Preachers’ Questions for Elders

Dale JenkinsBryan McAlisterJeremy HouckChad LandmanMore Questions to Ask
A couple of quick disclaimers:

  • I love elders! I’ve been blessed to work with twenty-five to fifty elders; they are the very best men I’ve ever known!
  • While I don’t purport to be an expert I’ll start a list and let your comments add to it.
  1. You want to watch how the elders interact with each other. Do they seem to get along? Is there comfort or tension when they are together? Are they real or artificial? Do they treat each other as peers or is one dominant? You might even ask that last as a question and WATCH their reaction. Now, you may or may not like what you learn and that may not be a reason to go or not BUT at least you know what you are getting and have to work with or toward.
  2. A lot of guys get all antsy about positions and there is some reason to know where they are on some issues. BUT, I’d suggest that may be even more important is how they handle their positions on those issues. If you talk long enough and/or work together long enough you WILL find areas where you do not see exactly the same. So, do they think about people more than the position? Are they sensitive and caring in dealing with “hard” positions or do they just plow forward? Is every “position” written in stone or are they willing to discuss? Do they have a know-it-all attitude or are they still learning? How do they treat people who differ from themselves? What do they say about those people in private?
  3. How do they deal with money? Are they a bunch of tightwads who wouldn’t let go of a dollar for a soul or are they willing to spend to help for LOCAL outreach? Do they think a preacher should make “x” number of dollars or will you get cost of living raises (if you don’t get at least that you are in reality making LESS each year)? My advice is that you ask them for a cost of living raise each year in advance. I always ask that elders at least discuss what I am paid each year–they may or may not give me a raise–but I don’t want five years to go by and they have not even thought of it.
  4. Can they be wrong and admit it? Many elderships can’t admit they are human–of course, they will say they are–but they would never say–“We blew it.” Some elderships are like the Fonz–“I was wrrrrnn…rrrrggg…wrrr”. Ask them when was the last time they made a mistake and what it was. Did they own it?
  5. How do they appoint new elders? There are many ways to go about this process. Some elders think the way they do it is set in stone. Some elders treat themselves like a “self-perpetuating board”. I do believe that elders can biblically appoint additional elders in a congregation–if they were selected to lead the church then that would be a form of leadership. But in our day it seems wise to involve the members in the process. I’ve seen elders who refuse to appoint others as elders because they “think differently” than we do. I understand that but it’s a dangerous route.
  6. Do they love the lost or just enjoy diverting attention? How often do elderships enjoy chasing rabbits and spinning their wheels on issues and problems rather than dealing with souls? Do they take time to pray for the lost and the fallen? Do they dismiss their responsibility or are they active in reaching the lost in the community they live in (beginning in Jerusalem).
  7. Do they listen to the congregation? Do they think all practical wisdom resides within the three or six of them or are they wise enough to ask for input and help from the congregation? I’ve known churches with faithful, professional decorators in the body who determined colors and styles without any input. That sort of thing could be said of a myriad of issues. It is hard to keep the congregation together if they believe the elders do not respect them.

    Questions for Elders — Dale Jenkins (PDF)
    Questions for Elders — Dale Jenkins (Word)

Thanks for the opportunity to share. There are dozens of questions one should ask when entering this kind of relationship. There are two that I have relied on to “gauge” an eldership’s demeanor in the early days of the relationship.

  • What would it take to sever our relationship? (Beyond the obvious moral and doctrinal implications, what do they not want to see in me, so I can avoid doing that?)
  • What is the eldership’s policy/position on continuing education? (This was significant to me in order to see how the elders felt about my growth and learning, or if they prefer I not and stay ignorant.)

There is a third question, once the “screening” questions have been asked of me. I’m not sure if it is a question or a statement intended to convey a deeper sentiment.

  • Now that you have asked about my beliefs and faith, I’m curious when you will ask if I pray and how often? Or if I treat my wife and children with love and respect?

I recognize that such questions could be perceived as pompous, but that was the last intention when they were suggested and later used. The third is more of a revelation for the minister to the elders that shows this role transcends the presence in a pulpit or the occupation of office space.

