Friday, August 17, 2018

Pastor searching; how?

Over at the SBC Voices blog, Tony Jones wrote and posted We Can Do Something – Thoughts on Protecting our Churches from Sexual Predators. In his piece, Jones identifies “our #metoo problem” and suggests “some practical steps that churches can take.” Jones is writing primarily to Southern Baptist churches and the SBC – but sexual immortality, sexual assault, etc. is certainly not just their problem. I won’t criticize Jones’s advice too much, since it is directed at the way most Baptist churches find and call pastors – kind of dealing with things as they are rather than how they ought to be. Nevertheless, shouldn’t we ask whether the majority practice meets scriptural ideals? Is it is the right way or the best way to find and call a pastor? Is this the scriptural way, or look we for another?

First, some excerpts of Jones’s advice to individual churches:

  • More training—Pastor search committees should undergo a period of training before they commence their search. Most search committees are not trained in what to look for, how to go about a thorough background check, or how to ask the tough questions that ought to be asked. I can see a day coming when church insurance companies will require search committees to be trained or they will not cover any litigation that is brought against the church for the actions of a pastor or staff member who was hired but not properly vetted.
  • Deeper, deeper, deeper background checks—While most search committees obtain criminal background checks, most stop the deep dive at that point. The criminal background check should be the beginning of the deep dive, not the end. Search committees should ask the candidate if he would submit to an audit of his finances; bank statements, credit card statements, and the like. This should be done by an independent third party, and the search committee members should only be given the results if there something malicious or disqualifying.
  • Spies—My home church, to my knowledge, sent people to the towns of their candidates to ask around about them. This didn’t prevent what happened, but I think if more churches would take the time to do this, there would be some grief saved.
In the comment section, David Rogers stated, “Ideally, churches should look for home-grown pastoral leadership from within their own congregation.” He did not disagree with thorough investigation if the church looks “outside,” but pointed out a difference between what he sees as the norm and the ideal. Over the years I have come to much the same conclusion – that we should pray for God to raise up men among us, and generally call those we know rather than churches looking hither, thither, and yon for pastors. There is no perfect solution in an imperfect world, but I believe this is an improvement, a move in the right direction.

My main interest is not discussing #metoo per se, but it is interesting how this kind of thing is affecting the way search committees research their potential pastoral candidates. For example, when I saw the word “spies” in Jones’s piece, I thought to myself “That sounds weird.” Is there a better way?

In the absence of polling date, based on experience I’d say the majority of Baptist churches set a pastor search committee in pursuit of the one best man for the job. Often this ideal man does not live in the vicinity and is personally unknown to the church. This explains the desire for background checks and spies! Much of drive to find a replacement pastor from “off summers”[i] is related to pride, performance, and popularity. The church must have a man who speaks well in the pulpit (performance), one that makes them look good to the community (pride), and one who has a reputation “among the brethren” (popularity). Not only that, churches often have very unrealistic expectations – expectations that exacerbated by the single pastor model so popular in contemporary times.

It is obvious that there were itinerant preachers in New Testament times.[ii] They “went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). However, when churches were established and settled (though there were apostles and preachers who traveled, preached and visited) there was also established and settled ministry in those churches. The settled ministry usually consisted of several preachers and teachers. See Acts 13:1, for example. When Paul and Barnabas traveled back through Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, the ordained elders in the churches in those places, Acts 14:23 – “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” Paul instructed to Titus ordain elders in the churches in the cities of Crete (Titus 1:5). James’s exhortation to the sick to call the elders of the church (James 5:14) implies a settled ministry in the churches.

The point is not to suggest there can or will be no geographical movement among the ministry, but to simply suggest that the current scheme employed by many churches overlooks a biblical pattern that well supplies the churches if followed.[iii] Pray the Lord send forth labourers into his harvest (Luke 10:2) and send them from right among us.[iv] We should know them that labour among us – and what better way than when God raises them up from those we already know? (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:12.)

[i] “Off summers” – something of an in-house joke, “off summers” means coming from somewhere else, not nearby.
[ii] Itinerant (adj.) means “traveling from place to place,” or “characterized by traveling from place to place.”
[iii] Often this “current scheme” is fixated on credentials, engulfed in a “Messiah Syndrome” (i.e. looking for a savior rather than a pastor), deluded with grandeur, and operates with a “beauty pageant” mentality. Search committees tend heavily toward credentials. They usually do not know the candidate. They “validate” the candidate’s abilities by looking at his degree. This is a commonly accepted method of assessing a pastor’s ability.
[iv] We should commit the word of truth to the faithful among us. 2 Timothy 2:2 “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”

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