Why Your Pastor Search Team Needs the Bible

Trevin Wax
Trevin Wax

In the past ten years, 50% of churches saw the departure of one senior pastor and the arrival of another. With pastoral transitions so common today, it's odd that there are so few books available that help pastoral search teams accomplish their task effectively.

Pastor Chris Brauns has sought to fill the gap. He has recently written When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search: Biblical Principles and Practices to Guide Your Search (Moody, 2011) for churches seeking their next pastor. I can't think of a better book to recommend churches (and pastor candidates!) in the middle of transition.

Today, Chris stops by the blog to talk with me about his new book.

Trevin Wax: Chris, you've been a pastor for many years, which means you've been both through the pastoral search process as a candidate, as well as having directed the church to hire certain staff members, etc. What is the fundamental truth that a candidate should expect from a search team and a search team should expect from a candidate?

Chris Brauns: Both a church looking for a pastor and a pastoral candidate should expect a humble evaluation of where the other is at when communicating.  This may sound obvious, but it's not as easily accomplished as one might think.  Whether it is a pastor or a church, it is hard to be objective about where one is at.  For instance, Proverbs 16:2 says that all a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.  Neither a candidate or a church should quickly assume they understand their own motives.

Trevin Wax: What are some of the places the other can be "at?" What are some of the errant assumptions that search teams and candidates make about each other?

Chris Brauns: In the case of churches, they can be really divided.  Perhaps, the previous pastor left in difficult circumstances.  Now the church is looking for a pastor to bring them together.  Yet, the reality is that within the church they have different visions and philosophies of ministry and they haven't really worked to unify around Christ and His Word.

Further, churches may be in a mode where they are unconsciously reacting to the previous pastor.

Candidates can also be naive.  They assume that somehow they won't encounter the same sorts of challenges in the next church.  Or, candidates can be desperate enough for a call that they accept a position without pointing out areas that are the potential source of conflict.

Either a church or a candidate can be at an "impatient" place where the process is hurried along without really doing due diligence.

Trevin Wax: How do you advise pastoral candidates and search teams to "slow down" the process? And are there ever occasions when the process needs to "speed up?"

Chris Brauns: I point churches looking for pastors to the example of the Bereans in Acts 17:10-15.  There is so much to learn from that brief account.  To begin with the Bereans were zealous.  They were eager to receive the Word.  They worked at receiving the Word daily.  Search committees do need that sort of diligence.

Too many meetings are full of lines like, "I didn't get to listen to the whole sermon, but I liked what I heard."  Busy-ness becomes an excuse for not being Berean-like.

Humble, Word-centered, diligence is foundational both to patience, but also to seeing the process continue to move forward.

Trevin Wax: A recent 9Marks Journal about pastoral transitions questioned the legitimacy of having a pastoral search team at all. The contributors believe that the elders (and even the departing pastor) should be most involved in looking for the successor. Any thoughts on that eJournal?

Chris Brauns: Basically, I think they are right.  I agree with Mark Dever's point:

If churches were healthier, we'd never need to call together [a pastoral search committee]. The last guy would have helped the elders to make sure that this was taken care of before he left. Indeed, the last guy would have realized that one of the most important parts of his ministry in a church is ushering in his replacement! Failing that, the elders of a church still should have taken the lead in ushering the church toward choosing a man who meets the biblical requirements and deftly handles the Word.

Having recognized that qualified elders should lead the search, the reality is that many, many churches have a different model built into their constitution.  Further, those churches will probably not change how they call a pastor in the midst of a pastoral search.  I chose to work within this reality.

As for the departing pastor being involved, I think his central involvement should have taken place across years in preparing the church to call a Christ-centered pastor.  This is something I think about all the time.  How can I prepare my church for the day when I am no longer their shepherd?

Trevin Wax: What do you hope your book will accomplish?

Chris Brauns: The statistic is that half of churches have had a change in senior pastor in the last seven years.  If that trend continues, and there is no reason to think it won't, we have a tremendous opportunity to equip churches to move forward in ways that are focused on the Supremacy of Christ and His Word.

My prayer is that this book, and discussions like the excellent one over on the 9 Marks eJournal will equip churches to be more like the Bereans in Acts 17.  As I said earlier, the Bereans offer such a compelling picture for churches in transition.  They were eager for the Word, diligent, persevering, and discerning.

It is also worth noting that many churches now identify more closely with groups like the Gospel Coalition and 9 Marks than they do with their denominational heritage.  Likewise, many candidates identify with those groups.  If my book can be a modest part of helping God lead like-minded churches and pastors together at a time when things seem very fragmented then it would be an answer to prayer.

Originally published February 02, 2011.

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