1. Find a man committed to expositional preaching.
If someone happily accepts the authority of God’s word, yet in practice does not preach expositionally, he will never preach more than he already knows.
Don’t employ a pastor who uses Scripture as a pretext for his own ideas. Commitment to the authority of Scripture means making the point of the text the point of the sermon. Granting spiritual oversight of the flock to someone who doesn’t in practice show a commitment to hear and to teach God’s word will be spiritually disastrous. The church will slowly be conformed to his mind, rather than God’s.
2. Find a man Ccommitted to sound doctrine and a biblical understanding of the gospel.
Find a man who both affirms the authority of Scripture and reads it carefully. Pursue a pastor-theologian, one who seeks to understand every passage in its proper context.
Ask him what he believes about the character of God, human nature, the work of Christ, and the nature of conversion. These topics are enormously important, not only for biblical fidelity but for facing pastoral issues that constantly arise in the church.
Furthermore, a biblical understanding of the gospel should be at the heart of your future pastor’s commitment to sound doctrine. He must understand that every human needs his or her sins forgiven—and that this forgiveness is only available through the substitutionary death of Christ.
3. Find a man with a biblical understanding of conversion and evangelism.
Conversion isn’t something we do; it is an act of God. Conversion certainly includes our making a sincere and self-conscious decision to follow Christ, but it’s more than that. Scripture clearly teaches that we turn to Christ only when God supernaturally grants us spiritual life, replacing our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh.
Charles Spurgeon humorously conveyed this truth with a story about Rowland Hill, a famous eighteenth-century English preacher. Spurgeon notes,
A drunken man came up to Rowland Hill, one day, and said, “I am one of your converts, Mr. Hill.” “I daresay you are,” replied that shrewd and sensible preacher; “but you are none of the Lord’s, or you would not be drunk.” To this practical test we must bring all our work.1
Sadly, many churches are full of people who, at some point in their lives, made a sincere commitment to follow Christ but who evidently have not experienced the radical change the Bible describes as conversion.
A pastor who understands conversion will have a sound philosophy of evangelism. Evangelism is simply presenting the good news freely and trusting God to bring conversions. If your future pastor views conversion as merely a sincere commitment at any given point, then he’ll be more likely to press people using hasty and unbiblical means.
True faith is a supernatural gift of God, one that produces good works (James 2:14–26) and endures in holiness (Matt. 24:13). Yes, your future pastor should care about, plead with, and persuade sinners. But he should do so from a place of peaceful confidence in God’s sover- eignty, not out of a frantic sense that conversion depends on his rhetorical ingenuity or his implementing the right program.
If your future pastor is coming from a church with a sizable discrepancy between its membership and its attendance, carefully inquire about his understanding of conversion and evangelism. Ask him what practices created such a large number of people who claim to be “members,” yet are entirely uninvolved in the life of the church. Find a pastor who understands that the decision to follow Christ is urgent, costly, and worth it.
4. Find a man committed to a biblical understanding of church membership and church discipline.
Church membership and discipline mark out the people of God from the world. They define the identity of a particular local church. A pastor committed to church membership recognizes that he and his fellow elders are responsible for the souls of those who have covenanted themselves to their local church (Heb. 13:17).
Regrettably, many pastors view church membership rolls as a way to gauge their success in ministry—the higher the numbers, the greater the sign of God’s blessing. But this is misguided and grossly unbiblical. A true pastor will care not that a church’s membership is large but that every individual member understands the gospel and is spiritually thriving. He won’t care about a growing number of people, but rather a number of people growing. He will recognize that the church’s membership roll identifies those he is responsible to shepherd, pray for, teach, warn, disciple, and love.
Similarly, your future pastor should be committed to church discipline. Church discipline is clearly taught in Scripture. It’s how a church maintains the purity of its witness, guards the gospel, and warns false converts of the dangers of self-deception. To be sure, church discipline is counter-cultural and often emotionally taxing. For that reason, find a pastor who is both compassionate and courageous enough to follow Scripture.
A good pastor doesn’t want to hoard authority; he wants to give it away to others.
5. Find a man committed to discipling others.
Pastors have an obligation to help others follow Jesus. They succeed at this task when they’re more committed to the spiritual well-being of others than to worldly metrics of success. Any pastor who cares well for his church will value and model healthy discipling relationships.
6. Find a man who understands and is convinced of the New Testament practice of having a plurality of elders.
A good pastor doesn’t want to hoard authority; he wants to give it away to others. He wants to raise up other godly men to share the load of shepherding such that God’s people are better served. A team of qualified elders rounds out any pastor’s gifts, supports him in the work of the ministry, keeps him from rash or foolish actions, and opens the opportunity to create a culture of shepherding. If a man seems unwilling to raise up other elders, then it is likely he doesn’t have a clear grasp of what Scripture teaches about the church—or, worse, he may still be clinging to some unsanctified self-centeredness that values personal authority over the good of others.
- Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963), 37.
This article is adapted from How Can Our Church Find a Faithful Pastor? by Mark Dever.
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