Interviewing Your Next Cantor

It’s time to interview.
You have a well-defined position description and your congregation is excited to welcome a cantor to its staff. How do you determine who will be the best fit for your ministry? This resource is designed to give you ideas and encouragement that can be applied to many different scenarios.

It’s time to talk.
Clear communication throughout the search process is essential. Set up a time to visit with a new candidate, making sure to note the end time of the interview, both as a courtesy to the candidate as well as to the committee. Consider providing some of the interview questions to the candidate ahead of time. Samples include:

  • Which parts of the position description are especially exciting to you?
  • What do the terms “traditional” or “contemporary” mean to you?
  • How do you view the cantor’s role in the overall life of the congregation?
  • Which parts of the position description could be challenging to you?
  • With which age groups do you relate best? Which present a challenge?
  • What do you envision a team ministry to look like?

Thinking outside the box is great.
Additional questions can be asked in order to better understand a candidate’s creativity and personality. (Hint: it may be best to ask these questions without giving the candidate opportunity for reflection ahead of time.) Sample question and prompts include:

  • Can you tell us about a time when you learned through failure?
  • Tell us your story.
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • What frustrates you—and how do you handle frustration?
  • What’s your favorite food?
  • How are you fed spiritually?
  • What are your favorite hobbies?

Due diligence statements are important.
In order to provide transparency to the candidate and to provide accountability to the congregation, committees often ask questions like these:

  • May we contact your references?
  • Do you have objections to our checking with previous places of service?
  • Why did you leave your last congregation (or employer)?
  • Do we have your permission to complete a background check? (Many churches require this.)

Remember what you’re seeking.
Your new cantor is guaranteed to be a sinner and a saint, who will proclaim the gospel among other sinners and saints in your congregation. Musical and theological training is essential, but relational skills are vital and are often overlooked. A candidate may have outstanding skills in one area but may not be the best fit for the overall position.

Talk openly with your candidate(s) about issues in your congregation.
Don’t air all your dirty laundry but do share challenges in your congregation’s life together that may impact future ministry. Approaching delicate issues with transparency and charity is beneficial for all involved.

Meet the people.
If your interview process includes bringing in out-of-town candidates, make sure to develop a schedule for their visit that includes down time and visits with the pastor(s) and other lay leaders, as well as opportunities to make music. Consider a call-out hymn sing or other social event in order to involve the entire congregation.

Reflect.
After the interviews have concluded, re-examine the position description and the vision for music within your congregation. (See also the article “Visioning Process for Congregations”.) Discuss candidate joys and concerns openly as a committee. Pray for all the candidates and for the overall mission and ministry of Christ’s church on earth. Consider using the bids of the Kyrie or this amazingly profound collect:

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.