What’s in a Question?

St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church has embarked on two search processes.  The first is to find an Interim Associate Rector to assist Kathy Trapani, our Interim Rector, over the next year or two that the Rector Search process is expected to take.

Vestries and selection committees are not acting alone in a call process.  They represent the people of God in the congregation. The Book of Common Prayer (BCP page 854) tells us the call process is a God-given responsibility of seeking God’s will for the community where you are; as well as seeking someone whom God is calling to be our rector, pastor, confessor, guide, leader, teacher and friend on this journey together. Parish leaders and priests come together with God’s help to find common faith and a common call to live into their full potential and serve God with their full hearts.

The Search Committee has a big job and a key part of it is to ask the right questions of the candidates?

But what questions?

Often interviews are superficial and the question designed more to get the candidate talking so we can see how they perform on the spot.  Left to this, the call process is at risk of failing.  But questions designed to create a faith filled conversation that not only discovers the areas of agreement or disagreement on a topic but explores the options, examines new ideas, and sees new possibilities can produce eye-opening new ways of seeing God’s call for both.

The selection committee should use the process of framing questions to help frame the key factors that help the Vestry assess the potential of each candidate to live into a call in this parish.  Questions tend to fall into categories such as:

  • Personal faith journey and formation process.
  • Beliefs and theology and their consistency with the congregation consensus
  • Leadership style, collegiality and participation in the work of the broader church
  • Pastoral Care and ministry experience in areas important to the congregation
  • Hot button issues and the overall sense of fit with the consensus of the congregation.

Written Questions Create a Consistent Baseline for Candidates

One approach to considering candidates is to develop a list of written questions to be used to screen candidates in the early round.  These written questions might cover all the categories and be designed to discover areas of agreement or difference between candidates and the congregation.

Examples of such baseline written questions might include:

  • Describe your personal journey in faith, and why you are being drawn to our parish.
  • Please reflect and write a sermon using the following (provide passages to be used)
  • Describe your leadership style. What important parish decisions have you made and how did you go about making those decisions?
  • Describe the best and the worst experience of your priesthood?  What did you learn from each?
  • Why do you feel called to be a Rector? How do your experience and skills fit with St. Timothy’s?

From such a first round of questions combined with the candidate’s CDO profile and other application materials, the selection committee should be in a better position to evaluate each candidate against its list of criteria to be used to consistency assess and rank each candidate in the process of narrowing the long list down to a short list of about 10-12 candidates for further consideration.

Interview Questions Explore Best Fit among Candidates

When the selection committee decides to interview the short list of candidates it has another challenge in framing questions to go beyond meeting the position qualifications to be rector and focus more on leadership style, experience appropriate to the parish needs, and the “fit” issues that make the relationship comfortable, durable and satisfying for both rector and congregation over the long term.

These interview questions must be well framed and to the point.  This is the time in the call process to separate the strongest candidates from the qualified ones.  The questions should be to the point and force the candidates to be honest about their views, experience, philosophy and style.  This match making process is looking for compatibility but it is also designed to help the parish growth into its call from God for its future.

Here is a sample of question to whet your appetite:

1.  Give three examples of contentious issues you have dealt with and how you handled them.

2.  Describe your theology of ministry, mission, and evangelism. How do these beliefs shape how you do your job as a priest and Rector?

3. As has the whole church, our parish has struggled with the issues of inclusiveness.  How have you struggled with these issues and where are you now in this journey? Give us examples of how this struggle played out in your current parish or Diocese.

4.   What is your view on the Anglican Covenant and its implications for the Anglican Communion relationship for the Episcopal Church in the United States?

5. What successful outreach programs have you created or led? Why were they successful?

6.    How do you make the gospel relevant to your parishioners and/or colleagues in today’s world? How have you done this for the varied parts of a diverse church community?

7.     Many parishes and parish families today are struggling with financial pressures from the recession. How have these pressures changed your approach to growth and parish ministry?

8.     How have you encouraged interaction and a sense of community across a parish with multiple Sunday services?  Give us examples of experimental service types or styles you have tried.

9.     St. Timothy’s Vestry adopted a 50th anniversary goal of planting a new mission congregation but we are waiting for God to help us discern how, when and where to do so. What is your experience with congregation development, growth strategies and evangelism to reach out to the unchurched and underserved to broaden the pledge base of the parish?

