Questions To Ask When Searching for a Pastor/Leader

Oh no! We need a pastor, what do we do? Many, sadly, will follow a shallow corporate process and their own personal bias and emotion. After sorting through 300 resumes of hopefuls and after some fun drama, test sermons, an opinion from the people with the money, and some sort of vote, they’ll settle on the best person from the stack, for them. He’ll have an impressive job history, polished preaching skills, good doctrine, and all on the search committee will be convinced he’s the right one. He may in fact end up being an amazing, loving leader who faithfully pastors his church for years to come. Or, he’ll end up doing other things, like: maintain the status quo (safe guy), grow the church rapidly (ordained CEO), divide it (won’t deal with real controversy), become the identity of the church (bigger than Jesus at his church), or kill it (we brought him in, but we can’t make him leave). The difference is character. WHO IS THIS MAN? Why do we wait til the end of the process to ask the MOST important questions, while possibly weeding out men on paper who’s character and vision might have been exceptional. My concerns are not so much with the process of how many find a pastor, that will vary, but what happens within the process is utterly important. No matter how your church chooses to find a pastor, I believe the below questions are THE most important ones, and can NOT be left out of the process.

But, before asking the questions, a church must first look internally. The reason many of us have accountability is so that our friends can lovingly point out our blind spots. Churches need the same. Those months/years without a pastor is the perfect time to ask these questions. Where are we as a church, where are we headed, what do we need to change? Unless your church is perfect, there should be a humble answer to each of those questions. Bring in consultants from the outside, if needed, to identify clearly the health and direction of the church. Compare your church to the one in Acts, and the standards found in the Epistles. Chances are, your church needs serious reforming. We all do. A great word for healthy church change is “re-missioning”: moving a mature body of believers towards more biblical practices for church and for life. This is what you are hiring a pastor to do, primarily. Secondarily, yes, preach, visit, shake hands, administrate, etc, but foremost, you’re hiring a “lead follower of Jesus.” Hire the right guy and he’ll re-mission and reform your church towards a more Biblical approach to church and life. Really, these questions should not only be asked of pastors, but anyone in vocational ministry.

Now, to the questions.

1. Is he Qualified? – Step number one, know the man. Match his life against the qualifications in Titus 1 and 1 Tim 3, and be strict about it. Know his character. Know him as his wife and children know him. Ask him about sexual addiction, habits he has that he can’t break, areas where he struggles with moderation. Get honest and real from the beginning. Interview his wife and children, spend ample time at their house. During character reference calls ask specifically about his life away from church, if he has one. If he doesn’t disciple his wife and children well, if there is no measurable fruit in the family, move on to the next guy. The rest of the questions do not matter.

2. Is he teachable? – When we train and select elders for leadership, trait number one in every one has to be this one: humility. You are not hiring a senior King, in whom all will bestow unlimited power. You are hiring the greatest servant in your church, and humility and meekness do not hinder strong leadership, but compliment it. If you want to know if he’s teachable, ask him if he has ever been rebuked, about what, and how it went? Also, you can ask him, what are the biggest theological shifts that you’ve made in the last 5 years. A real leader is always reforming. Not wavering, but deepening his understanding of the scripture and it shows in his life and ministry. When a guy doesn’t reform along the way, you end up with a pastor for 20 plus years who becomes the cork on the bottle and wonders why there is no growth, lots of pressure, and lots of tension in his ministry. It might be because he’s not teachable and not reforming/repenting towards more Gospel centered church practices and living. Is he willing to work with and submit to a leadership team, whether it’s an elder board, or deacons, etc?

3. What is his vision for discipleship? – A Pastors number one duty is every Christians number one duty. And he should model this for the church. Make disciples; disciples who follow Jesus and lead others to do the same. A full time pastor should walk closely with 5-6 other guys, pouring himself into them as he follows Christ, until they can be sent out as missionaries, church planters, or become leaders within the church. One of the biggest tragedy’s is when a pastor focuses all efforts on preaching, running programs, and administration, discipling no one and not seeing to it that others are being discipled. You end up with a congregation of spectators and a burnt out pastor. One of the most glorious sights is a church full of disciples who are discipling each other to follow Jesus. That’s a healthy church.

4. What is his vision for church planting? – Church planting is the single greatest way the Great Commission is carried out on the earth. For newer churches and older churches that are rethinking church practice, this church planting thing may be down the road a ways. But it’s still a question that must be asked, and it’s a target every church should be aiming at. Ultimately, healthy churches multiply, if it’s not multiplying or in the process, it’s not healthy. Churches and Christians must multiply, just like everything healthy in nature multiplies, that’s the way God wired it. I like this excerpt from – http://www.exponential.org/news/the-true-fruit-of-a-church/ “What is the true fruit of an apple tree?” Schwarz replied, “It’s an apple, of course.” Then McGavran said, “You’re wrong. The true fruit of an apple tree is not an apple, but another apple tree.” The true fruit of a small group is not a new Christian, but another group; and the true fruit of an evangelist is not a convert, but new evangelists,” Schwarz writes, “and the true fruit of a church is not a new group, but another church; and the true fruit of a leader is not followers, but new leaders.”

