You’ve studied and prayed and now you’re ready to deliver a powerful sermon to your congregation. You don’t, however, want the sermon to take thirty minutes of everyone’s Sunday morning and then be forgotten. Here are some ways you can build momentum around your sermon or series before you preach, during your service, and after the worship center has emptied.
Before You Preach
Promote via Social Media – Use your personal and church Facebook and Twitter accounts to talk about your message before it’s preached. Let your followers know what you’re planning to preach about, and perhaps it will entice them to make sure they don’t make other plans that morning.
Collaborate with Your Team – God has given you the gift of preaching, but he’s given many other gifts to other folks on your staff or volunteer leadership team. Share your message with them and look for ways that you can combine your gifts to drive your message home even further.
When You Preach
Illustrate Your Message – As a preacher, you’ve probably mastered the art of weaving a beautiful story into your sermon, offering your listeners multiple places to identify and plug into the narrative, but what are you doing for people who are visual learners? A short, but powerful mini-movie can drive your message home for people who may not learn as well by merely listening. You can also use image-rich backgrounds to add depth to your sermon slides.
Give a Specific Challenge – When you get up to deliver a message on Sunday Morning, it’s most likely the result of countless hours of preparation. You’ve spent a good portion of your week processing the material. Many times your message has become a part of you. Your church, however, is hearing this for the first time. Don’t take for granted that they’ll know how to respond to the text. Challenge them in specific ways.
After You Preach
Repeat the Challenge – When your congregation leaves their pews on Sunday, they re-enter a world of chaos. There are school projects to wrap up, Monday meetings to prepare for, home repairs to do, etc. Asking them to stay focused on the sermon you just poured your week into is difficult. So make sure that you’re using your church’s website, social media channels, small groups, and more to repeat the challenge over the course of the next week.
We don’t preach to simply hear the sound of our own voice. We preach because we’ve been called by God to listen to his voice, and proclaim his message, so that lives will be changed. But don’t assume your job is done when you’ve finished your manuscript. Bring your message to life by building momentum with an engaged congregation.
The definition of failure (and success) is subjective. For our purposes, failure is not pastoring a small church or never writing a book or never being featured as a conference speaker. Failure as a pastor is not fulfilling the call that God has placed on you. With this definition, failure is not an option.
So how do we prevent failure as pastors? This is a list of a few things to avoid.
It’s been said that leaders are loners. That simply is not true. Leaders are connected with people—the people they are leading and the people who are leading them. Pastors who pull back from relationships and especially those who disconnect from other pastors will likely fall. Remember Ecclesiastes 4:12: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Don’t pastor in a bubble—you need other people.
Practicing secret sins
Only a few pastors are caught in the high profile sins—those sins aren’t the problem for most leaders. It’s the little foxes that spoil the vine (Song of Solomon 2:15). If we allow little sins to invade our private lives, our integrity will be compromised and our faith will be weak. While nobody is perfect, pastors need to aim for purity. God’s grace is the only way this is realized. Practice grace in your personal life.
It’s only a matter of time until every pastor is hurt or disappointed. My advice for you: get over it quickly. Don’t allow the pain of local church leadership to turn into a bitter root in your life. Once bitterness sets in, it becomes toxic to your soul. “Guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23) Flush offenses from your system as soon as possible and keep your heart tender.
A terrible trap for pastors is to become a people pleaser. We want to be liked or we need the finances of a particular family—so we do what they want, in spite of our convictions to do otherwise. If you become a slave to a special interest group, you will lose your self-respect and the respect of the church. Be strong. Serve the people, but sell out only to Christ.
Neglecting your family
Your family is your first ministry. If you habitually put the church ahead of them, everyone will know it, and no one will be impressed—especially your family. There will be times when duty calls, but let it be known that regardless of what happens at church, you will fight for your family. If the church kicks you to the curb, your family will still be with you.
Being driven by your emotions
James Dobson wrote a book entitled Emotions: Can You Trust Them? The simple answer is “no.” As a pastor you will have up days and down days. People will like you, then they will loathe you. We’ve got to remain steady, levelheaded, and even-keeled. We must lead from a position of balance and stability. If you are guided by your emotions, your ministry will be short-lived.