Questions for Elders — Bryan McAlister (PDF)

Questions for Elders — Bryan McAlister (Word)

  1. How would you describe your church? Does the church describe itself by its past or by its vision. Do core values look inward or outward?
  2. Why was the church started? If a split that happened over 100 years ago started this congregation there still may be some baggage.
  3. What is the church’s Purpose? Does it have a well-defined mission and strategy or do they go with the flow?
  4. What is your unique role in this community? What sets this church apart? Who is the target audience? What ministry do they offer that no one else offers?
  5. How would a neighbor around this building portray this congregation? This tells you a lot about a church’s outreach.
  6. What’s this church’s theology? Does the church commit that Jesus is the head?
  7. How would you describe the atmosphere of: Worship; Small Groups; Business Meetings; Family Meetings; Special Events? Do they all agree on these?
  8. What are three areas that you feel need to be changed in this church? What are three areas that you feel need to stay the same? This will tell you the strengths and weaknesses of this congregation
  9. How many strong ministries does this church have? The more ministries the more involved the membership is.
  10. What new ministries have been started in the last five years? If none you may encounter a “we’ve never done it that way before.”
  11. What would your dreams be for this church if you knew you couldn’t fail? If they do not dream then neither will the congregation.
  12. What are the statistics for worship over the past five years? This gives you clues to tension and splits.
  13. Do you have a plan for growth? Are they willing to pay the price for growth?
  14. What is the single biggest obstacle to growth in this church? If they agree, you know where to start; if they disagree, you need to work on aligning perceptions.
  15. What role do you feel ministers should play in the development of a strong, growing, congregation? Vision will vary here but it makes them think.
  16. When did your last new members join? If the last family placed membership three years ago, you need to look at stale ministries.
  17. Is there any conflict in the church now? Conflict should not surprise you but it will allow the committee to be honest.
  18. What issues have regularly caused friction in this church? Are these real issues or symptoms?
  19. Why do you think I will help this church? The answers will shed light on expectations.
  20. What were the strengths and weaknesses of the past preacher? Do they dwell on the negative or push the positive. Also gives more expectations.
  21. How long have previous ministers worked with this congregation in the past? This pattern will usually follow. If the old minister retired then are you the interim?
  22. How does this church view its staff? Are they professionals or are they hired help?
  23. To whom do I answer and who will answer to me? This shows the hierarchy. You should answer directly to the elders.
  24. Has the interim period been healing? Interims are very helpful. Was it outside help or another minister on staff?
  25. What is the role of the preacher? Is he the office manager, mentor, or does he run the show?
  26. Will I have the freedom to shape and form my own ministry team? Or are you expected to work with the old team and their old ties and baggage?
  27. What is expected of my family? Is your wife expected at every event? Does she have to lead a ministry? Does your family have to answer to the elders or are you allowed to be the head of the home?

Questions for Elders — Jeremy Houck (PDF)

Questions for Elders — Jeremy Houck (Word)

Click on the picture below or the link:  25 Questions Chad Landman

  1. How long have you been a member of this congregation? What attracted you to come here? What keeps you here? The answer to these questions will give the candidate a sense of what attracts people to this church and how the church might have changed over the years.
  2. Tell me three things going well in this church. Tell me three things that can be improved. As leaders in the congregation, these people will have the most acute understanding of the general health of the congregation, as well as the beginning of a to-do list for the new preacher. The candidate should ask what recommendations they suggest to improve or remedy those shortcomings.
  3. What do people say about this church at the local coffee shop? This question asks about the reach or influence of the church in the community. If the candidate has time before meeting with the search committee, consider going to a local coffee shop and grocery store and ask for directions to the church building. Does the community know the church is in this community?
  4. Who are the heroes of this church? Why are they remembered fondly? These questions give the candidate an understanding of what the church values.
  5. What stories can you tell me about this church at its best or when you were most proud of it? This question speaks to the vision of this congregation and reveals when the church was living into its vision. Members may not be able to articulate their vision, or they may have a vision statement. Still this question will reveal whether their vision statement accords with their self-understanding of God’s divine purpose for this church.
  6. What have been the major arguments in the church in the past decade?

Adapted from Questions for a Prospective Rector Candidate to Ask the Search Committee, by Neal Michell, October 24, 2023