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On Selecting Ministers

I agree with Ken Schenck that the most important qualifications in a minister are spiritual, not academic. I also agree with him that biblical scholarship has its place and every denomination ought to have a few Bible scholars laying around:

I’m involved with a PhD dissertation defense today at Andrews University and was finishing up the dissertation this morning when an amusing thought hit me.  You know, every denomination should at least have one or two Bible scholars, in addition to all its Spirit-filled prophets and leaders.  Every denomination should have one or two experts on what the Bible actually meant.

And what does that involve?  It involves things that I agree are not the priority for a minister or necessarily a denominational leader. I doubt massively that the most impactful pastors and leaders need to be or will be biblical scholars of this sort. Although I’m clearly having fun in this post, I really mean it when I say the heart and not the head is the number one priority even for a minister or church leader.

He then goes on to describe the sorts of skills a biblical scholar should be able to bring to the table in the service of the church. It’s a fine list, though I agree it is unrealistic to expect this level of scholarly acumen from all (or even most) parish ministers. Conversely, I wouldn’t trust a minister who isn’t at least somewhat conversant with the tools of serious biblical scholarship.

Ken’s words reminded me of the qualifications of church leaders 1 Timothy 3:

The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil.

Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them first be tested; then, if they prove themselves blameless, let them serve as deacons. Women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be married only once, and let them manage their children and their households well; for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim 3:1-13)

Churches work hard to get the best leadership they can. When searching for a new pastor, they look at the candidates’ formal education, preaching ability, charisma, pastoral skills, and a multitude of other variables.

First Timothy 3 discusses the qualifications to look for in church leaders. These suggestions are at odds with the way churches usually do things. For example, the passage overwhelmingly emphasizes issues of moral character and spiritual maturity. Only one qualification has to do with learned skills: a bishop or overseer must be “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2). I have both interviewed with pastor search committees and spoken with them about colleagues they were looking to hire, and my observation is that the average search committee is more interested in a candidate’s skills than with the vitality of their spiritual life. This seems backwards: it is far easier to learn new skills than to adopt a new moral compass.

Who do you want in your church’s pulpit? A seasoned-but-cynical professional or a young kid fresh from seminary with a heart on fire for God? I know I would take the kid any day of the week.

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2 Comments

  1. Brenda Rambacher says:

    I am trying to prepare a survey for our church to learn what they want in a new pastor. Sadly, our pastor has liver and pancreatic cancer. The good side of it we know he will have a perfect healing in heaven. In the meantime, we have to think about his replacement. Our church is predominately seniors. Our pastor is 70 and has been there12 years – much loved and respected. Our membership is about 100. We’re certain many are going to balk at a young man. Others feel a younger man is the direction to go. Any bits of advice or suggestions would be helpful. We’re a Christian church. (restoration movement) Thank you and God bless.

    Brenda Rambacher 352.596.6618

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  2. Darrell Pursiful says:

    Brenda,

    I’m sorry to hear about your church’s loss and pray your next pastor will be the loving and capable leader you deserve.

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