The skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error and right wrong. It is a task in which we attempt to see things as God sees them.
Perhaps at no other time is discernment more important for a local church than in calling a pastor. As a pastor, author, frequent conference speaker, and blogger, Tim is uniquely positioned to give input about the importance of discernment for churches as they search for a pastor. I asked Tim to share his thoughts about how local churches can grow in their discernment as they go through the pastor search process.
You recently joined a pastoral staff. What did you learn from your own call that might be helpful for churches in the midst of a pastoral search?
I am concerned that this may sound prideful, so I say this with caution, but I feel like my call came in the most natural way and in some ways the most biblical way. My call to ministry came from within my own local church, which is to say that I did not respond to an external prompting or even an external desire, but to the leaders of my church who said that they had identified within me the qualifications for a man called to ministry. That call was subsequently confirmed by the members of the church. It was in this way that I felt both called and then confirmed in that calling.
You have a very helpful chapter in The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment on the gift of discernment. How might this chapter help churches in the midst of a pastor search?
Discernment is a gift the Lord gives so a few can help the many in areas that require particular wisdom and insight. It strikes me that this is exactly the kind of gifting needed as a church seeks a new pastor. I suppose this means that people with the gift of discernment, and especially leaders with the gift of discernment, would be ideally suited to be involved in the search for a new pastor.
How would you suggest that a local church cultivate corporate discernment as they prepare to call a new pastor?
Spiritual discernment, despite what many Christians seem to espouse today, is not about intuition or hearing audible voices from the skies. Rather, spiritual discernment is a discipline of the heart and mind as they are trained and shaped by the words of Scripture. What this means is that the way a local church can best cultivate discernment is by a commitment to the preaching, the understanding, and the application of the Bible. Any church that considers calling a pastor should first be wholly committed to hearing from God in his Word.
In The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, you describe how government officials are trained to develop the discernment to identify counterfeit money. Is there a need for local churches to develop the discernment to identify “counterfeit pastors”?
Absolutely! The Bible is clear that the church is responsible to search out and weed out false teachers; it is clear that there will always be false teachers rising up in opposition to what is pure and true. Certain individuals are specially equipped in knowing God’s Word and applying it in such a way that they can see counterfeit pastors for who they are.
The way to train such people is largely simply to have them committed to that same study of the Word of God. The commitment to discernment is really a commitment to knowing the Bible so it can be applied in all areas of life.
What qualities should stand out about pastors truly called to pastoral ministry?
Let me answer just as it pertains to the area of discernment. A man who is called to pastoral ministry should know the Word of God to a sufficient extent that he has gained the ability to discern truth from error and right from wrong. However, this gifting is given to people in differing degrees, so I think it is equally important that a man learn to surround himself by other discerning men who can help him with this task. I love a pastor who is aware of his weaknesses and who then works diligently to surround himself by people for whom those areas are strengths.
Are there any issues or areas that churches involved in a pastor search need to give extra attention to in today’s church environment?
I guess there are certain issues that are always applicable and other issues that are particularly applicable at a given time and in a given situation. One of today’s challenges is in finding men who truly understand the nature of good and evil, that there is no option between the two, and that if you affirm something to be true, the opposite must be false. The whole nature of truth is under attack today and pastors are not at all immune from it. A second challenge is in finding men who are not driven by pragmatism, but who understand that they are first and foremost called to be obedient (while allowing results to be a secondary concern).
Why is spiritual discernment necessary in your pastoral search? How can your church implement discernment as you search for a pastor?