Relying on your strength
No doubt you have a ton of leadership abilities or you wouldn’t be where you are. But the day we trust our gifts more than we trust the Lord, we are doomed. Pray hard and depend on the Spirit. He is better at your job than you are.
Having all the answers
If we ever get to the point where we have it all figured out; if we don’t need to learn anything more; if we can lead the church “with our eyes closed”… failure has already happened. Arrogance tells us we know enough, but reality tells us we have a lot to learn. Keep learning! There is always someone smarter than you. Never stop reading. Seek advice. Solicit input. Be a lifelong learner and keep growing. Remember, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5b).
You may think it is foolish to publish such a list because most of us don’t need help in trying to figure out how to fail. The point of this article is this: I have made these mistakes as a pastor and I hope to prevent someone else from repeating them. Each of them has the potential to cause you to fail as a pastor. If failure is not fulfilling the call that God has placed on you, then failure is not an option.
Teresa Fry Brown makes a startling statement in her presentation of Charles Adams’ nine suggestions to preachers in her book Weary Throats and New Songs. She says, “One lacks homiletical integrity, authority, creativity, character, calm and spirituality if one’s entire preaching life is stolen.”
Brown notes that one should at least credit a source if one uses another’s introduction, alliteration or other device.
Stealing sermons has some problematic aspects. But one that we don’t often discuss is how stealing sermons hurts the thief, because he or she slowly loses the God-given spark of creativity that is used to put together strong sermons.
When you steal a sermon, it becomes a greater temptation to steal another one, and then as the difficult work of putting together a sermon interacts with the reality that stealing is a lot easier, we become less able to actually create that sermon.
In addition, there is a great possibility that we could lose credibility with people. I remember hearing a particularly strong sermon from a well-regarded preacher. Later in my seminary study, I was reading a book of sermons and found that sermon that the other preached gave word for word. This brought into question all of the sermons that he had preached. I began to wonder: Had he stolen many other of his sermons? Don’t let that happen to you.
I heard another preacher beginning to whoop, and he simply stole the catch phrases and whooping devices from two or three preachers and mashed them together. What saved the preacher was that the devices came from preachers from a different theological tradition, and thus many in the congregation had not heard them before.
Imagine the surprise of your Baptist visitor when she is not impressed by your Pentecostal preacher’s whoop because she heard it before by a different preacher at her own church.
Such preaching may get you an “Amen,” but it seriously calls into question your own integrity as a preacher. God has called you to preach to this people at this time.
If God wanted that other preacher that you are copying to preach, then God would have placed that preacher where you stand. Preaching is hard work, but the benefits are enormous; don’t shortcut the process for a few ill-gotten accolades.
Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds an M.Div with an emphasis in homiletics and an M.S. in computer science. Visit Sherman at SoulPreaching.com.
What qualifies me to write this piece, if anything, is that I am a pastor who has been married most of my life. My wife, Margaret, and I did this entire ministry thing together, having married the same year I started pastoring, and that was 52 years back.
Every church I served as pastor, she was there and deeply involved. She has heard more of my sermons than anyone else and knows me in ways I do not know myself. Therefore, her assessment of me is probably more dead-on than anyone else’s, including my own.
And that’s what frightens me.
They asked Dwight L. Moody if a certain man were a Christian. “I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t talked to his wife.”
If anyone knows, she does.
(Note: I write—as is obvious—from the standpoint of the pastor being a man. There are godly and faithful women leading churches across the world, and we thank God for them. I have no experience with their situation or knowledge on how their ministries are different from mine. It would be presumptuous for me to pontificate on what they need.)
The pastor’s wife can hurt or help him “better” than anyone else.
When two people go into a hug, they drop their guards and become vulnerable. Some individuals we meet in life refuse to allow themselves to love and be love, lest they be hurt by the one they were trusting. Most of us decide that’s too big a price to pay, that we are willing to run the risk in order to receive love and express our affection.
