in a nanosecond I knew that was my destiny. What? I can run a church without having to be the guy in the spotlight? Sign me up.

And after working for a non-profit ministry and being exposed to around 800 churches where I saw many executive pastors in action—I started my “career” as a 27-year old Executive Pastor for a small church startup that didn’t even have a building. 

Over the next 20 years, we grew like crazy, added services, built buildings six times, bought land, added locations, started a preschool, bookstore and restaurant, grew the staff to more than 120 people, and saw more than 6,000 people attending at our peak. What a ride it was!

Since leaving my post nearly four years ago, I’ve been able to help many churches hire an executive pastor. Whether a church is big or small, there are some questions that I believe are important for any church as they consider hiring a leader for this unique position.

1. Do you enjoy leading the ministry-side or the operational-side more? Where does your experience lie? 

Some XPs oversee the ministry leaders (youth pastor, worship leader, discipleship pastor, etc.), others oversee the operations (finance, business, personnel, buildings and grounds), and others give leadership to all of it. Decide which you need, and then make sure you are interviewing someone who has a passion for the role you need filled.

2. Do you ever see yourself in a senior pastor role? Why/why not?

The best executive pastors are those who are comfortable not being in the #1 chair.Tweet: The best executive pastors are those who are comfortable not being in the number one chair. https://ctt.ec/z0m37+ via @VanderbloemenSG

If an XP wants to see himself or herself as a lead pastor someday, then problems could begin to emerge when there is a disagreement about direction. Find out early on whether or not this is within the candidate's trajectory. 

3. Do you have a desire (passion, gift) to teach? How often do you like to teach and in what settings?

If you are looking for someone to help lift the burden of teaching, then you’ll want to know about their passions and view some teaching samples. Conversely, many churches want their XPs to be focused on leadership and administration—and don’t want his or her time taken up by preparing for sermons.

4. What is the largest staff you’ve led?

It is key to know what level of organization a candidate has led. If they have only ever had 1 or 2 direct reports, they may not be able to delegate and lead at the level you’d like. Alternatively, if a candidate had 20+ direct reports, you might be concerned about his or her ability to establish a sustainable organizational structure.

[FREE DOWNLOAD: The 11 Scariest Interview Questions Ever Asked]

5. Looking back at the organization you’ve led that experienced the most growth, describe: What did it look like when you got there? How was it different when you left? What was the part you played in the growth?

If you are part of a growing church (or desire to be so), you need leaders who have experienced growth. It’s much easier to take people to a place you’ve already been. Ask questions that surface examples of growth, but also give you a glimpse into how humble (or not humble) they are. I love talking to candidates who give credit away to the teams they built.

6. If you come from a corporate environment, what is the greatest takeaway that can be applied to the ministry setting? What do you think your biggest challenge will be?

There can be some huge benefit in hiring an XP who has a corporate background with a heart for ministry. However, be cautious about someone who thinks everything he or she learned in their secular role will translate to church.

7. What are some specific ways you’ve helped teams stay aligned around the mission?

In any organization, silos are inevitable. You want to know that your XP has experience in aligning staff members and departments around a common vision.

8. How do you tackle staff performance issues? What about attitude or behavior issues?

You don’t want an XP who avoids conflict. Part of his or her job will be to jump into sensitive issues and have tough conversations when needed. This might be with staff relationships—or even handling sensitive congregational issues.

9. Describe the staff and church culture where you see yourself fitting best.

If your culture is informal, you probably don’t want an XP who is corporate and structured. If your team likes to be sarcastic and have fun, you want an XP who can fit that culture.

Hiring an executive pastor may be the second most important hire your church will make.Tweet: Hiring an executive pastor may be the second most important hire your church will make. https://ctt.ec/a076V+ via @VanderbloemenSG

This individual has the potential to lift a burden from the senior pastor and build a team and infrastructure that can enable to church to grow. These questions should get you started.

If we were going to round out the list with a 10th question, what would you add?

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