Book Review - When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search

A few years back I enjoyed reading a little book about a missionary’s experiences while on deputation. Anyone who has been close to a missionary knows the joys and trials of trying to raise support. I have often thought someone should write a book for mission committees on how to handle the deputation process. Having been a pastoral candidate a few times, I am glad someone has written a book for pastoral search committees. Chris Brauns has done churches and pastoral candidates a great service with this book, subtitled Biblical Principles and Practices To Guide Your Search.

Having profited greatly from Brauns’ first book I was anxious to read this his second. Additionally, the fact that my son-in-law was going through the process as I was reading the book heightened my interest. I couldn’t help but reflect on my own experiences with various search committees, some of which were more effective than others, but none as detailed as Brauns prescribes (perhaps good for me or I may have never received a call).

A Word-centered church

He begins with a much needed emphasis on the part prayer must have in the process. He believes that prayer should be fervently and consistently offered for the search committee, the next pastor (whomever he may be) and the congregation. He even offers some specific requests (which also allows him to express a few caveats).

As the title suggests, the author has a clear premise. “This priority on being Word-centered is one that must be pursued for churches looking for a pastor” (p. 37).  The practical results of such a priority are two-fold:

First, a Word-centered pastoral search committee will evaluate candidates against biblical qualifications…. The second practical outcome of forming a Word-centered pastoral search committee is that the committee will see the need to call a pastor who will preach the Word. (pp. 39-40)

Being Word-centered will allow for real unity rather than other attempts that actually may lead to disunity.  Often search committees are made up of individuals chosen to represent the various ministries in the church or the demographic. This however creates a tension between the different interests represented. On the other hand, if the candidate and his preaching are evaluated by biblical qualifications then this requires that committee members be chosen based upon their commitment to the Word and not their particular interests. Another mistake is asking the wrong questions on a survey. Many surveys seek to find a majority opinion among personal preferences. Brauns suggests that if you use a survey, the questions be geared towards reminding the congregation of what the church’s mission is and the importance of obedience to the Word preached.

Doing the hard work

Perhaps the biggest mistake search committees make is not doing the hard work. If each person does not do his or her job, an uninformed decision is likely. In addition to the initial phone interview, the candidate should be brought in for at least two visits with lengthy interviews. This hard work also includes thoroughly vetting the candidate by interviewing his references, and, if possible, visiting his home and his congregation (if he is currently a pastor). This is one reason Brauns cautions that a proper search is a costly process. Of course there needs to be a credit check and a check for a criminal record. All of this is necessary because “your job as a search committee is to evaluate as objectively as possible how well the reality of the candidate’s ministry matches up with his claims” (p. 165).

He especially emphasizes listening to a good number of the candidate’s sermons. In fact, a portion of the book is a lesson in expository preaching. On pages 128-131 he supplies a “Sermon Evaluation Form.” Each committee member needs to listen to the assigned sermons and evaluate them before gathering to discuss the sermons as a committee. Brauns clearly believes that preaching is job one for a pastor. I agree.

Assessment of the book

In addition to the features mentioned above, other helps are included in this book, such as a section on how to interview candidates, and answers to frequently asked questions. As far as disagreements with the book, I would not use the word “unction” in describing how a sermon is delivered (pages 112-117). Also, unless I am misconstruing his meaning, I would not say, “There are many gifted, godly leaders out there. Only one of them is called to pastor your church” (p. 139). That seems to suggest there is only one right one and if you miss him you miss God’s will. (I would be all right with saying that after the church has called him and he has accepted.)

When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search fills a much-needed gap when it comes to books on church and ministry. I highly recommend it.

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There are 10 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Thanks for the review, Greg. I appreciate the book's focus on qualifications, but it sounds like it might put a bit too much hope in how much that can help with the final selection. That is, surely the church is gong to encounter more than one candidate who passes through the qualifications filter. At that point, what distinguishes one candidate from another is going to be the unique fit with the church's needs, interests, community, etc.... so the committee with representation from various ministries of the church makes sense. (In addition, hopefully, these ministries are lead by godly leaders... so selecting from among these should be the right thing to do from that standpoint as well. I don't see much benefit in a committee of non-leaders.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

CPHurst's picture

Greg, I have this book on my shelf but have not read it yet. I did peruse the book when I first received it and read some on the educational qualifications of a pastor. From what I skimmed he feels a pastor should have at leas a ThM. Do I read this correct? What else did he say about the pastors educational qualifications?

Greg Wilson's picture

From page 152 "Don't automatically rule someone out who does not have a seminary degree. I know more than one effective pastor who does not have a seminary degree...If a candidate does not have a seminary degree, you will need to evaluate the level of motivation he has shown in studying on his own."

That being said, he does recommend a candidate have a MDiv or ThM. I have neither, which is why I jokingly (?) said I may have never received a call (even though I have been pastoring for over 20 years).