When a pastor and his wife divorce, the departing spouse can wound him for life.* If the split is her doing, the rejection can be devastating. No words cut as deeply, find his soft spots and leave him gasping for air the way hers do. While that is true of any divorce situation, it has special significance for one called by God into the ministry. After all, this man is doing the strangest work on the planet: He is representing the great invisible God with the message of Jesus Christ to a people who do not always appreciate either the God or the messenger. And now the departing spouse has just about made it impossible.
(*I’m not naive. I know that sometimes the husband is the one betraying his wife and that divorce can be a mutual decision and have a thousand causes. However, I have observed in far too many cases wives divorcing their preacher-husbands because, they say, “I do not want to live that life,” “I did not sign on for life in a glass bowl,” and, “He was not a preacher when we married, and I am not cut out for this.”)
The spouse who stays with the preacher through thick and thin, believing in him all the way, loving and praying for him, is a jewel in the heavenly Father’s crown. And, truth be known, she’s rare as one, too, I expect.
My wife was attending one of these women’s ministry events our denomination puts on from time to time. A number of pastors’ wives sat on a panel, discussing the preacher, his fragile self-esteem and how the wife keeps him tethered to reality. One said, “I tell him, ‘You may be Doctor So-and-So up there in that pulpit on Sunday. But remember, I saw you two hours earlier in your boxer shorts.’” Everyone laughed, but not everyone appreciated what that woman did.
I’d give a dime to know what her husband thought. (Turn the tables and ask how she would have felt had he announced to the world that he had seen her this morning in her undies.)
The pastor’s self-esteem is something like loose cargo on board a storm-tossed ship. It careens from side to side, sometimes high and sometimes low, always threatening to do damage. Unless someone helps him bolt it to reality, that unstable ego is going to get him in trouble.
That’s what a faithful wife can do: help him fasten down his self-esteem.
The pastor does not need his ego inflated.
Some women read these magazine articles saying men are vain creatures, that they need constant assuring that they are wonderful and sexy and attractive. The woman who lures a straying husband away from his faithful wife, those articles say, made him feel important, listened to his fears and bragged on his accomplishments.
A wife will read that and come away disgusted that men are so self-centered, so needy and so weak. And if she takes that as gospel, her way of helping her preacher-hubby will consist of telling him how wonderful he is, inflating his fragile ego, puffing him up. All the while, she’s feeling guilty for lying to him and ashamed for not being able to speak the truth.
That is not what he needs.
He’s not stupid.
He knows he’s no more wonderful than anyone else. He is not on an ego trip for Jesus. He does not need a constant reassurance of “You’re the best preacher,” “You’re great,” and “You’re the best-looking minister in the denomination.”
Any wife who does that and any preacher who feeds on it have more problems than we can address here.
What a pastor needs is encouragement.
Pure and simple. He needs someone who knows him well and loves him still to assure him that what he is doing is the most important work in the world, that God is using his sermons and pastoral care in ways that honor Christ and will eventually bless the recipients, and that he is serving well.
The pastoral ministry—that is, a man called of God to shepherd His flock made up of every kind of collection of “sheep”—can be a sinkhole for a pastor’s self-esteem. Most congregations have people who see their calling as cutting the preacher down to size, reminding him of his human frailties, and finding the flaws in his sermons and the omissions in his pastoring.
The pastor takes this as a given. He does his work, takes his lumps, goes home to his family, sleeps off the aches of yesterday and rises to face a new day and try this all again. He keeps reminding himself that “the mercies of the Lord are new every morning” (Lam. 3:23) and that he can “do all things through Christ” (Phil. 4:13).
But it’s hard. Anyone who says it isn’t either hasn’t been in the work very long or isn’t paying attention.
The pastor needs his wife to pray for him. She knows better than anyone the pressures he faces. Her prayers may be the most valuable ones ever raised for him.
The pastor needs to know his wife is on his team. He’s not real sure about certain deacons, and some old curmudgeon told him yesterday that he is a failure, but there is one person he can always count on. His wife believes in him.
The pastor needs his wife to listen with discernment when he is asking for input and to give her thoughts freely and confidently.
In the same way, the pastor needs his wife to know when to be quiet and keep her opinion to herself. It’s not an easy assignment, believe me.
