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Christ's Covenant Church Publication Series
WHO CAN BE A PASTOR AT CHRIST’S COVENANT CHURCH?
by Pastor Larry E. McCall
Christ has shown His kindness in giving pastors to our church (Ephesians 4:11). We need pastors. Pastors serve our
church in a variety of crucially important ways: teaching us the Word of God, leading us in fulfilling our mission,
equipping us for carrying out our ministries, protecting us from heresy, division and immorality, as well as providing Christ-reflecting examples in living the Christian life.
Every so often, we sense the need for more pastors in our church. The Lord may call one of our pastors to another part of His harvest field or even call one of our pastors “home” to glory. Although no man can truly fill another man’s shoes, the Lord in His grace usually raises up new pastors to carry on the ministries begun by those pastors He has moved on. In addition, as our church grows in size, we sense the need for more shepherds to care for a growing number of sheep.
But, how do we correctly ascertain just who these “gifts” are that the Lord is giving our church to serve in the ministry of pastoring His flock at CCC? This little publication has been written to guide us in the process of answering the question “Who Can be a Pastor at Christ’s Covenant Church?” Read through it prayerfully asking the Lord to guide our current elders and the whole church membership in being faithful and discerning to His calling of the right men to serve our church. And, by the way, the terms “elder,” “overseer,” and “pastor” are used interchangeably in this publication. All three titles are used of the same ministry in the New Testament.
PASTORAL CANDIDATES NEED TO BE EVALUATED BY THE CURRENT LEADERS AND MEMBERS OF
THE CHURCHWhy is Evaluation so Important?
The Bible teaches that it is Jesus Christ, the Head of the church, who gives pastors and teachers to the church (Eph.
4:11). Paul said that it was the Holy Spirit who made men overseers (Acts 20:28). Often, the Lord places a “desire” for pastoral ministry within the man He is giving to the church as a pastor (1 Tim. 3:1). That inward sense of “calling” can be an encouragement to the pastoral candidate to persevere through an evaluation process.
This “call to the ministry,” however, is subjective and should be objectively confirmed by the church that best knows the candidate. A man’s readiness to assume the crucial ministry of shepherding the flock of God should not be left to his own feelings alone.
God has not left the church directionless in this important matter of testing a man’s readiness to assume pastoral ministry. He has expressly given in His Word necessary standards for those who would become elders in the local church. The primary area of mandatory qualification regards the candidate’s character of life. In addition to evaluating the candidate’s character of life, the church needs to evaluate his spiritual giftedness and his doctrinal competency. Churches in our era need to carefully heed Paul’s directive to Timothy, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Tim. 5:22).
Who should be Involved in the Evaluation Process?
The Lord Himself is involved. In searching the Scriptures for the answer to this question, we can see that God Himself is involved. As has been previously noted, it is Christ who gave “some to be pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11), and it is the Holy Spirit who makes men “overseers” (Acts 20:28). Certainly, recognition must be given to God’s involvement in this process by carefully heeding His Word on the subject. His wise guidance must also be sought. David Larsen
The current church leaders also are involved. In the early church it was sometimes the apostle Paul and his co-workers who appointed elders (Acts 14:23). Timothy and Titus were given the responsibility to make sure proper attention was given to the evaluation of pastoral candidates. In our church, the current elders have the responsibility to be intimately involved in the evaluation process of additional leaders. Lord willing, it is those in leadership who have the most maturity in making wise recommendations regarding a man’s fitness for the eldership (Hull 1990, 116). At Christ’s Covenant Church, the existing elders who direct the evaluation process of elder candidates do the bulk of the intensive evaluation.
The church members are involved. The church body as a unit should not be left out of the process. We can find in Acts 6:1-6, 13:1-3, 15:22, and 2 Cor. 8:18-19 examples of whole churches being involved in the process of choosing men for ministries of leadership in the local body. Even if the eldership team does the major work of evaluating pastoral candidates, much weight must be given to the prayerful judgment of the whole church body. “The congregation among whom a man has lived his Christian life knows best his qualifications, and those whom he will lead must indicate their willingness to follow, or his ministry will be ineffectual” (Ferguson 1975, 148).
The pastoral candidate himself should take an active role. He should be consulted as to his desire (or lack thereof) for the ministry of overseer (1 Tim. 3:1). There may be certain issues or questions that others have regarding the man that he alone can appropriately address.
In summary, those involved in the process of evaluating and selecting elders are 1) God Himself, 2) the existing leadership of the church, 3) the local body as a whole, and 4) the man being evaluated.
How does the Evaluation Process Work?
Having prayed for the guidance and wisdom of the Lord, and having narrowed the field to those men who indicate both a desire for the eldership and the maturity necessary for such a task, the work of detailed evaluation can begin.
The current elders of the church constitute the evaluation group. The elders should consider each candidate individually, with loving and open discussion of the man’s character, spiritual gifts, and doctrinal integrity in comparison with the requirements mentioned in the Scriptures. It is often helpful to have each elder do his own personal evaluation of the candidate using written evaluation forms such as the one attached to this booklet. The members of the evaluation group, having written down their own thoughtful discernment regarding the man’s character in each of the areas listed, may then get together to share their observations with one another. With the candidate’s permission, the group can then openly discuss together the candidate’s readiness for pastoral ministry.
