Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.
—Robert Half (1918–2001), American entrepreneur and pioneer of specialized staffing services
Have you ever served on a church personnel committee or nominating committee? If so, you probably participated in face-to-face interviews with potential church leaders. You had an opportunity to ask questions that could open windows of communication with a candidate. As someone who has been on both sides of the interview process numerous times, I can vouch that the right questions to ask a potential church leader are not “yes or no” questions but rather conversation starters that both set a candidate at ease and yet allow the candidate to go below the surface in introducing himself or herself.
In 1 Timothy 3:1-13, the apostle Paul urged the young pastor Timothy to place people in primary church leadership positions in Ephesus only if they had proven Christian character and basic leadership qualities. My guess is that to find such candidates, Timothy did due diligence by meeting with them and giving them an opportunity to talk about why they aspired to be church leaders.
Years ago I started using a potential leader interview approach that I call “4×3 Questions” (Read: “Four by Three Questions”). It is a set of four open-ended questions (conversation starters) each of which prompts three responses, not just a single, top-of-mind response. Had I been in Timothy’s sandals and read Paul’s qualifications for church leaders, perhaps I would have used these or similar questions in my interviews with leadership candidates.
What are three ways that you practice personal care on an ongoing basis?
In the candidate’s response to this question, listen for how the candidate takes care of himself or herself spiritually, physically, and mentally/emotionally. A leader who neglects his or her well-being in any of these areas may soon experience burnout in trying to lead others. Candidates can talk about their workout regimens, reading habits, personal spiritual retreats, devotional disciplines, accountability partners, and so forth. Such stories would reveal that a candidate understands the crucial importance of a leader’s proper personal care.
How would you describe your family life in three sentences?
Not in three words but in (at least) three sentences. Hopefully, this question prompts the potential leader to talk about his or her most important relationships after the relationship with Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the phrase “family life” gives potential leaders an opportunity to go beyond just sharing the names of a spouse, children, parents, or siblings. They can talk about their family life—how they share life, solve problems, celebrate one another, and so forth.
What are three ways that you regularly demonstrate devotion to the gospel?
James 2:18 says, “Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works.” Similarly, Paul instructed Timothy that church leaders needed to hold “the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim. 3:9). Just as importantly as talking about their preaching or teaching the gospel, potential church leaders can talk about witnessing experiences they’ve had and ways the gospel has impacted life decisions they have made.
What are the top three features or practices of your leadership style?
This question gives potential leaders an opportunity to become self-aware even as they participate in interview conversations. That is, the question allows them to talk about leadership qualities (or role models) in a personal, not theoretical, way. It goes beyond simply asking “Are you a leader?” to describing the kind of leader a candidate is or aspires to become.
Paul urged Timothy to take the time and make the concerted effort to appoint qualified, committed believers to leadership roles in the Ephesian church. One way that Timothy could identify those potential leaders was to ask them the right questions. That church’s ongoing spiritual health depended on it. So does the spiritual health of churches today!
David Briscoe is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.