He needs the occasional reminder from her that she is proud to be married to a man doing the most important work on the planet, spreading the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Honestly, I can understand a woman saying, “This is more than I can do. I’m not cut out for this.” Her life is as difficult as his, and in some ways, more.
Pray for the pastor’s wife. Pray for your pastor.
When you get to heaven—make a note of this and hold me accountable, please—you will find out how the Father treasures every time you lift these two people of His to Him in prayer.
One final word: Please do not approach the pastor or his wife to ask something like, “Tell me what pressures you are facing so I can pray more intelligently.” This is private information that they will not be able to share with you. Please take it by faith and pray with the assurance that the Father knows their needs and will apply the blessing of your prayer wherever it’s needed most.
Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.
I believe in the old saying: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” If you don’t believe it, then I would invite you to intentionally lead poorly for a season and then report to the rest of us what happens. Now, yes, for my theologically-minded friends, I know that everything really rises and falls on God’s providence, justice, and grace. Yes, I will give you that. So, with that as the foundation, we can then move on to all understand the power of leadership. And, the necessity of it.
Without leadership, what will the church look like? Not the church. Leadership is inherent to God’s intention for the church. Leadership is included in the Romans 12 list of spiritual gifts. We are told in Ephesians 4:11 of five different roles of leaders within the church: apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher. In his letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul taught about the two positions of elder and deacon for the body of Christ; one as a servant leader and one as a lead servant. (I will write about that distinction later.)
At what I see currently, we need more leaders. Or we need to better train the leaders we already have in our churches. Have no doubt about it: there are leaders in your church. They do not have titles, but they lead. They may not be on the board or a committee, but they have influence. The only issue is whether or not we train them well. Let me give you a few ideas about teaching leadership.
1. Put it in the priorities. If you do not have new leaders stepping into responsibilities, it is likely because they do not know how. You teach your way out of every problem. The lack of leaders can be solved in two ways: prioritizing the need in verbal communication and through relational discipleship. So make it a part of who you are.
2. Fight consumerism. The movement out of consumerism requires an application of the truth. We are to be leaders in the culture and not merely consumers within the religious establishment. Leadership begins as a new perspective before it is a new behavior. You must move people from consumption to production.
3. Actually teach. Just as “living like Jesus” alone is not evangelism, “living for the kingdom” alone is not discipleship. You must put together a plan to communicate the principles and work of leadership. So read the entire Bible, buy good books, talk to veteran leaders, and put together a plan to talk about it. Some of the books I would suggest include:
Spiritual Leadership by Oswald Sanders
The Missional Leader by Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk
Basic Christian Leadership by John Stott
The Disciple Making Pastor by Bill Hull
Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon
Pastoral Care by St. Gregory the Great
Spiritual Leadership by Henry Blackaby
In teaching, leaders must speak the truth to followers in order to affect change. Be clear about the current environment, needs, and how involvement as a leader can change things.
5. Train leaders to also be theologians. In leadership, the truth precedes method. Otherwise, we thoughtlessly stumble into a way to do church. To put new leaders on a missional pathway, they must be able to contend for the truth before they know how to be counter-cultural with their lives. Don’t be afraid to tackle the hard subjects and use large words. As my friend Ed Stetzer says, “If people can learn how to order stuff at Starbucks, then they can learn theological language.”
6. Understand the relationships of major disciplines. There is a relationship of theology, missiology, and ecclesiology that must be observed and understood. Currently, you can stir up a great debate among scholars if you ask which of these comes first. Normally, theology and missiology compete for the title. It is not likely the territory that you want to wade into early on with your blossoming leaders. Instead, help them to understand the relationship between the three arenas and how they are all necessary in the life of the church.
7. Make a plan. Just remember that it does not have to be a perfect plan before you start. I am reminded of a man who once told Dwight Moody that he did not like the way he did evangelism. Moody replied, “Well, sir, I like the way I do evangelism better than the way you don’t do it.” For now, just get going. Work hard at having a great plan so get a head start on that great plan by training some leaders for the work right now.
The Bible is full of godly single men who served God faithfully. The prophet Jeremiah, the apostle Paul and, of course, the Lord Jesus come to mind first.
