You Might Have the Wrong Candidate If…


Bob slammed the car door and stomped through the house in a rage. “I’ve had it with those ungrateful people! They’ve pushed me far enough. I told them that the church would fall apart and they deserve it. We’re moving!”


Just 22 months earlier, Dr. Bob had accepted the pastorate of First Church. He came to the office with a list of changes that needed to happen quickly. Bob knew how to pump up those baptism, attendance, and budget numbers. All that the church had to do was follow his directions. This pastor was committed to making a name for himself.

Dr. Bob was offended when church members expressed concern. Apparently, they didn’t know their place. Staff meeting became more like ranchers counting cattle than pastors seeking ways to watch over the souls of their flock. Sermons offered three easy steps to changing marriages and five keys to a happier life. The worship music was the latest and greatest, and the services ran like a well-oiled machine. Yet it didn’t take long for the crisis to boil over.

At the members’ meeting following Bob’s resignation, the church wondered how they should go about their next search. How should they get started and what should they do? It was a daunting task. What questions had they asked Dr. Bob? Did they check his references? No good answers were offered, but a search for a new pastor began.

Selecting a pastor is one of the most important decisions that a church can make. Unfortunately, few churches receive any training on how to conduct their work. It can be a tragedy waiting to happen. A failure in the search process damages some churches and destroys others. With that sobering reality in mind, let’s consider the task not so much in terms of who churches should look for, but who they want to avoid.


Jeff Foxworthy has made redneck jokes an art form. There are thousands of them. You know how they go, “If you mow your front yard and find a car, you might be a redneck.” Trust me, they get worse! While the following considerations are by no means meant to be funny, we’re going to borrow that format: “You might have the wrong pastoral candidate if…”

He only has three references: his mother and his two brothers.

You might have the wrong candidate if he only has three references: his mother and two brothers. A search committee must check references, and then ask the references for referrals to others. If you’re on a search committee, listen carefully to what the references say—and don’t say. Ask questions about the man’s theology, personality, work ethic, morality, spiritual maturity, and people skills. Don’t be afraid to dig deep. Every candidate has flaws, but you owe it to the church to know everything that you can about those issues before the candidate comes in view of a call.

He isn’t clear about the basics.

Another way to recognize the wrong candidate is if he isn’t clear about the basics of theology and ministry. How does he describe the inspiration of Scripture? What does he believe about creation? Check his understanding of the person and work of Christ. Expect that the pastor will give you a biblical and passionate account of his salvation and call into the ministry. Request that he explain how he would know if he is succeeding in ministry. If his definition is all about nickels and noses, you have the wrong man! Inquire about his understanding of the gospel. (Read Greg Gilbert’s book What is the Gospel? to pinpoint the major issues so that you’ll be prepared.)


With those big pieces in place, here are several other matters to consider:

  • You might have the wrong candidate if his values differ from the church’s. Does his understanding of church governance fit your church’s practice?
  • How much time off does he take, and what does he do on his time off? Avoid a man who neglects his family.
  • What would he want to do during his first six months as pastor? If he discounts meeting church members, praying, and seeking to understand what God has already done in the church, run as fast as you can!
  • Ask him what he wants you to call him. Does he insist on an academic title? If he does, beware of a potential problem with pride or insecurity.
  • Listen to as many of his past sermons as you can. Look for content more than style. Also, remember that it is possible to be a great preacher and terrible pastor.
  • Avoid pastors who are constantly moving, who think that member care is a secondary issue, and who talk extensively about what is wrong with their current church. These habits often betray that a man has problems relating to people. You might have the wrong candidate if he inquires about his potential salary during your first phone call.
  • You might have the wrong candidate if he continually checks his iPhone during the interview process.
  • You might have the wrong candidate if he carries a concealed weapon while preaching.
  • You might have the wrong candidate if you ask him about humble, servant, leadership and he doesn’t understand the question.

You get the idea.

Dennis Newkirk

Dennis Newkirk is the lead pastor of Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma.

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