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One of the most important parts of a pastor’s ministry is helping to secure a sound man to follow him in the ministry of his congregation. Robert Murray M’Cheyne once said in a sermon to his congregation: “Changes are coming. Every eye before me shall soon be dim in death. Another pastor shall feed this flock, another singer lead the Psalm, another flock shall fill this fold.” I think of the saying “God buries the worker, but the work goes on.” Brother Pastor, do you speak to your congregation like that? Do you make them aware of the speedy passage of time and the obligations that puts on us? How are you seeking your congregation’s blessing and benefit beyond your own ministry there?

In the spirit of “the light of nature and Christian prudence,” I offer these eleven steps to aid the church in thinking through how to find a new pastor. This is my attempt at distilling some Christian wisdom as it relates to this practical part of Christian leadership that I’ve been asked about so many times over the last twenty or thirty years. My goal is to use this wisdom in applying the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

1. Prepare

Unless we’re pastoring our church when the Lord comes back, our role is always to be preparing the congregation for the next man. We do this in numerous ways. One of the chief ways we do this is by making sure we’re financially prepared to no longer have this job. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard a pastor keep his job when he feels tired because he doesn’t know how else he’s going to make a living. That ought not to be.

2. Agree

You need to agree that it’s time for a change. The preaching pastor and the elders should agree together either on the date on which the current pastor will cease being responsible for the preaching ministry of the church or the date by which they would like to begin a search for their next preacher. You can do it either way. The point of the agreement would be for the smoothest possible transition for the congregation. You should also make clear how the pastor or other elders realize it’s time to move on. I’m not sure I have any quick wisdom on that. Simply pray and work for the good of the local church.

Now, of course, situations vary. Perhaps, the current minister moves on to another church or perhaps he or the other elders can sense that he’s wearing out. He needs to start thinking about changing his role. Honest, sensitive, open conversation about this among the elders is helpful. Once replaced, the former pastor may need to move on or he may be able to constructively stay on after the new man is preaching. I’ve heard and seen many examples in both directions. Some pastors live by the one cardinal rule that if you have had a good ministry, you must be able to stay in your church under the leadership of the next man. Others believe that once you finish, you’ve got to get out of there. I don’t think that one or the other rule applies in every situation.

3. Lead

The elders should be the body to lead and advise the congregation throughout the process of transitioning to a new preacher, not a specially called committee for the purpose of calling a new pastor. The elders hold an office mandated and described in the New Testament in Acts 20, 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1.

The pastor who is called will not join the search committee but the eldership. The elders should trust the congregation they have taught. The congregation should trust the elders who have taught them. Even as elders are normally the ones to raise up other elders, so the elders are the ones best qualified to assess a potential pastor’s preaching, teaching, and character. The elders are the body that leads the congregation; therefore, they should lead and advise the congregation in this matter. Of my eleven steps, this reliance on the elders to choose the pastor is perhaps the most controversial, but it’s the one that I hold to with the greatest conviction.

One of the most important parts of a pastor’s ministry is helping to secure a sound man to follow him in the ministry of his congregation.
4. Search

Sometimes the elders already have in mind the man who should become the next pastor. At other times, agreement does not happen so quickly, and the elders can gather a name or names internally or externally and deliberate about them. Either way, throughout the process, it’s good to remember that we recognize elders. We don’t make elders. Ephesians 4 tells us that elders are gifts of Christ to His church. Acts 20:28 informs us that the Holy Spirit makes us bishops or elders to care for the church of God. We’re not trying to create a pastor but to define who God is giving us and perhaps who He has already given us.

5. Propose

The elders should decide among themselves, without offering a public proposal to the congregation, who among the available brothers would be best suited to serve the church in this role at this time. Then, they should move forward provisionally with that one name, being willing to drop him from consideration at any point further along the process when it becomes clear that it’s not best for that brother to serve as the congregation’s pastor. At that point, they should just propose another name, repeating the process until a final candidate emerges.

