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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