Part 2 of series: Advice for Pastor Search Committees
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In my last post I began a series for pastor search committees. Today I begin offering some bits of advice for those who are charged with seeking a new pastor for their church.
My first word of counsel will sound familiar: Seek first the kingdom of God. As you may know, this is a phrase from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:33). Jesus was not advising pastor search committees in this sermon, but his exhortation to seek first the kingdom is, in my view, both relevant to and essential for such committees. In fact, I think it should be their #1 priority.
I know this language will be confusing to some people, especially if you tend to think of the kingdom of God as Heaven, or as some blessed state of affairs on earth, or as an internal feeling of peace. None of these captures Jesus’ meaning of the kingdom of God, however. (If you’re interested in my long answer to the question “What is the kingdom of God in the teaching of Jesus?” please see my series What Was the Message of Jesus?.)
Here I’ll give a short answer to that question. The kingdom of God is God’s reign over all things, including ourselves. Thus it is not primarily a place (Heaven, Israel) or a state of affairs (universal justice) or a feeling (peace), but God’s sovereign rule. Where individuals on a pastor search committee seek first the kingdom of God, they commit to discovering and doing God’s will above all else. They surrender their personal desires and preferences. They are able to pray, truly, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” (Photo: Irvine Presbyterian Church in 1990, when I first started talking with their pastora search committee.)
Similarly, when a committee determines to seek first God’s kingdom, they agree together to pursue God’s will for their church and for their new pastor. Now, in most cases, pastor search committees have agreed to follow certain guidelines, perhaps their denominational polity or the results of a church mission study. I’m not suggesting that committees should disregard these sources of direction. But I am saying that they should give God first place, believing that he will work through their particular process if they are eagerly seeking his will.
If pastor search committees seek first the kingdom of God, they will also broaden their vision of what their church needs in a pastor. They will be less inclined to search for a manager who will maintain the status quo, or a caregiver who will help congregational members “feel the love.” Rather, a kingdom seeking search committee will look for a pastor who can lead their church forward in the soul-saving, world-transforming, community-building, creation-healing mission of God. (See my series: The Mission of God and the Missional Church.)
This bit of advice for pastor search committees – Seek first the kingdom of God – gets first place in my series not only because Jesus said it, and not only because Jesus said it was to take first place, but also because a healthy and productive search process needs this sort of individual and corporate commitment. Committee members, as normal human beings, begin the search process with their own dreams and desires, priorities and prejudices. Many of these may indeed reflect God’s own purposes. But it’s likely that at least some do not. Only when committee members surrender their agendas to God’s agenda will they be ready to find the pastor whom God has chosen for their church.
Before I move on, I should mention a couple of implications of the “seek first the kingdom” principle. One is that members of search committees should, in general, not have close relationships with potentially strong candidates. For example, in one of the associate pastor searches in which I was involved at Irvine Presbyterian Church, we had an “internal” candidate for the position (a member of our church who was eligible for and interested in the open position). One member of our search committee was one of this inside candidate’s best friends. Not only was it impossible for him to be objective about the search, but also it almost killed him when, in the end, he felt compelled to vote not to call his friend. In fact, this man ended up leaving our church because the committee experience had been such a difficult one for him emotionally.
A second implication of the “seek first the kingdom” principle is that members of pastor search committees should be people who are already seeking God first in their lives. A pastor search committee is not a place for immature Christians to grow up in the Lord, even though, as I have already written, most committee members will, in fact, grow considerably in their faith through the committee process.
Tomorrow I’ll press on to the next point.