5. Is he about growth or multiplication? – Growth is good, natural, and normal, but growth can also be abnormal and unhealthy too; wisdom knows the difference. Growth is never sustainable or permanent. Plants grow, they bear fruit, they die. Then, the “sent” fruit, it multiplies. Growth is something we must manage and think about, because it will happen. But good growth is never the focus, it’s a by product of Gospel healthiness, discipleship, and a whole Church. Pastors need a vision for multiplication. We don’t just want to grow a church, we want it to multiply. We don’t just want to grow believers, we want to multiply them. We don’t just want to grow teachers, leaders, servants, evangelists, the budget, etc; we want to multiply them; all for Kingdom advancement. When your potential, pastoral candidates are talking about ministry, listen in context. Is he mostly about growth, or multiplication?

6. Does he love the city? – There is a shift taking place in today’s churches, a good one. Pastor’s are realizing that there is no one church that will ever reach a city. That if it’s going to be done, it must happen in collaboration with other churches. Many pastors never think about either of these, Gospel partnership and collaboration, or the welfare of their city. A little over 200 years after the apostles died, almost the entire Roman world was Christian. Why? Not because great preachers were growing huge churches. Because people who had a heart for the welfare of the place they lived believed and carried out the Great Commission in small faithful ways in their city, discipling each other as they followed Jesus together. Churches in different cities were only separated by location, their mission was identical. Does he believe that Christians and churches must be collaborating in prayer, in outreach efforts, in ministry to the poor and needy, all under the banner of Christ? A pastor who doesn’t love his city is not going to look outside the 4 walls of his kingdom, he’s gonna tell you to go out and do it, but do nothing about it if you aren’t doing it. Find a pastor who honestly desires to make Christ known in his city, for their good and for God’s glory, and sees the church, discipleship, church planting, and collaboration with other area churches as the means to carry out this mission.

I believe if these visions are driving a pastor at a church, that as a by-product his sermons, his teachings, and his leadership and ministry will be powerful, passionate, and carried out with urgency. Resist the urge to hire someone polar opposite than the last pastor. Resist the urge to hire someone just like your childhood pastor. Resist the urge to hire someone just because they have letters after or before their name or have held positions of prominence. Resist the urge to hire a “great preacher” because he looks and sounds nice behind the pulpit. I would even say do not do the resume process, unless you want to weed through those 300 possibly desperate men looking mostly for a job and not really a life ministry. Work through networks of pastors and friends, and get recommendations and leads that way. PRAY, pray, and PRAY more. It would be ok if this process took a year or more; in light of eternity, and in hopes of years of fruitful ministry and multiplication, is there a reason to rush?

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From Point A to Point B

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have commanded you.
Matt 28:19-20

Looking at Jesus’ last words before His ascension, we can see how the great commission tells us our goal, what we need to do, and what we should do once that is achieved:

  1. Make disciples
  2. Baptise them
  3. Teach them to do the same

I find it rather funny that Jesus never expanded on that first point: “Make disciples.” It has always remained that very direct end goal with no real how-to ever given. There’s no 12-step program, Romans road, or Evangi-cube exposition given to the apostles. Instead, He leaves it rather open-ended and, honestly, I’m glad He did. You see, by not giving us a roadmap to discipleship, Christ emphasized the work-less, God-focused nature of salvation; He forced us to look back on His example; and He gave us freedom to evangelise in the way best fitting our personalities and talents.

Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus mentioning and alluding to the fact that there is no way to salvation except through Him (cf. John 14:6). He is not telling the disciples to seek salvation through the law, as Paul would later admonish the Galatians against, but that He is the only true source of righteousness and the only source sufficient to cover a lifetime’s worth of sin.  All of this culminated on the cross when, as Christ died, the temple curtain tore, signifying that the barrier of sin between man and God was now broken. It was not the law that brought salvation, but Christ.

Christ also drew many to him and proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God. His is the example we follow, when we evangelise and disciple those around us. Christ showed evangelism in a number of ways, all tailored around the individual he was meeting with. When talking to Nicodemus (John 3), Jesus spoke as an academic, with well-worded arguments and reasonings. When He was speaking to the woman at the well (John 4), however, His approach was loving, yet confrontational of her sins, ultimately offering rescue and salvation from the burden of it all. These are just two examples; there are countless more showing “how to evangelise.”

With discipleship, however, we see a more consistent theme running: Christ calls, Christ teaches, then Christ sends. Note that those whom He called already knew of who He claimed to be. They didn’t necessarily know Him, but they knew of Him and were expecting Him. So, we can say that discipleship follows evangelism, which makes sense. Yes, it’s true you can disciple someone to salvation – that happens often in churches, especially in Sunday school or youth group – but for true discipleship to develop, it must be with a current Christian. That doesn’t mean that the great commission is telling us to forgo evangelism. No, Christ said to make disciples, so we need to evangelise before we can even get to that step, as though it were a step 0.5 of sorts.