6. Preach, Pray, and Talk

If the candidate is coming from outside, the elders should listen to sermons from the man in person or online. If possible, the elders can listen together to a sermon online and discuss it without the preacher present.

After this, the elders could arrange for the brother in question to come and preach for the congregation, meet with the congregation in larger and smaller settings, and answer questions from the congregation. Of course, there should be some extended time with the elders. If the man is currently serving as a pastor, the elders should ask why this pastor of another church is even considering leaving his current church and if his church knows that he’s considering this possibility. Especially with the elders, the prospective pastor should discuss his theology and his philosophy of ministry.

7. Recommend

This is where the candidate for pastor is made public. The elders should bring to the congregation the name of the person who they have concluded would be good to serve the church as their next preaching pastor.

8. Consider

The congregation should have some time to consider the man brought before them to serve as their main preaching pastor. There’s no set time here. It could be two weeks, two months, or another reasonable period of time. Even if the congregation has heard him preach during the months leading up to the announcement, it would be irresponsible not to give our congregation time to think, pray, and reflect on the choice of this man as their next pastor.

9. Vote

The congregation should vote to affirm this man as their pastor. I take this as an implication of the responsibility that the congregation clearly has in the New Testament for bad preachers. For example, in Galatians 1:8–9, Paul effectively says, “Don’t listen to me if I come and preach to you another gospel.” The congregation must be able to affirm the choice of the elders.

Good authority is not fundamentally for those exercising the authority. It’s for the blessing of those under that authority. That’s how God Himself has acted. He’s sent His only Son.
10. Welcome

You want to end up with a pastor happily settled and well taken care of. I’ve too often heard church leaders say about a pastor, “We’ll keep him poor and God will keep him humble.” That’s a short-term vision of the gospel and a great way to turn the pastor’s kids against Christianity. That’s a terrible attitude to have toward your new pastor. While the immediate context in 1 Timothy 5 is about the care of widows, Paul states a wider truth in verse 8 when he says, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Friends, if you’re taking on a pastor, you want to make sure he can provide for his family.

Welcome him with a good level of financial support but also with patience. Remember also that the new pastor is just like the bananas you buy at the store—he needs time to ripen and show himself. When you first get him, he’s a little green. You understand that, so just give him a little time. Over the weeks and months and years, his preaching will improve. That will result from some combination of his getting better and your getting more used to him. He’ll have opportunity to serve, to endear himself through baptisms and weddings and funerals. People will join the church under his ministry.

11. Encourage

The new pastor will eventually begin looking for his own successor, of course (2 Tim. 2:2). But one thing that will help him to do that with joy is the encouragement that you give him by sharing some of the ways you have benefited under his ministry. This would be a Galatians 6:6 kind of encouragement or 1 Timothy 5:17, where you pray for him and you pay for him. Be generous to him so he can set a model of generosity to others. If you don’t trust his character enough to be generous with him, you shouldn’t hire him in the first place. Encourage him and receive him as a gift from Christ to your church.

Edward Griffin was a faithful Presbyterian pastor of a church for many years in New Jersey. During his last message to the congregation when they were installing his successor, Griffin said: “For your own sake and your children’s sake, cherish and revere him whom you have chosen to be your pastor. Already he loves you and he will soon love you as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.”

Do you understand how fruitful good authority is? Last words are always significant, particularly in Scripture. Consider the last words of David, the great king of ancient Israel, recorded in 2 Samuel 23:

Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, the son of Jesse, the oracle of the man who was raised on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel: The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth. (vv. 1–4)

Brothers and sisters, do you realize how good a gift good authority is? In a fallen world, we tend to think authority is by nature bad. We think of authoritarianism and abuses of authority. Certainly, abuses of authority are among the worst, if not the worst, blasphemies against God. But we all know how every kid wants to be on the team with the good coach. Everyone invites the kids with the good parents. Everyone wants to be in the company where you have the good boss. Good authority, David says here, blesses those underneath it. It causes them to be fruitful and grow up. Good authority is not fundamentally for those exercising the authority. It’s for the blessing of those under that authority. It’s a privilege and a stewardship for the one holding the authority.

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