Biblical Preaching: From #1 Priority to Afterthought?

Ask search committees all across America about their priorities and you will find that biblical preaching is by far #1. Observe those same search committees and you will most likely find that their actions don’t match their priorities.

Somewhere along the way of calling a new pastor, a search committee’s emphasis on preaching begins to fade. How does this happen? And more importantly, how can we keep our focus right?

Here are three phases I’ve observed in the life of a search committee, as preaching goes from their #1 priority to not much of a priority at all.

Phase 1: Enthusiasm

Initially, the search committees will pursue a first-rate preacher. Candidates will evaluate their own preaching in questionnaires. The job ads will list biblical preaching as the first requirement. Five or six sermon tapes or even videos will be requested from promising prospects. Aggressive search committees will petition their deacons to approve expenditures for plane tickets to hear a candidate preach in person.

Phase 2: Information Overload

Soon enough the search committees will have collected piles of resumes and baskets of tapes.

Facing the job of sifting through all the data, attention to the candidates preaching will begin to dwindle. Committee members will listen to at least a portion of the sermon tapes on the way to search committee meetings.

When that happens, the quality of analysis goes down. Instead of prayerful consideration, committees do a basic “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” approach. Phrases like, “I didn’t get to listen to the whole thing, but I liked what I heard,” will be common. Their number one priority slowly begins to slip into the background and easier-to-judge criteria begins to seem more important.

Phase 3: Distraction

Once personal interviews begin, the focus will shift to interpersonal skills and answers to specific questions. Ultimately, a decision to call a pastor may be made on the basis of how the committee feels about issues like drums on the platform rather than on specific criteria used to evaluate his skill at preaching the Word. Even more likely, the committee will evaluate the candidate against a negative or positive experience with the former pastor (to hear more on this, watch this video). At the end of the day, pastoral search committees with a first priority of finding an expository preacher will have done little to ensure that they achieve their goal.

What now?

Why does this happen? It doesn’t happen because the committee no longer cares about preaching. No, the real problem here is that it is difficult to evaluate preaching and easy to become impatient in the process. How do we keep this from happening?

I recommend three solutions:

  1. Be aware of the tendency to lose focus throughout the search process. Clearly, if you’re a member of a search committee reading this article, you are already being proactive about educating yourself. This is a critical first step, and one that will serve you well.
  2. Be informed on how you can evaluate preaching. In my book, When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search, I dedicate three chapters to the importance of evaluating preaching. I include criteria you can use, and biblical reference to refer to throughout your search.
  3. Do everything with prayerful consideration, keeping focused on your priorities and God’s direction in your church. The search committee process can be a grueling one, but also one of the most rewarding processes a church can go through.
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