Greg Wilson

Ron Bean's picture

A local Baptist Church has a board of deacons. (And you had better not call them elders!) As the pulpit committee, they screen candidates, present their choice to the church, and the church votes for their recommendation. They selected Pastor A, who built the church from 300+ to 100 over 7 years and then split the remnant before his departure. They selected Pastor B who, after a brief tenure admitted to marital and gross sin problems and abruptly resigned. They are now looking for Pastor C. Prospective candidates will have to probe to discover the pastoral history. meanwhile the church is content with an endless parade of pulpit supplies.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

That problem definitely calls for a different book.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

cdbrauns's picture

Greg, thanks for taking the time to interact with When the Word Leads. Most likely, all who read this know how vitally important it is that we call the right pastors to our local churches.

I did stress in the book, as has been pointed out that, that I don't think it is a must that a pastor has a seminary degree. Some of the most effective pastors in my past have not had one. I am thankful for my time in seminary. God used it richly in my life. Spurgeon, on the other hand, didn't go to seminary. He seemed to do okay.

I don't believe there is only one candidate and that if you  miss that one your church is doomed to being pastor-less. I don't ascribe to the "dot" approach to God's will.

Aaron, I wholeheartedly believe that churches should look for someone who fits with a particular church.

A big part of why I wrote the book is because so many churches don't know how to evaluate preaching. So, I spent a lot of time explaining how to evaluate sermons.

Greg, I'm curious to hear why you don't like the word "unction." As I'm sure you're aware, it is often used to refer to Spirit empowered boldness (cf. Ephesians 6:20). Maybe it's just a dated word. I did preach a sermon once with the title, "Unction, Unction, What's Your Function." It probably wasn't my best title. . .

On the book web site, I did point to other resources that complement the book: http://www.pastorsearchresources.com/helpful-links/. There are other free resources there too.

Again, I am thankful for the interaction. 1 Peter 5:1-4!

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Chris, thanks for joining the discussion and clearing some things up for us.

Spurgeon, on the other hand, didn't go to seminary. He seemed to do okay.

Biggrin

Churches' ability to evaluate sermons well is certainly a huge problem. One common problem is that the congregation often only hears three or four messages before voting on the call. And sometimes it turns out that these are the only four good messages the candidate is capable of delivering! After that it's constant repetition of the same few themes or pet phrases.

My .02 for congregations/pulpit committees: get a good sampling of sermon recordings as well and pass them around.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

cdbrauns's picture

I absolutely agree Aaron. There are a lot of one-hit wonders. In addition to what you suggest (listening to a number of sermons) I spent a lot of time in my book suggesting questions about how to interview a potential pastor about preaching. A pastoral search committee / pulpit nominating committee needs to be equipped to know how to drill down to the candidates process for preparing for a sermon.

What happens far too often (and here is an Olympic illustration) the only thing the search committee knows how to do is "watch the splash." Here is an excerpt from my book:

 

Think of being on a search committee in terms of being a judge for Olympic diving. I appreciate Olympic diving. While I am not a diving expert, there are few Summer Olympic Games where I have not watched at least a portion of the competition. As a family, we often watch together and cheer on certain divers. My lack of technical expertise doesn’t stop me from enjoying the competition.

However, consider a different scenario. What if I were given an invitation to be an actual Olympic diving judge? Let me tell you, that would be a recipe for international chaos. I would probably evaluate a Russian diver unfairly and restart the Cold War. Why? I am not equipped. It takes far more expertise to evaluate and judge diving than it does simply to appreciate the athleticism. About the only thing I really know is to watch the splash at the end. Less splash is better! I know that much. But that would not be enough to evaluate Olympic diving justly. And being unequipped to judge divers upon absolute criteria for diving excellence, I would have to fall upon my own subjective preferences.

Similarly, if you are serving on a search committee, you have probably appreciated and benefited from preaching for many years. However, you must understand that you are about to move from being an appreciative person in the pew each week to the role of sitting in a judge’s chair. Evaluating sermons requires a much deeper understanding of preaching. Many search committees are not equipped in this way; and, as a result, they do not accomplish their goal of calling an effective preacher. They evaluate preaching based only upon their subjective preferences—how much of a “splash” they see.

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Chris, one more question. Do you talk in the book at all about the interim pastor option? Reading the excerpt above, it occurred to me that bringing in some expertise could be tremendously helpful.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Greg Wilson's picture

Chris,

Appreciate your involvement in the discussion. I enjoyed reading this book, but I greatly benefited from "Unpacking Forgiveness."

When I hear the word “unction” I am assuming it is in reference to the KJV translation of I John 2:20 (I know of no other translation that uses the term). The KJV translates the exact same word elsewhere as “anointing” (vs. 27).

The unction/anointing is in having received truth via the Holy Spirit.

Certainly having truth on our side should enable us to speak boldly (Ephesians 6:20)

The reason I would not use unction is that in my experience it was used to describe a certain delivery style. It had nothing to do with “truth” but how loud you were, how animated you were, even how (dare I say) rude you were. If you didn’t exhibit these “qualities” you didn’t have the unction, you were just a “teacher” not a preacher. I realize this is just my experience with the phrase, (I come from a “Bad Attitude Baptist” background) however this is why I would shy away for using it as a synonym for boldness. Boldness is in your assertions, not your animation.

Greg Wilson

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