I had an interesting call today from an old friend. He is interviewing for an associate pastoral position (in this case a campus pastor) and his question was a good one. How do I determine the health of the church since what is seen on the outside is often not what one finds on the inside. This last truth can become a source of real pain when one realizes the level of dysfunction that exists - in many churches.
The first thing I suggested is that he read A Church Called TOV which is the best book on what dysfunctional and healthy churches look like. In fact, if I were a potential candidate I would be interested in knowing whether the senior leader and the board had read this book, and if so, what their observations or learnings were.
In general, I would want to scope out the following information.
- What is the health of the board? Congregations and staff cultures rarely rise above the health of the church board. How would they describe their board health? Is the board unified and healthy in their relationships? Does the board have a written board covenant that delineates how they do their work and that hold board members accountable?
- If you are applying for a senior pastoral position, what is the relationship of the board to their senior leader? Is it a permission granting leadership paradigm or a permission withholding paradigm? Is the senior leader a colleague on the board or simply an employee of the board? Are there any powerbrokers on the board who have the power to determine what does or does not happen?
- What is the vision/preferred future of the ministry? What you want to learn here is whether the senior pastor and board have clarified what it is that they are chasing after. Or, if they are simply doing accidental ministry. If they have a picture of the preferred future, what is their plan for getting there and how would they evaluate their progress?
- How does the board, staff and congregation deal with conflict? Do they bury it or deal with it and if so how? Do they have healthy conflict resolution practices? Are there any elephants in the room, areas of conflict that exist but are not being addressed?
- What is the health of the staff. Often you need to talk to other staff people about this. I would want to know how the senior leader treats staff, whether he/she empowers or controls and whether there is an open and candid culture where any issue can be put on the table with the exception of hidden agendas or personal attacks. I would ask other staff if there are issues that one cannot put on the table. They will know. I would want to know from other staff the positive side of the culture and the negative side. I ask want permission to speak with a number of staff to understand the culture from their perspective. If a senior leader is unwilling to give you that permission it is a sign that not all is well.
- Regarding staff culture, is there significant alignment of staff around common values, ministry direction and priorities? Or, do individual leaders simply do what is right in their own eyes?
- I would want to understand the vision of the leaders for disciplemaking, staff culture, local and world outreach, diversity, generosity, community impact and those things that I believe are important for a church to pursue.
- What is the history of the church? What have the high points been and the low points? Where are they in the life cycle of an organization today? On the decline, plateaued or moving forward?
- What is the leadership style of the senior leader? Do they empower their staff to do their work or do they micromanage, change and control what staff does? Are they secure in themselves, generous in giving opportunity away and treating staff with dignity, respect and appreciation? Or, are they ego driven, insecure and threatened by other strong and competent individuals.
When you ask questions like this you quickly determine the level of clarity that the church has regarding its priorities, direction and alignment. Speaking with multiple individuals allows you to determine how reality compares to stated answers. When looking for a pastoral job it is way too easy to overlook issues that will impact you down the line. You want to go into the role with your eyes open. You may choose to take the role in spite of issues you discover but at least you are doing so with a healthy level of clarity.