When I was in high school, I really, really hated mathematics. The most heinous part of math was the word problems. If it wasn’t enough that letters were put in place of numbers, then some demented mind used sentences to create imaginary problems. I digress.
Every word problem seemed to make little or no sense. Here is an idea of what the word problems seemed like. Question: If you have ten ice cubes and eighty toaster ovens, how many kangaroos can jump on the bed? Answer: Purple, because unicorns don’t wear hats.
By this point you might be thinking, “What in the world the writer trying to say?” This post is about questionnaires for pastoral positions. Inquiries about your ministry often leave you wondering what the church really wants to know about you. Sometimes questionnaires make as much sense as the high school math problems I hated so much.
Over the course of nearly twenty years of pastoral ministry, I have either seen or completed more questionnaires than I care to count. On more than one occasion I have completed identical applications from two different churches within a very short time from each other.
On another occasion I was approached by the head of a pulpit committee and asked to complete his church’s questionnaire. He seemed very pleased with the work that committee had done to draft the questionnaire and to put it online. The gentleman stated that it would probably take me four hours to complete the form. When I went to the church’s website to look at the online form, four hours would have been a minimum if I didn’t think too hard about the answers I gave.
I wish I could say that what I just described was the exception, but it is quite often the rule. Here is my off-the cuff summary of the vast majority of questionnaires for pastoral positions: do you smoke, drink, chew and run with … — well, you know the rest. Okay, I’m being a little facetious, but you get the idea. The questionnaires usually focus more on a pastor’s standards than anything else. In other words, they deal with superficialities rather than with vital realities.
Standards are important, but they are not a true gauge of a pastor’s walk with Christ or of his ministry. So, what do you do when you have to complete another mind-numbing form dealing with matters that don’t adequately reflect your walk with Christ?
- Keep a list of answers.
This sounds superficial in and of itself, but bear with me. While each church has its own questionnaire, at least some of the questions will be similar. So, here are two reasons to keep your answers. 1) You can save a little time. If you are in communication with multiple churches over the period of months, you will be able to have the answers readily available. 2) You can be consistent with your answer(s). There have been times when I liked how I worded an answer, but because I didn’t keep the answer, I couldn’t use it again. 3) Would your answer really be different from one church to another?
How can you keep a list? The next bullet point may provide the easiest way.
- Keep copies of the questionnaires that you complete.
Keeping a copy of the forms does more than just help you to keep your answers straight. Copies will also help you to know which churches you have contacted. You can avoid embarrassment if you submitted two questionnaires with different answers to the same church or submitted two questionnaires to the wrong churches.
- Don’t read into the questions.
If you know a church travels is a certain orbit in Christianity, you might be able to discern a little about the church from the kind of questions they ask. More often than not, the questions tend to be open-ended. “What do you believe about…” Don’t give the answer you think they want. Be honest and sincere. Give the best answer you can give.
Sometimes a church is looking for everything in their next pastor that their previous pastor wasn’t. So, your answer to a question may be received in ways that you would never expect.
- Don’t be afraid to postpone the completion of a particular question.
One questionnaire I was given required very sensitive information before my address and phone number. Be careful about what information you give because you do not know exactly who will see that information. An inadvertently misplaced document with sensitive information could be seen by those who have no business having access to that kind of information. In the case I have in mind, I was asked for my Social Security number. While I am sure that the information would have been used for a background check to which I would willingly submit, the first solid communication with the church through a questionnaire was not an appropriate time or way to ask for such sensitive details.
Sometimes an answer to a question is best discussed in person. You don’t have anything to hide, but a brief, written answer may raise more questions than the actual situation requires. Being able to answer the question in person would provide an opportunity not to make a big deal out of nothing.
If you do not provide information or answer certain questions, make sure that you communicate very clearly and humbly when, how, and to whom you will provide the requested information.
Completing questionnaires can be a lengthy and even frustrating step in the candidating process. Do your best, and let the Lord do the rest. Besides, you never know when a church wants to know if you drink IBC root beer, or if they will do a background check with the local SPCA to see whether or not you owned a hat-wearing unicorn.
Pastor, what is the most unusual question you were asked on a questionnaire?
Do you have other insight into the completion of questionnaires?
Have you created a recommended questionnaire for your church to use in the search for your successor?