However, they suffered difficult lives and died. If they had wives and children, it would have been virtually impossible to both be faithful to their ministry and faithful to their families. In their circumstances, being single was the best life state for what God was asking of them.
So, as a general rule, it seems that men who are called to pastoral ministry and singleness are also called to difficult and possibly even deadly ministry, such as missionary work in a hostile culture where a family would be a liability.
Qualifications of a Pastor
Second, when the Bible lists out the qualifications of a pastor, it includes being a good husband (1 Tim. 3:1–7; Titus 1:6–9). This echoes the fact that being alone was “not good” (Gen. 2:18) even before sin entered the world and that, as a general rule, God’s intent for most men is marriage.
As a husband and father, I can assure you that much of what a man learns about being a pastor he learns at home with his wife and children as his first flock.
A Lifetime of Singleness
Third, are you called and gifted by God to remain single for a lifetime?
Every man is called to singleness for a season, until he is married. But if you are not empowered by God for a life of singleness (like a John Stott), then it is most likely best for you to wait until you are married before taking on any significant pastoral ministry.
This is doubly true for missionaries and church planters who will not be in community with and under the authority of godly married men who are also pastors on their leadership team.
Fourth, in our day, the temptations and traps for a single male leading in ministry are incredibly difficult—emotionally, sexually and relationally. I could not fathom doing my job as a single man. The complexities of relationships with women and my inability to speak to issues of marriage, sex and parenting from any personal experience would greatly hinder my ability to lead others with credibility, as these are the very areas where most people, especially men, are struggling.
I have only known a few single men who were pastors, and the majority of them disqualified themselves morally. Those who did not were married shortly after they began pastoral ministry. I know thousands and thousands of pastors, and only one is a single pastor who has not disqualified himself and has a church that is healthy and growing. This does not mean it is impossible for you to lead a church as a single man, but it is improbable.
Understanding 1 Corinthians 7
Fifth, there is 1 Corinthians 7. This section of Scripture is widely misunderstood and has been throughout the history of the church. To better understand what Paul is referring to regarding unmarried pastors, it helps to consider the context of this passage, starting with a biblical understanding of marriage.
Biblically, singleness is not ideal (Gen. 2:18; Matt. 19:4–6.); marriage should be honored by all (Heb. 13:4); and it is demonic to teach against marriage (1 Tim. 4:1–3). Practically, however, there are seasons and reasons that provide exceptions to the rule of marriage for some people, as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 7.
Paul’s words are as true and timely as ever. For those who are called to singleness for a season or a lifetime (desires can and do change), their calling will be accompanied by a diminished sexual appetite so that remaining pure and chaste is not as difficult for them as for the person not called to singleness.
Further, since most people are failing to remain chaste and holy in their singleness, most people should put their energies toward the goal of one day being married. I was one of these people, which explains why I married at the age of 21, between my junior and senior years of college.
Singleness in Times of Crisis
Paul encouraged chaste, single virgins to remain single because of the “present distress,” which may have included the coming bloody persecution at the hands of Nero and/or a deadly famine that had been prophesied in Acts 11:28. Singleness is often preferable in some seasons (e.g., persecution, famine, grave illness, war). Those who are able to refrain from marriage until a crisis has ended will save themselves and any children they may have from many heartaches and hardships. But if someone is married, Paul says, such a crisis is no excuse for a divorce, and if someone is married they have not sinned.
It is important to remember that Paul is not elevating singleness as generally preferable, but rather only preferable for some people under some circumstances. In this way, some people are called to remain single to serve Jesus in ministry; still others are called to be married, and their marriage is their ministry for Jesus. Anyone who is married will tell you that while it does restrict some ministry opportunities, it is in itself among the most difficult and important ministries.
A cultural parallel in our day might be a season of life when pursuing a potential spouse would be unwise. This would include a season of personal illness, a man being unemployed or underemployed, someone suffering through a traumatic life event such as the death of a parent, or a season of education, work, or ministry in which the demands upon one’s time are so severe that a relationship is not practically possible.
