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The Delicate Art of Asking Questions When Being Interviewed
What do you ask? What do you not ask?
By Tom McKee

"Do you provide cell phones for the youth pastors?"

The interview had gone quite well until the applicant asked that question-it changed the whole tone of the interview, which went downhill from there. Too bad because for the first two hours we were all impressed. Then we asked him, "Do you have any questions for us?" and he pulled out a binder and began rattling them off from his list. I felt like we'd moved from interview to negotiation. I began to wonder when his agent was going to walk in the room and ask for a signing bonus.

When Jonathan asked me to write up the kind of questions that I believe a prospective youth pastor should ask in the interview process, I reflected on my 13 years in youth ministry, my decade as a senior pastor, my six years as a member of our church's personnel committee, and my 20 years as a human resource consultant in private and public sectors. (Wow! I must really be old-that's a year shy of half a century!) In addition to that, I've sat in on at least 50 interviews and witnessed the best and worst of them.

If you're interviewing for a youth pastor position, I have four suggestions that will help you demonstrate your strengths, your experiences, and your affirmation that God's directed you to be open for this position. And at the same time not feeling as though you're being taken advantage of "in the name of ministry" (e.g., working 80 hours a week for part-time pay).

Suggestion One: Don't Ask Questions-Seek Information

At the end of this article are more than 40 questions you want answered before accepting a youth ministry position.

The trick is getting this information without asking a list of questions.

How do you do that? One word: Listen. A huge, frequent search-committee mistake is that their members talk too much during the interview. But that can be a benefit for you if you listen carefully and ask for clarification. For example, "Can you tell me more about that?" Try to get them telling you stories of how the former youth pastor operated... which leads to my second suggestion.

Suggestion Two: Focus on Two Very Specific, Key Questions

Many prospective youth pastors love to ask, "What's your philosophy of youth ministry?" But that's a cliché. A stupid question. So avoid it. It's too general and gives the impression that you're into theory rather that practical ministry. Instead ask these questions:

1. Can you tell me about your former youth pastor and his/her youth ministry?
2. What are your expectations for the youth minister in the first six months, first year?

After you ask the first question, listen carefully. Listen for what the church leadership loved and didn't love so much. Ask follow-up questions that draw out the story (e.g., "Why were you concerned about this?" or "What excited you about this ministry?" or "How did that impact the church?") Listen for insights about significant issues such as staff relationships, volunteers, and budget overruns (and they will tell you about cost overruns-it's often a hot topic). If the former youth pastor was weak on administration, the committee may ask you tons of questions about your administrative gifts because they want to correct that problem. Or maybe you'll learn that the previous youth pastor will be hard to follow because everyone on the committee thinks he/she walked on water.

After you ask the second question, listen carefully for what they want. Do they want you reaching out to the community with huge events that draw hundreds of kids? Do they expect the group to grow by 10 percent, 50 percent, or 80 percent in your first year? Do they expect you to develop a discipleship program, an evangelism program, a mission-trip program, a big youth choir (popular in the 70s when most of the committee members were probably in youth group)?

Suggestion Three: Focus on the Church's Behavior with the Previous Youth Pastor

Most people and churches don't change easily. The church where you're interviewing probably will treat the next youth pastor the same way it treated past youth pastors. So focus your questions on past behavior. In other words, try to stay away from hypothetical or philosophical questions. Focus on very specific questions such as, "How did the former youth pastor handle fundraising activities?" "How did the former youth pastor get along with the pastor?" If the church fired its previous youth pastor (for a good reason), listen carefully to the reasons, the evaluation period, the documentation, and the process.

This style of interviewing-from both the interviewer and the interviewee-is called behavior-based questioning (we use this same style in our Sample Job Interview Guide on our Logistical Crud page). Behavior-based questions presume that "past performance reflects future results." So rather than asking the committee to regurgitate philosophies or what they'd "like to do," simply ask what the church has done. Most of these questions will prompt recollections of how the church responded to the previous youth pastor.

