Jonathan T. Looney
When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search, by Chris Brauns. Chicago: Moody, 2011, 193 pages, $11.99, paper.
When searching for a new pastor, churches are looking for many things. Some churches might be looking for a great CEO, a competent and organized administrator, or perhaps a dynamic leader who can inspire the people through his personality. There’s nothing inherently wrong with those qualities in a minister, but are they really the most important thing?
In this short, accessible book, Chris Brauns sets forth the case for what he considers to be the most important quality churches should seek in a pastor: solid expository preaching. And, he exhorts search committees to seek their direction from God’s Word. Given the context of the modern evangelical church to which Brauns is speaking, his words are important and (at least, from my perspective) most welcome.
Brauns separates his book into three parts. In the first part, he exhorts pastoral search committees to do their work in a God-centered way. He exhorts the committees to pray. He exhorts them to make the time to do their work well. He exhorts them to be Bible-centered, seeking the qualifications of their minister from Scripture such as 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9) and seeking a minister who will preach the Word. And he exhorts them to seek congregational unity in the gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than through human means.
Brauns cautions against “premises or actions that would inadvertently teach your congregation that church is a democracy in which you are seeking to discern the will of the people and to deliver accordingly” (47). This is an important lesson that even Reformed and Presbyterian churches need from time to time. And, yet, Brauns is speaking to the broader evangelical church. I am inclined to agree with him, but wonder whether his important statement will be received well by others less inclined to agree with him.
Brauns brief paragraph on the role of the church vote is also important (46–7). Here, he clarifies exactly what churches are being asked to do when they vote to receive a minister: “recognize together the call of God on a particular pastor” and “agree corporately and pledge corporately their commitment to support and submit to their new God-given leader.” Again, these are important things a church should understand when it is preparing to call a pastor.
In Part 2, Brauns spends time explaining what qualities churches should seek when calling a pastor. He covers a variety of ground while explaining what a biblical shepherd should be, but devotes most of this section to an extended explanation of expository preaching, why it is important to hire a skilled expository preacher, and how a search committee can (and should) judge a pastor’s preaching.
His definitions and explanations are accessible, and a search committee would do well to evaluate a candidate’s preaching as thoroughly as he suggests. Given the book’s targeting of the broader evangelical church, this is an important message, and I hope many churches will heed his call to seek faithful and high-quality preaching.
In Part 3, Brauns covers some suggested techniques for interviewing and a number of suggested lines of inquiry for interviews. Having recently been involved in a pastoral search, much of this resonated with me, either as questions that were useful to ask, or questions that we should have asked.
The book ends with ten “Frequently Asked Questions,” which contained some real gems. I think this section could easily be relabeled “Miscellaneous Advice,” as the author seems to delve into some matters that may not have fit easily into the rest of the book. But, some of these were quite helpful, and I wholeheartedly encourage churches to read these.
This book contains some other good nuggets, such as the important suggestion that search committees quiz pastoral candidates about Internet pornography (71–2), an acknowledgement that the process will include subjectivity and has the potential to be divisive (29), and a plea that search committees not “justify a lack of follow-through by telling one another that [they] are all very busy” (66).
As for criticisms of this book, there are a few cases where the exegesis of biblical texts didn’t live up to the high standards Brauns set for himself. In one case, he says that Acts 17:12 shows that “[e]ffective leadership took place in Berea” (35). That may be true, but it seems something is missing from the line of argument to connect that conclusion to the biblical text. In another case, he explains 1 Timothy 5:17–18 as saying that people should provide for their pastors because pastors are there to serve the people. He goes on to explain, “Supporting your pastor is really about taking care of yourself. Take care of your pastor. It is in your interest to do so” (179–80). While I agree with these statements, and I think there is support in Scripture for them, I am not sure that 1 Timothy 5:17–18 (standing on its own) says exactly that. Given the context of a book which is trying to urge the importance of high-quality biblical preaching on those who may not be accustomed to that, it is disappointing to see these minor slips. Nonetheless, I understand the pressure of writing under deadlines, and I can easily forgive a few weak explanations in what is otherwise a good book.
Because this is a review for a Reformed and Presbyterian audience, it is worth mentioning how this book might be useful in that context. My opinion is that most Orthodox Presbyterian Church search committees will instinctively understand most of the content of Part 2 (on the importance of exegetical preaching and how to evaluate it) even without reading the book. However, there are some important pearls of wisdom in the rest of the book that will be quite helpful to search committees. In particular, Part 3 will be quite helpful to those new to interviewing pastoral candidates.
I appreciate Brauns’s contribution to the dialog about pastoral searches. I hope many in the evangelical church will heed his exhortation to seek faithful biblical preaching.
Jonathan T. Looney serves as a ruling elder at Hope Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Syracuse, New York. Ordained Servant Online, January 2019.