‘What to look for in a pastor’

A guide for pastoral search committees
By Brian Biedebach
Day One Publications. 200 pages. £10.00
ISBN 978 1 846 252 686

A pastor may serve a church for a long time — 20 or 30 years. So when the time comes to seek a successor, there may not be many members of the church who are familiar with the process. Brian Biedebach’s book sets out to help by providing biblical guidelines for choosing a pastor.

The first three chapters discuss the role of expository preaching, the balance of different responsibilities in serving a church, and the character of a Christian leader. Biedebach rightly sets preaching at the heart of a church’s life, but exaggerates the difficulty of assessing a potential pastor’s sermons. Many churches now publish sermons online, making it easy to listen to whole series preached in their home context. For those following this course of action, Christopher Ash’s Listen up! is an invaluable guide to assessing sermons.

The fourth chapter gives an historical account of the development of different strands of doctrine in the broader church with a view to helping a search committee understand its own position and the direction in which it might wish to move. A further chapter explores how a candidate’s theology might work itself out in practical ways. Biedebach writes from an American conservative evangelical perspective, but sets out the spectrum of doctrine fairly.

The final chapter discusses procedures for appointing a pastor. A self-governing Free church is assumed, but the principles transfer even to appointments made under the Church of England’s system of patronage. However, Hugh Balfour’s Whose church is it anyway? should be mandatory reading for anyone involved in a CofE appointment.

Superficially, the chapter reads like a human resources manual for secular appointments with check lists for interview panels and candidates alike. Nevertheless, Biedebach does acknowledge that appointing a pastor is a spiritual challenge. God has a plan and the job of the search committee is to seek his will in humble prayer, so the committee must consist of spiritually mature Christians. Indeed, the desiderata that this book sets out for pastors apply equally to everyone involved in ministry, which should be the whole church.

Reading this book sent me back to Mark Ashton’s talks on ‘Building a congregation’ at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly in 1994. His practical applications of biblical principles stand as a valuable complement to the theory in Biedebach’s book, and would be equally useful for anyone involved in seeking a pastor. Neither is a panacea, but both merit critical reading by anyone involved in church leadership.

Peter Robinson, 
a member of St. Andrew the Great in Cambridge for 30 years; and recently served on the search committee that recommended a new vicar