In typical times, when there is not a major crisis, many of the issues in a church are best dealt with by married leaders (1 Tim. 3:4–5; Titus 1:6; 2:3–5). This is because many of people’s issues are related to marriage and parenting, and people with experience in those areas are generally best suited to serve as models and mentors. But in times of crisis or when ministry results in danger, single people are able to do more ministry because their time and possessions are more easily freed up and the risk of death is less frightening than for someone who is a spouse and parent.
Therefore, in the circumstances Paul is addressing, singles are being called upon for vital ministry, though this call is not a restriction. Obviously, Jesus Christ is the perfect example of someone who remained single for the purposes of living in poverty and suffering for the cause of ministry in a way that he could not have if He were a husband and father.
In this way, those gifted with singleness like Paul and Jesus also often have a particular ministry calling on their life that requires poverty or danger. A contemporary example is a friend of mine who is working as a quiet evangelist in a closed Muslim country. He believes he will die for his faith and has not married as a result. Those who do not marry because they are simply selfish or irresponsible are not whom Paul is speaking of in the context of his words and life example.
Seek Godly Counsel
In light of all of this, I cannot decisively answer this question for you. I hope I’ve given you some things to think about. But ultimately this decision has to be made by godly authority with those in your community. The best ones to speak to you about this very important question will be godly elders in your local church who know you. I’m praying James 1:5 for them and for ears to hear for you.
Sections of this blog post were adapted from Mark Driscoll’s book Religion Saves.Got a question about preaching, teaching or ministry leadership in general for Pastor Mark? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’re on your church’s pastor search committee? Good for you. It’s a difficult task, one that can make or break your church for a long time to come. But this can be one of the finest services you render for the Lord and His church.
At first, you step tentatively into those pastor-searching waters, testing to see if they are acidic (scary, dangerous), too deep (you’re in over your head) or turbulent (requiring skills you do not have).
Then you go forward.
In your search for the next pastor of the Lord’s people, there are 10,000 things for you to know and remember, to watch out for and to stay away from. What follows below is just one of the prohibitions, a summation of some pastor-types you and your committee will want to be wary of.
By the way, this is what Paul was doing with Timothy, cautioning him against certain types who would impose themselves on the Lord’s churches. When he said to beware the dogs and evil workers and false circumcision, Paul referred to those who would mutilate the church (think of wild dogs tearing into a defenseless victim), misuse the church (working their evil, which comes in all kinds of varieties), and mislead the church (pushing their false doctrine, in this case that believers had to be circumcised to be saved). I love the way Beeson Divinity School’s Frank Thielman puts it in the NIV Commentary: “Beware the curs! Beware the criminals! Beware the cutters!”
All right. Beware of these preacher-types in your quest for God’s leader for the flock:
1. Single-issue pastors. In the political realm, a “single-issue candidate” has one big item on his mind, some change he/she wants to introduce in Congress. They are the abortion candidate, the big-oil candidate, the environmental candidate, or the tea party candidate. There are pastors like this, men who have one huge thing on their plate, and all their sermons and programs revolve around it.
A friend told me of a pastor under whom he once served. With that man, everything was missions. And in his case, it was one country in particular where he was always traveling to minister and taking church groups. My friend said, “Too bad if we wanted to do something for the children in our church, take the youth on a retreat or needed to renovate the fellowship hall. The pastor needed those funds for Guatemala.”
In most cases, pastors need to be generalists, not specialists. They are called upon to be students and teachers of God’s Word, to deliver great sermons, to administer the staff and to oversee a church that ministers to all age groups, that ministers in the community and that touches the world with the gospel. The church needs to be evangelistic but also mission-minded, Bible-teaching and good stewards. There may be a place for a pastor who does one big thing well and all other aspects of the ministry do not interest him, but chances are your church is not the place for him.
Know whom you are getting. Bring a one-issue pastor to a church needing a jack-of-all-trades, and nothing good will come from it.
2. Politically ambitious pastors. In this case, it’s denominational politics. I’ve known pastors whose driving force was to become known throughout the Southern Baptist Convention and be elected for high office. Why in the world any right-thinking man of God would want that burden is beyond me, but I suppose it takes all types.