There are exceptions, however: The question suggested earlier-What are your expectations for the youth minister in the first six months, first year?-is about the future; past behavior isn't a factor. Therefore the key is making the question very specific and then turning it around and asking, "How long did it take the former youth pastor to meet your expectations?"

Suggestion Four: Meet and Converse Casually with Key Church Leaders to Get Information

Boards, staff, and special committees hold the answers to the following questions-not the search committee. And you can get much of the information you need through informal meetings, over meals, or just sitting around visiting with individuals.


Important Questions You Want Answered During Your Interview Process

Job expectations
1. What are your expectations for the youth pastor in the first three months, the first six months, the first year?
2. Can you describe the youth pastor's average work day?
3. What meetings not solely related to youth ministry is the youth pastor required to attend?
a. Boards
b. Committees
c. Staff
d. Worship services
e. Church events
4. Are there expectations for my spouse regarding her/his involvement in the church?

Budgets
1. What's the budgeting process for the youth ministry department?
2. How much has the youth ministry budget increased in the last five years?
3. What portion of the youth ministry budget is reserved for volunteer support/appreciation?
4. How much is in the youth ministry budget for volunteer training?

Staffing
1. What's the church policy on hiring youth interns?
2. What support staff does the youth pastor have access to? (i.e., receptionist, etc.)
3. What was the reason the previous youth pastor left? How long was he/she here?
4. What were the reasons other church staff left?

Priorities
1. What are the youth ministry's priorities? (e.g., discipleship, outreach, volunteer recruiting and managing, being on campus, programs, parent ministry, counseling, up-front teaching, etc.)
2. What is the youth ministry strategy regarding programs versus one-on-one ministry?

Facilities
1. What church facilities can the youth pastor use for ministry (e.g., gym, buses, vans)?
2. How is the use of church facilities coordinated for all church activities (i.e., who keeps the church calendar)?
3. Have there been any problems between various church ministries regarding use of facilities (e.g., music, children, senior)?
4. What office equipment did the previous youth pastor have (e.g., library, treadmill, surround sound, etc.)?

Salary and Benefits
1. How are salary and benefits determined?
2. What benefits are included in the salary package (e.g., retirement, dental, medical, housing allowance, car allowance, etc.)?
3. How and when is salary reviewed?
4. What salary increases have staff members received in the last five years?
5. What are the salaries for the rest of the staff?

Church Governance
1. How would you describe the church governance system (i.e., staff-led, board-led, deep pockets-led, etc.)?
2. Who supervises the youth pastor?
3. What is the youth pastor's relationship with the board(s)?
4. What is the youth pastor's relationship with the senior or lead pastor?
5. Is the church staff team-based or siloed?
6. Describe a typical church board meeting. How often does it meet?
7. Describe a typical staff meeting? How often does it meet?
8. What's your relationship with the church denomination? (if appropriate)
9. Who calls the youth pastor (i.e., does the board vote or does the church vote)?

General
1. What's this church's relationship with the other churches in town?
2. What is the church doing that excites you?
3. What changes would you like to see the youth pastor initiate over the next three years?
4. I have a passion and a gift for __________ (fill in with music, sports, technology, writing, speaking, etc.). How would you empower me to use this gift in ministry?
5. What outside engagements (speaking at a camp or retreat) is the youth pastor allowed to accept? What is considered healthy for my growth and ministry and also healthy for the church?
6. What did the previous youth pastor do for spiritual growth (i.e., retreats, mentoring, coaching, etc.)? What do you provide or sponsor?
7. What were your pet peeves with the previous youth pastor?
8. What is the history of the church? The church's youth ministry?
9. What are the community's demographics (i.e., education, ethnicity, etc.)? How does the church's demographics compare to the community's?

Theology
1. Are there any theological issues or disagreements that have surfaced in the church over the last few years?
2. How important is theology to the church leadership?




Tom McKee Tom McKee is president and owner of VolunteerPower.com a leadership development firm specializing in volunteerism. He has over 40 years of experience in volunteer leadership.



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