September 1, 1999. That was my official start date in ministry at Porter Free Will Baptist Church. I had interviewed with Pastor Forrest Chamberlin and the deacon board for the position of associate pastor a few weeks before. Pastor Chamberlin was the chairman of the ordaining council when I was ordained seventeen years prior, and had enjoyed a forty-three-year tenure at Porter. At that time, he was seventy-seven years old, and felt the time was appropriate for bringing in a “second man.” What keen insight he had, because fourteen months later health issues would dictate that he step away from active ministry. It was at that point that he and I would trade roles.
I still remember the initial interview with the board; it was late July. I had just taken the youth group from the church where I had been serving to the National Youth Conference in Atlanta, GA. Pastor Chamberlin had stopped by my place of secular employment in June, prior to the National. He had asked me to prayerfully consider coming to Porter as his associate. He agreed to give me until after the National to see some ministry projects through where I was then serving. We returned home from Atlanta on a Thursday, and over the weekend I was meeting with the leadership of the church. There were some obvious questions that would be asked of me, and I of them.
Having known Pastor Chamberlin, and having preached in that church numerous times, I had a good understanding of who they were, and how they functioned. Some of the questions below are questions that I had asked in that interview. Some of the questions below would have been helpful had I not had that initial understanding.
- How long have previous pastor(s) been there? (Compare the answer of this one to the answer of question #6, and it may or may not send up a few red flags. If there is an average tenure of 4 years or less, there may be an issue with who holds that patriarchal position in the church.)
- What circumstances led to the former pastor’s resignation or dismissal? (This could reveal a lot of information.)
- How many attendees are members? (If you have a low percentage of attendees who commit to membership, are there underlying issues that might need addressed.)
- What is the percentage of first-time guests who return? (This could reveal an issue of how the church welcomes outsiders.)
- How do membership numbers compare to those of 5 years ago? (Is the church in growth or decline?)
- Who are the deacons (leadership), and how involved are they in the visitation of the sick, as well as providing care for the church family? (This will tell you whether the deacons understand their biblical role, and take it seriously.)
- How involved is the church in community outreach? And what is the vision of the church and its leadership in regard to honoring Christ through both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission? (While you will develop your own God-given vision for the church, it will be good to know if there is any existing vision already present. If you are considering the possibility of serving this church family, you need to know their level of spiritual maturity and obedience as servants.)
- How involved is the church in state and national ministries? (i.e., do they support missions, etc.? This may, or may not be important to you, but you should know who they support, and at what level)
- You might want to ask, while your wife is supportive of your ministry, what expectations does the church/leadership have of her? (I know of churches where the pastor’s wife is expected to be the WAC president, VBS director, piano player, treasurer, and so on. You need to know – up front – if there are any hidden expectations.)
- Eventually these questions need asked in regards to pay/benefits package (while it may not be spiritual, this must eventually be discussed):
- Starting salary? How are cost of living raises addressed?
- Is there a parsonage?
- Does the church cover expenses for the pastor (and his family) to attend conferences such as the NAFWB Convention or other conferences?
- Will the church help with moving expenses?
* Depending on individual circumstances, I am sure there are many other questions that you might want to ask. The key is, don’t be afraid to ask. This is the time to establish the best understanding of what expectations are.
Pursuing God’s plan in regard to a place of ministry can be overwhelming. You may have someone walk into your place of employment, or you just might receive a phone call from five states away. Inevitably, if the Lord is leading your heart toward serving a church, you need some face-to-face time with that church family. They need to have an opportunity to get to know a little about you, and you them. I would recommend that you offer to make the trip for a visit (many churches offer to pay for you to come for such a visit). It may be that you arrive on Friday, and stay through Monday morning. This would allow you to meet with the leadership (Friday evening, or Saturday morning). You would have Saturday to see the community (housing, schools, etc.). You would have opportunity to preach both services on Sunday, with (hopefully) an opportunity to meet the people personally in an informal setting like a meal. While a longer visit would be preferred, at least you would have the opportunity to establish a relationship with the folks you may end up serving for many years to come.
About the Author: Mark Price has served as pastor to the Porter Free Will Baptist Church (Portsmouth, OH) since September of 1999. He is married to Deanna, and is dad to Lacey and Hannah. Mark also serves as Moderator to The Ohio State Association of Free Will Baptists, is a member of the Free Will Baptist International Missions Board, as well as National Chairman for the FWBIM Ambassador Program.