The problem—well, one of many—is that he will be inclined to use the church to further his goals, even to the point of manipulating programming and misusing people.
The Lord Jesus said, “I am among you as One who serves,” and, “He who would be great among you, let him be your servant.”
So, find out if that pastor has a servant heart and what service he is now doing.
Before writing a letter of recommendation to a children’s home ministry in search of their new executive director, I learned they wanted someone with pastoral experience and administrative skills. In the letter, I pointed out that not only did this candidate have his degree in administration and not only had he pastored several churches (and every church he serves as interim wants to make him their permanent shepherd), but at the moment he and his wife were working with children in the inner city of New Orleans through one of our smaller congregations. No one said, but I’m guessing this last detail is what clinched the deal. It certainly did for me.
What is the pastor doing at this moment that reveals him to have a shepherd, serving heart?
3. The predators. Jesus spoke of shepherds who watch the sheep, hirelings who do not stick around when the sheep are threatened, and wolves who are the enemies of all sheep. Pastor search committees need to know how to tell one from the other. (John 10 is a good starting place for your study.)
A shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, Jesus said. A hireling has no appetite for conflict, looks out for number one, is not devoted to the flock and skips town (or locks himself in his study!) at the first threat of trouble. The wolves are the ones who make the trouble. (See Acts 20:28-30.)
As I sometimes get reminded on my blog—which I admit is directed toward pastors and church leadership—the church’s problem can be the preacher. Of course this is true. And when a congregation has a pastor who is the cancer, spreading disease throughout the flock, its lay leadership must rise up and take action. But for our purposes here, we’re talking about a search committee trying to spot the trouble-making pastor in order to avoid bringing him in.
Ask a lot of people about the pastor you are interested in. When you finish, ask some more. Ask references for the names of others whom you will want to call in order to have a full picture of this minister. Consider having a member of your committee who knows how to fly under the radar visit that pastor’s city and make discreet inquiries about him and his church.
Sexual predators are the worst kind. If rumors persist about a particular minister you are interested in, don’t automatically assume the worst. Your committee should have as its advisers one or two ministers with vast experience—either a retired pastor or a denominational leader—who can give you his perspective and make recommendations but will hold everything in the strictest confidence. If, however, the rumors trail the minister from church to church where he has served, you will want to pay attention.
4. The combative. Paul told Pastor Timothy, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all” (2 Tim. 2:24).
Your committee will listen to the pastor’s sermons and talk with him privately enough to have an idea about this. Then the references you run—particularly with his former staff members—will confirm to you one way or the other if he loves a good fight.
A combative personality in the pulpit can be entertaining the first time or two. But a steady diet of warmaking from the shepherd gets old quick and brands your church as a warmongering congregation (since pastors tend to make the people like themselves).
Is this pastor kind? Is he Christlike? Paul went on to Timothy, “But be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition” (vv. 24-25).
The pastor who is always spoiling for a fight has no business in the ministry. He needs to bring himself to the cross and die there, daily if necessary (1 Cor. 15:31).
5. The immature. Ministers who have never grown up tend to be quick to take offense, cannot handle correction and worry about their careers. Any criticism is unwelcome, and the critic becomes marked as an enemy.
Many immature pastors can be spotted by their use of slang, by their adolescent clothing and hair styles, and by their discomfort in associating with people old enough to be their parents and grandparents. In case anyone wonders, while I have not known such pastors, I’ve sure heard stories about them. They’re out there.
My observation is that anyone God ultimately uses in great ways, He first has to “break.” (Think of breaking a horse.) Until a minister—or any Christian—sees himself as unworthy, a sinner deserving of hell, one who dare not trust himself because “in my flesh there dwells no good thing” (Rom. 7:18), and throws himself on the mercy of God, he’s not much good as a shepherd of God’s people.
Has this pastor been broken? Ask people who have worked with him fairly recently; they will know.
