church · faith

how to choose a pastor – part deux

First you have to ask yourself, do you really want one? Do you understand what a pastor does and is – at least what should be done and should be as God Himself designed? If you know these things and you are certain you actually want this person involved in your life, then read on!

  1. Be self-aware.

Do you know yourself well enough to choose a pastor for yourself? That may seem like a weird question.

My human resources background reminds me of a time when I asked someone if they knew what kind of management style they responded to best and the person just stared at me blankly. I think that most of us don’t really know what kind of person we are or even consider it much. And we have a general sense of people we don’t care for (bless their hearts) but we haven’t really pinpointed why. Part of maturity is learning to look honestly at yourself and figure out who you are. How you learn, what you respond to, what totally irks you, why your skin flames up at the very mention of someone’s name, etc.

All that said, God has a shepherd for you. The shepherd may not be the exact style you think you want and you may not “get” him at all, but the power of belonging to the kingdom of God is that God already planned for that. The question is are you willing to see yourself and what you truly need not just what you want or think you need?

 

2. Be humble.

After you have spent time looking at the difficult places in your heart and mind and soul, your personality may be one that thinks that you don’t really need another person – all you need is Jesus. We have seen a knee-jerk reaction from our generation of believers who just don’t commit to the local church and have had a love-hate relationship with Christians in general. An attitude of I believe in Jesus but the Church is so messed up and filled with messed up people that I’d rather just worship and study on my own.

Truth is that simply doesn’t happen. Know why? God’s spirit doesn’t let it. We weren’t saved in a vacuum, we were saved for community and family. We were created to be in unity with other believers in Christ and it’s the chips on our shoulders that keep us from true repentance and true growth.

Humility is not the same as humiliation. I think that the church has gone a long way in the wrong direction and has even reveled in belittling outsiders. (God have mercy on us!) True humility is the deep understanding that I cannot possibly know everything, I cannot possibly DO everything, and I depend entirely on Jesus AND that works itself out more often than not through the healthy functions of the local church.

I am humbled. I have had several experiences in my life that have caused me to depend on others. I have had amazing leadership, dear friends and brothers in christ who have come alongside me and steered me away from my sinful broken heart and pointed me to Jesus. It is so humbling, but when done well it is life-altering and life-giving. We NEED humble people who walk boldly in the confidence of Jesus’ great love and grace, who rely on each other and admit their need for help.

 

3. Show respect to the office.

We’ve heard a lot in this past election cycle about showing respect to the office and not necessarily the person. It’s easy enough to say when the person you are supposed to respect is someone you agree with, not so much when you vehemently oppose pretty much everything that comes out of that person’s mouth. It’s so easy to gloss over severe authoritative abuses by people in power, especially when it comes to the church. This is the man God appointed and anointed.

One of the biggest reasons I am in a denomination like the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) is because of its approach to the office of Teaching Elder (TE). Not just anyone who really wants to can become a pastor. It is a strenuous process, some may even say overbearing process, to be ordained and recognized as a TE. The process is very much designed out of a commitment to Biblical principles and a long history of church governance.

Likewise it is a strenuous process to be defrocked as a TE. You may lose your job with a particular congregation, but you still hold the designation as a TE. That is not the case with many denominations – at least in theory, the PCA sees ordained elders as elders for life and hold it, in some ways, as the highest calling on a life there can be. It is certainly a calling that has many perils and condemnations on it in the Bible when done poorly.

All that to say, the office itself is not taken lightly and depending on the church you are in, the pastor is held to the highest of standards and hopefully accountability. What we’ve seen in recent months/years is a lack of accountability across the spectrum, and many public leaders being called out for their abuses of power and influence. This is absolutely necessary and essential to the health of the Church as a whole and we are to learn much from it. Treading with much care, of course.

But I don’t believe it can give us reasons to disrespect the office. I have personally seen how elders are tested, trials by fire (and combat!), and how they are held to standards that lay people are not. This is good. This is worthy of respect.

The takeaway here is that if you do not and cannot respect the person in the office, than you either ask yourself why or you must find someone you can and will respect. The first step would be to confront yourself and your own notions of what you think the pastor should be – reread #1 and 2 above – then you must prayerfully consider making an appointment with the pastor to talk it through. Perhaps there is a misunderstanding or, in your effort to be humble, you’ve realized you’ve held a grudge. Leave your gift at the altar, and go be reconciled. How can you possibly worship in spirit and truth, not to mention actually listen to the word of God, when you are disgruntled against the person in the pulpit? Too often, we do. We take on the cultural norm of letting bygones be bygones, grin and bear it, let it go, etc. These are NOT marks of spiritual maturity.

A quick note on non-denoms: If your church is a non-denom or loosely affiliated to some vague denomination, I beg you to consider what about that appeals to you and to balance that with the possible downfalls – many of which we have seen in these churches lately – including a lack of accountability and structure and governance. Governance is not a bad word. It is a checks and balances system that, when done well and bathed in prayerful reliance on the Holy Spirit, can help keep your pastor and elders worthy of respect. In many instances, non-denoms are born out of a group saying we don’t want to be like those churches. We want to be more relevant or open minded. Problem with that is when you reinvent the wheel, you often miss out on the several centuries of wheelmaking which would have saved a lot of time, effort, resources, and hurt caused by unstructured environments flying by the seat of their pants. (I’ve always loved that expression. Such a funny visual.)

4. Finally, commit to Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd, and commit to the shepherd who also commits to Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

You may notice that so far I haven’t even talked about the actual pastor. It’s human nature to have a celebrity culture. We want someone else to be bigger and better than the rest of us poor saps. We want someone to have it all together and point the way for us to be as cool as he is. It’s true for pastors, too. We’re looking for wisdom and guidance. Or maybe we just want a good pep rally so we can struggle through yet another week of life.

What we really need is the pastor who says, here I am, right with you in the same boat. I’m doing life too. I’m raising a family. I’m paying bills. I’m doing a job similar to every other person out there. The difference? The pastor’s job is committing to the study and preaching of God’s word and praying diligently for the people in his care. He knows he can’t do it alone. He knows that the work will be treacherous and full of consequence. The pastor is constantly checking himself, before he wrecks himself, being self-aware and God-aware. The pastor places himself in a position of humility and service to his flock. And he consistently submits himself to the systems in place that keep him reliant on the work of the church and the work of the Holy Spirit. He does #1-3 above, and as he does those things, he recognizes that he, too, needs a shepherd to lead him, and the only one that fits the bill is Jesus Christ, Head of the Church and Savior to all. That’s the pastor you’re looking for. That’s the one you need. The one who points you to Jesus, through his work, through his failures, through his preaching and teaching, through his counsel, through his repentance, through his entire life.

When you find that one, follow that pastor with all your heart.
“Follow me, as I follow Christ” – Paul, 1 Cor 11

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