10.   In our 20/20 Vision long range planning process, the Vestry adopted three broad goals for St. Timothy’s future. What is your experience in each of these three goal areas:

a.       Be a Welcoming Parish Open to All

b.      Invest in our Kid’s Faith Foundation

c.       Live into the Mission of the Church

11.   What experience do you have with childrens and youth ministry? How have you engaged pre-school, elementary, middle, and high school youth in your current or past positions?

12.   What is your training and experience with regard to stewardship? What methods or programs have you deployed to successfully increase participation in pledge, endowment, or capital campaigns?

13.   The Vestry said it wants to double the pledge base of the parish in 10 years-–how would you do it?

14.   Describe your approach to pastoral care? What are the qualities or sensitivities you believe are important to ministering to the needs of the congregation at their most critical times? How would you involve other clergy and support resources in meeting the pastoral care needs of the congregation?

15.   What attracts you to the Diocese of California? Or, if you are already a priest of the Diocese, what attracts you to continued ministry in California?

16.   Describe how you would participate in Area Ministry if you were to be called as rector of our church. (For a full description, see www.diocal.org/areaministry.)

17.   Describe your experience in a parish long term strategic planning process. Give examples of your leadership role(s) in implementing strategic goals.

18.   St. Timothy’s Vestry has adopted three broad goals to date from our 20/20 Vision planning process.  How would you help us live into these broad goals and make them more actionable? (Provide candidates with 20/20 Vision Presentation Summary).

Additional Interview Process Resources

The table below offers links to additional resources for the interview process including examples of questions to consider asking the candidates:

Interview Resources Link
Clergy Interview Guide http://www.epicenter.org/Images/edot/Documents/PDF/STAR%20Training%20for%20website.pdf
Search Committee Summary of Congregational Feedback, Christ church Dearborn. MI http://www.christchurchdearborn.org/dl.cfm?file=downloads/CongregationalFeedbackMaterials.pptx 

Good power point summary of the search committee’s sense of the Congregational Feedback to frame the criteria for calling a new rector.

CDO Profile Example, Christ church Dearborn MI http://www.christchurchdearborn.org/dl.cfm?file=downloads/cdo_profile_expanded_final.docx 

The National church posts a summary of the rector openings using a profile of the parish.  Here is a good example from Christ’s Church Dearborn, Michigan now underway.


National Church CDO webpage http://www.episcopalchurch.org/cdo/
Interviewing in the Call Process http://www.episcopalchurch.org/documents/CDO_Interviewing_in_the_Calling_Process_May2009.pdf
Strategic Visioning process Report, Christ church Dearborn, MI http://www.christchurchdearborn.org/dl.cfm?file=downloads/cec_strategic_plan_aug2.pptx 

20/20 Vision is a work in progress but it likely needs to pause until the search process is finished and a new rector is called.  This is a good example of a finished Strategic Vision for Christ’s Church Dearborn.  The categories might offer insight about questions to ask candidates.

Calling a Youth minister in Diocese of Colorado http://www.coloradodiocese.org/03_faithformation/PDFs/Man_hir_2005.pdf
Tasks for the Search Committee http://www.dioceseofeaston.org/Tasks%20for%20Search%20Committee.pdf Checklist of tasks used in the Diocese of Eastern Oregon call process.

Interviewing candidates for a position whether it is rector or any other job is a lot like painting your house.  Most of the work is scrapping, sanding, and preparation until the house is ready to accept the paint.  Then there is the base coat or primer that is similar to the call process screening and narrowing of the field to get down to the short list.  Only then can you apply the final coats of paint to see the true color of the house.  After that top coat of paint is applied comes the real test—do I like what I see and does it fit with my expectations?  If you don’t like the choice and don’t feel you can live with it for the long term—that is the time to change the paint color.  And so it is in the final round of interviews narrowing the field to the final three to recommend to the Vestry.

Ideally, the selection committee will give the Vestry a list of finalist candidates that offer the same high standards of quality, preparation and experience but offer a choice of styles to enable the Vestry to measure the true color of the ‘curb appeal’ of the candidates today and the ability to judge how well they will wear for the next 22 years.

We are praying for you and know that, with God’s help, your work will serve the congregation well.


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