In saying this, I’m reminding myself we were all young and immature at one time. I’m grateful to those small churches which took a chance on me (mostly, I expect, because they didn’t have a lot of choices, being poor as well as small). Second Peter 3:18 is a good reminder for pastors as well as everyone else: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” The issue then becomes: Is this young pastor showing signs of growing, of being teachable, of being able to make corrections when shown something he got wrong? Do not go forward until you learn the answers to these questions.
6. The mentally unhealthy. Now, poor mental health is a problem for humanity, not just one particular group. But you do not want in your pulpit a man (or woman, if your church allows women to serve as shepherds) who struggles with ego—either too much or too little—who is still trying to find his own identity, who has anger issues and whose fragile confidence always needs bolstering. Such leaders are trouble.
Before telling us how the Lord Jesus shed His outer garment, took a towel and basin of water, and stooped to wash the feet of the apostles, John opens the curtain and lets us in on a divine secret. The opening words of John 13 reveal to us exactly how our Lord was able to do such a humble act: “Now, before the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end; and during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, rose from supper, laid aside His garment, and taking a towel, girded Himself about.”
These four verses are worthy of many hours of our reflection and meditation. They contain a thousand insights, only two or three of which I have grasped so far. The one big message, the truth that jumps out and demands to be considered, is that Jesus was able to stoop and serve in the lowliest position because He knew who He was, knew God’s calling upon His life, was on schedule with His life and had nothing to prove. Insecurity will paralyze us, but knowing our identity in Christ will set us free to do anything He commands.
7. Carnal. I suppose this is redundant, since most of the above indicates a pastor still fleshly and not spiritual. But I’m thinking of one pastor I knew who always had an off-color joke to share, could always be counted on to find a sexual slant to any incident and who was critical of other ministers. Eventually, I decided that his criticism was intended to justify his excluding himself from his brethren, a protective device lest they find out his secrets. Only after he left that church did we hear that he was often seen at the racetrack making bets, and a restaurant owner noted that this preacher always ordered alcoholic drinks with his dinner. When he left our denomination, we were not unhappy. When we found that another denomination had welcomed him with open arms, we were saddened. I hope they know what they got. If not, they probably found out quickly.
Paul says we will have the carnal (fleshly) in the congregations (see 1 Corinthians 2). These are disciples who need to grow and rise above activities and ways of their former life. However, you do not want such a person to be your pastor.
Look for evidence of his spirituality. Does he read his Bible and pray regularly, and not just for sermon preparation? Does he love people and is there a humility in his life?
8. Loners. Does this pastor have friends in the ministry? Does he attend meetings of pastors in his city? Or does he isolate himself from his colleagues as though he fears contamination?
Our Lord called His disciples to become part of the team of 12, then sent them in pairs (see Mark 6:7). When the Holy Spirit sent out missionaries, they went not as solo acts but in groups of at least two (see Acts 13:2; 15:39-40).
One of the most reliable indications of bad mental health in a pastor is his isolation. Whether from a lack of trust of other ministers or a sense of inferiority in himself, nothing good comes from his self-imposed protective quarantine.
Pastors are going to urge people to come to Christ, be saved and baptized and join the church. They are going to tell the new disciples that they cannot live this Christian life in isolation, that they need the family of the Lord. And they will be right.
However, they must practice what they preach. As shepherds of the Lord’s people, they must work with other shepherds, learn from each other and encourage each other. The pastor who cuts himself off from others is revealing something lacking in himself and asking for big trouble. (In Acts 20:17ff, Paul meets with the pastors/elders of the Ephesus church. No numbers are given, but clearly there were several of them. If the Word of God is authoritative for us, we must pay attention to such insights.)
Eight kinds of ministers who can give a congregation big problems if the committee recommends them.
Get lots of counsel, search committee. Get a couple of advisers from veteran ministers in your area, men who are sworn to confidentiality but do not necessarily know that you are talking to both. The line in Proverbs about there being “safety in many counselors” is dead on.
Do not fall in love with a candidate so quickly that you cut short your background work or refuse to consider negative information you are picking up. Talk to ministers who have served on that pastor’s staff in previous churches and to pastors who led neighboring congregations, and pay close attention to both groups, particularly if they are all saying the same things.
Keep the congregation on their knees interceding for your committee. You cannot do this without His guiding hand.