First Corinthians 15:1-8 reminds us that the Gospel is of “first importance.” It is always critical for local churches to be consciously Gospel centered. No time is it more important than when a church is in the midst of a pastoral transition.
As part of our desire to bring you more resources throughout your search, we are looking to interview various church leaders about pastoral transitions. Here is our first interview in the series:
Trevin Wax is an editor at Lifeway Christian Resources and blogs at Kingdom People. He is the author of the book Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals and more recently Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope.
I interviewed Trevin on how churches searching for a pastor can keep the Gospel as their first priority. Here are some of his thoughts:
Would you first give us a concise definition of the Gospel?
People hear the question – “What is the gospel?” – in different ways, which may lead to different responses.
Some pastoral candidates will hear the question in terms of evangelism, How would I share the gospel with an unbeliever? Usually, that will lead him to articulate a message that begins with God as Creator and Judge, articulates the reality of human sin and the brokenness of our world, climaxes with the announcement of Christ crucified and raised so that we might be justified before God, and then calls for the response of repentance (turning from sin) and faith (trusting in God’s mercy).
Other pastoral candidates will hear the question in terms of New Testament exegesis, How did the apostles define the word “gospel”? Usually that will lead to a Jesus-focused announcement: He fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and promises through His perfect life, He died on the cross for our sins, conquered sin and Satan forever, and is now exalted as Lord over all.
I think it’s good to specify with a pastoral candidate what you mean by the question. If you ask “What is the gospel?” and they answer exegetically, you might follow that up with a question about how they share the gospel with an unbeliever. If they answer evangelistically, you might follow up with a question about how the Scriptures define the word. Whichever direction you take, you’ll want to make sure that Christ’s death and resurrection is at the center of the candidate’s message.
Do you think that it would be easy for churches looking for a pastor to assume his definition of the Gospel?
Absolutely. Too many times, pastoral search teams want to get to know a pastor on a superficial level, asking questions about ball teams or favorite foods, rather than probing theological viewpoints to see how one’s methodology necessarily flows from one’s view of the gospel.
When listening to a pastor’s sermons, it’s important to see how Jesus is represented.
- Is He present in the sermon?
- Is He described as a helper or motivator?
- Or is He presented as the crucified King?
Churches often look to the superficial elements of a preacher (Was he funny? Did he keep me interested? Will our people like him?) rather than the core issues that flow from his view of the Bible’s storyline and the gospel announcement.
I am very thankful for your book Counterfeit Gospels. It helped me think more clearly about a balanced view of the Gospel. How might it help churches looking for a pastor?
Ideally, Counterfeit Gospels might alert pastoral search teams to ways in which we evangelicals can drift from the centrality of the gospel. The analysis of different counterfeits which are prevalent in society may help a search team distinguish between a candidate who proclaims the gospel clearly and biblically and a candidate whose thoughts on these matters are foggy and uncertain.
Are there any interview questions you would suggest for pastoral search committees that would help them evaluate a candidate’s commitment to the Gospel?
The question of personal evangelism is a must. If everyone in your church was as committed to personal evangelism as is your pastoral candidate, what would that do to your church?
I don’t think commitment to the gospel can be measured only in one’s fidelity to ideas. Instead, we ought to measure one’s commitment to the gospel in terms of how prone we are to share this unbelievably good news that has transformed our lives.
Regardless of a pastor’s biblical knowledge, there is no such thing as “spiritual maturity” apart from living a Great Commission life.
What in a candidate’s background might warn a church that a pastoral candidate does not really see the Gospel as of first importance?
I’m not sure that background will determine this question. A better way forward is to look at the pastor’s preaching. Is he clearly relying on the gospel to bring about life change for his listeners? Or is he relying on something else to “deliver the goods” every Sunday? Does he see the power as residing in this message he’s been given? Or does he see the message as an add-on to his own skills, a more popular message, etc? These are issues that generally come out in public preaching and in personal conversations with the candidate.
Do you have any other advice or suggestions for churches in the midst of a pastoral search?
Don’t settle. Better to spend more time finding the right pastor than to settle for the wrong one. Keep the gospel in view as you search for a candidate. Look out for counterfeit messages that drift from biblical teaching. And pray, pray, pray for God’s direction.
Who would you like to see interviewed on Pastor Search Resources? What questions would you like to have answered by our guests?