Which leads me to my last point, Christ gave us freedom in evangelism. Christ gave examples during His time on Earth, true, but He also gave us very unique skills and personalities in order to reach the disparate peoples of this planet. I, for one, am terrible at conveying the Gospel to a feelings-oriented person, but I can talk evolutionary theory and philosophy while tying in basic theology till the cows come home. God made me able to reach specific types of people very well and He gave me the passion and desire to evangelise to them as well. Now, that doesn’t mean I forgo evangelism to all people – I am to be preaching the Gospel to everyone I meet and, often, God uses my deficiencies to act in ways that blow my mind. Rather, it merely means that I am well-equipped in a specific area.

Bringing everything back to the Great Commission, Jesus didn’t give us an explicitly worded roadmap to get from point A to point B. Instead, He gave us a list of checkpoints. How we reach those checkpoints is up to us and we have been given the tools to do so. So, with our skills in hand, let us evangelise to and disciple those we come across, to the best of our abilities, in in the way that means most for them, bringing God the glory at their salvation and subsequent obedience, bringing in turn more disciples to further the work assigned to us.

A current medical school applicant, James grew up on the missions field in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2014 and is seeking, ultimately, to serve as a missionary doctor.  Read more from James at Third Culture Musings.

Need a Compass?

I walked into the dimly lit schoolroom.  The floor was covered in red dust.  It was the dry season in Kenya, so the dust was everywhere.  The walls were stained with it.  The room was filled with about 30 eighth graders.  It was a Muslim holiday, so the schools were closed, but these children had walked to school before dawn.

They came to study for a very important standardized test that all eighth grade students in Kenya must take.  This test, along with one they take in the final year of high school, is used to determine if a student can attend college.  They had been preparing for several weeks, in hopes of scoring higher than the minimum and thus not rule out their chances of going to college.

Eighth grade class in Kenya.

Eighth grade class in Kenya

When we entered, they were excited for visitors from afar and for a welcome break.  Upon learning about the purpose of their studies we noticed one child had a compass on his desk.  We asked about the mathematics portion of the exam and we were told that everyone needed a compass for the test.  Dr. Kaleli, part of the Living Bread Kenya leadership team, asked how many of the students had the necessary supplies to take the exam.  To our surprise only one student in the class had all the materials needed.

Imagine being in eighth grade with your entire future hanging in the balance based on an exam, and you do not even have the supplies needed to succeed.  Stories like this are the reason we launched our annual Share Christmas outreach.  Through Share Christmas your single $15 gift will provide school supplies or required school uniforms and a hygiene kit to one child in Brazil, Thailand, or Kenya.  Visit Share Christmas to invest in the life of a child and help them break the cycle of poverty for their family!

The Church: Being the Hands and Feet or Sitting in the Seat?

Sunday morning has come and gone for now. Don’t worry, though. You’ll get another opportunity next week. Chances are that seat is really comfortable. It’s likely right in the middle of your comfort zone. No pressure. No work. No hassle. Just come and enjoy the show for a little while.

No doubt that is the definition of Christianity for some.

While I’m thankful that those of you who hold to that view are at least hearing the Word preached, I want to challenge you to broaden that perspective.

I’m churchy, man. I’m more churchy than Noah was arky. But if Sunday morning is the central focus, what happens in my church Monday thru Saturday? Does it cease to exist as a force? If the Church is a living, breathing organism, what happens when the lights are out and the alarm is armed?

From a Kingdom perspective, the church building is just the rallying point. It’s the hub where you get energized to be the Church, not the destination where you merely have church.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul said “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” Surely that was only for the leadership though, right? The pastor should be doing all that stuff while the rest of us spare parts count down the days from Sunday to Sunday. Not even hardly.

Think about what Christ did in His earthly ministry. He ministered to the poor. He mended the brokenhearted. He set captive people free. He healed. He saved. He delivered. He preached good news. And nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus tell His followers that all that stuff should stop as soon as He leaves.

As a matter of fact, John records Jesus saying, “He who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do (John 14:12 NKJV).”

The only qualifying statement Jesus made about who would do these works was “whoever believes in me.” He didn’t say, “Only those who go through seminary” or “those who lead churches”. That covers everyone who believes, from the pew-warmer to the pastor, and from the church-goer to the choir leader. Jesus was talking about the Church.

The Church has the hands that serve the community. It has the feet that carry the Gospel and the eyes that burn with passion for souls. That is the Church–the body of Christ.

I know it’s easier to sit in the Sunday seat inside the building we call “church”. And it’s certainly more comfortable.

Being the hands and feet of Jesus is what we are called to. Let’s get busy being what we’re supposed to be–the Church.

Joel A. Barker is a worship pastor, minister of the Gospel, blogger and church-planter-in-training from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Follow his Kingdom Voice Ministry blog at joelabarker.com.