As members of the evaluation group share their observations, the picture of the man’s readiness becomes clearer. It may be necessary to ask the candidate’s permission to ask for the evaluation of others who know him best, such as his wife and those in his Life Group or some other accountability group. People who know the candidate in business relationships or neighborhood relationships may be asked to give their observations regarding the qualification of “having a good reputation with outsiders.” Having garnered the input of all the members of the evaluation group as well as selected others, the candidate himself may be asked to do a self-evaluation regarding his character of life.
Let me point out that the evaluation group is being entrusted with a very precious commodity – a man’s reputation.
Those involved in detailed evaluation should handle their observations with humility, grace, and confidentiality. Harsh and bigoted talk or gossip should be reason enough to ask a member of the evaluation group to step down from this task. Indeed, truth needs to be spoken on this critical issue of discerning those qualified to lead Christ’s sheep, but the truth always must be spoken in love (Eph. 4:15).
Having come to a consensus among the evaluation group, the candidate who has met the biblical qualifications may be recommended to the church body as a whole.
Simply passing the evaluation of some of the members of the church does not yet make a man an elder. His nomination still needs the confirmation of the congregation. At a duly called meeting of the members of the church, the elders who have served as the evaluation group should make their recommendation of the elder candidate. In
WHAT GUIDELINES ARE USED IN EVALUATING A PASTORAL CANDIDATE?
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit has not left us without direction in looking for an answer to this important question. We are not left with the need to come up with our own subjective list of preferences in a pastoral candidate. In fact, we must not. The Holy Spirit has already given us His guidelines for evaluating men for pastoral ministry. His standards are already delineated in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. We should not require less than what the Scriptures have laid out.
Neither should we go beyond the Scriptures requiring an unrealistic perfectionism in our pastoral candidates.
In depending on the standards of 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, those evaluating a candidate will notice two key truths about these lists. First, the qualities listed are necessary if a man is to be set aside for the eldership. While neither of these lists should be considered exhaustive (otherwise they would be identical lists), they each provide a mandatory standard that cannot be ignored. Second, the lists are “ordinary” rather than “extraordinary.” What I mean by that is this: With the possible exceptions of “able to teach” and “not a recent convert,” all the character traits that must be true of an elder should be true of all believers. These character traits are there to show that the pastor is, above all, to be an example to the flock. The lists given in the Pastoral Epistles do not set up a separate, “higher” standard for elders, but rather indicate that the elder is to be exemplary in “the normal Christian life.” “As far as morals are concerned, the New Testament has only one standard for both clergy and laity and not two” (Lenski 1961, 579). Why?
Pastor John MacArthur has said it concisely: “Whatever the leaders are, the people become” (MacArthur 1986, 186).
EVALUATING THE CANDIDATES’ CHARACTERThe following is a description of each of the character traits found in the Pastoral Epistles. These qualities are arranged in categories for ease of use in the evaluation process.
• Above Reproach Paul begins the list of character traits necessary for a man to be an elder with that of being “above reproach” (1 Tim 3:2). The Greek here is a compound word that means “not to be laid hold of.” It is translated “above reproach” by the NIV and the ESV. It could also be translated “irreprehensible” or “unassailable.” The concept is that “no handle is given to anyone by which to injure his reputation” (Kent 1956, 169). The point is not that this man is expected to live a life of sinless perfection. But, in the normal pattern of his life, is there a long pattern of consistency in living a godly life? Enemies may bring accusations against an elder, but when these critical accusations are investigated fairly, they should be proven groundless.
In Titus 1:6 Paul uses a similar word to describe the necessary general reputation of the pastoral candidate. He must be “blameless.” Again a compound word is used in Greek. It means “not to call in (for the purpose of accusing).” Another good translation would be “unaccused” (Malles 1947, 39).
“Blameless” is nearly synonymous with “above reproach” in this context. In order to know what to consider in evaluating this general character trait of being “above reproach” or “blameless,” we need to proceed down the lists given in the 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The general qualification is worked out and illustrated by the other necessary traits that are given. So, gaining an understanding of the rest of the needed qualifications will explain this opening requirement.
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Reputation in the Home
• A “One Woman Man” This qualification is translated “the husband of but one wife” in the NIV. The ESV has “the husband of one wife.” The meaning of this trait has been highly debated over the centuries. Some have thought that it is a prohibition against polygamy. This is a highly questionable interpretation, however, in that polygamy was forbidden in the Roman Empire at the time of the writing of the Pastoral Epistles (Kent 1956, 176). Others have thought that this qualification is given as a prohibition of a remarried widower entering the eldership of a local church. This interpretation is also very weak when one considers that in this same letter Paul counsels young widows to remarry (1 Tim. 5:14). The apostle was hardly opposed to remarriage after the death of the first spouse. Is this qualification a prohibition against previously divorced and remarried men from entering pastoral ministry? While this proposed explanation deserves serious consideration, it seems to miss the heart of the matter.
Two factors that aid in clearing away the clouds of confusion on this issue are 1) the grammar and 2) the context. In the Greek, there is no article with this qualification. That means that the emphasis is “qualitative.” Paul was interested in the character or quality of the man (Malles 1947, 41). This fits the context as well. Remember that the apostle is emphasizing that elders must lead lives that are exemplary to the other believers in the church. Pastors are required to be exemplary husbands (marriage is assumed but not mandatory), each faithful to his wife. “An overseer or elder must be a man of unquestioned morality, one who is entirely true and faithful to his one and only wife” (Hendriksen 1957, 121).