Book Review: Search, by William Vanderbloemen
Vanderbloemen, William. Search: The Pastoral Search Committee Handbook. Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2016. $12.99.
Several factors in the last ten years have opened the window for executive search firms that specialize in pastoral searches. Twenty years ago, churches often worked through their denomination, seminaries of choice, or networks; today’s churches, however, increasingly retain search consultants.
William Vanderbloemen is the founder of The Vanderbloemen Group, a well-recognized and experienced firm that helps churches find a pastor. His new book, Search: The Pastoral Search Committee Handbook, opens a window to the values and approach of their organization.
Search offers a wealth of practical insights for pastoral searches. A sample of positive examples is summarized below. That being said, local churches looking for a pastor should be aware that this resource aims at a very wide audience and doesn’t challenge pastoral search committees to focus on what they need most in their next pastor: a man passionately devoted to the sufficiency of Christ and his Word.
Virtually any pastoral search committee will benefit from the experience Vanderbloemen has gleaned from his group’s involvement in over 700 pastoral searches (129). If nothing else, Search is full of practical advice. For example:
- He reminds churches to plan rest for their incoming pastor: “The pastorate can be a lonely and tiresome place, and tired pastors make mistakes. Create a culture that values sabbaticals and rest so that pastors can keep a healthy pace.” (26)
- He warns against forming a search committee that is too large. “Beware of forming a pastoral search committee larger than eleven members. It’s important that the committee is able to be nimble. It’s difficult to reach any consensus when there are too many opinions involved.”(36-37) (But see these two articles by Mark Dever and Bobby Jamieson on the trouble of search committees generally: Part One and Part Two.)
- Search points out, “How a Senior Pastor—and the entire family—is introduced and welcomed to your church sets the tone for their time there (119).” He then shares specific ideas for the early days of a pastor’s ministry.
That said, readers will notice some redundancy between chapters. Warnings about avoiding “too many cooks in the kitchen,” and cautions about technical problems associated with video conferencing are repeated. In Vanderbloemen’s defense, he’s doubtless aware that some will read only the portion of the book dealing with their current stage, so repetition may be justified.
The number of insights offered by this book demonstrates its expansive utility. However, readers of Search should consciously recognize that Vanderbloemen’s unstated goal of writing a book useful to churches from any denomination brings with it the notable limitation of being theologically superficial. Hence,
- There’s essentially no mention of the cross or the gospel and therefore no mention of the need to hire pastors who share Paul’s passion (1 Cor 2:1).
- Neither is there any substantive reflection on the biblical qualifications for pastors/elders outlined in the pastoral epistles, as well as nothing on the role a plurality of elders should play in calling a pastor.
- Different approaches to preaching are presented as style choices. The guide for listening to sermons given in Appendix G (153–157) fails to teach the unique priority of Christ-centered preaching and the sufficiency of the Word.
- The equivalent of one page (107–108) gives direction for interviewing candidates for theological fit. In contrast, three-and-a-half pages share the tired illustration of search committees using a decision-making model that would rule out most biblical leaders, including even Jesus, while possibly seeing Judas as the candidate with the most potential.
Vanderbloemen stresses the importance of beginning with prayer (5–16), and throughout his book, he cites many passages from Scripture. Yet even those emphases are only given in generic ways that don’t accompany a burning urgency regarding the authority of the Word and the gospel.
Again, I must stress that Search offers valuable practical insights. For that reason, I would recommend it to people looking for a pastor if they are biblically and theologically discerning and already possess a better framework for what to look for in a pastor. However, a resource that deals with a topic of such eternal importance must also be assessed against the standard that Vanderbloemen himself sets. In the opening pages, he raises the question:
What if, instead of wasting time on direction-less meetings and losing momentum from pulpit-less Sundays, pastor search committees knew exactly which steps to take to lead their congregation toward discerning the Lord’s next leader for their church? (2)
The implication of the question is that Search: The Pastoral Committee Handbook provides such a comprehensive resource. But the crying need of churches in our day is biblical shepherds who are passionately committed to our King and the authority of his Word. Vanderbloemen’s book, unfortunately, doesn’t challenge churches in this regard. And therefore, I can only recommend Search to churches looking for a pastor who, as I said, has already made it their passionate goal to call a Word-centered shepherd.
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 A number of overlapping factors have opened the door for executive search firms working with local churches. First, overall local church loyalties to particular college and seminaries are not nearly as strong as they once were. Second, there is a splintering of denominations and associations. Within many conservative church denominations or associations there can be distinct clusters of churches that are more defined using categories like “purpose driven,” “seeker focused,” or “reformed” than by the identity of the denomination. These churches often prefer the help of interdenominational consultants. Third, and as a result of the second cause, churches are often more committed to a secondary affiliation (such as The Gospel Coalition or The Leadership Summit) than to their primary denominational identity. Fourth, there is a growing number of large churches that expect a unique blend of qualities in their next pastor.
 For more on this point, see Matt Schmucker, “Caring for the Pastor: The Sabbatical,” 9Marks, February 26, 2010, https://www.9marks.org/article/caring-pastor-sabbatical/.
 On this point, see Mark Dever, “What’s Right About Elders? Part 2 of 2 on Finding a Pastor,” 9 Marks, December 20, 2010, https://www.9marks.org/article/whats-right-about-elders-part-2-2-finding-pastor/. See also, Jonathan Lehman’s very constructive comments regarding my book, When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search, Jonathan Leeman, “Book Review: When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search, by Chris Brauns,” 9 Marks, January 21, 2011, https://www.9marks.org/review/when-word-leads-your-pastoral-search/.
 Mark Dever’s emphasis on expository preaching offers a strategic place for pastoral search committees as they establish their priorities. Dever writes, “The first mark of a healthy church is expositional preaching. It is not only the first mark; it is far and away the most important of them all, because if you get this one right, all the others should follow. This is the crucial mark.” Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, vol. Rev. and expanded (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000), 39.
Brauns, Chris. “Be Visibly Devoted to Be Pastorally Placed.” The Gospel Coalition, July 7, 2011. http://thegospelcoalition.org/article/be-visibly-devoted-to-be-pastorally-placed .
Dever, Mark. “What’s Right About Elders? Part 2 of 2 on Finding a Pastor.” 9 Marks, December 20, 2010. https://www.9marks.org/article/whats-right-about-elders-part-2-2-finding-pastor/ .
———. “What’s Wrong With Search Committees? Part 1 of 2 on Finding a Pastor.” 9Marks, December 20, 2010. https://www.9marks.org/article/whats-wrong-search-committees-part-1-2-finding-pastor/ .
Leeman, Jonathan. “Book Review: When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search, by Chris Brauns.” 9 Marks, January 21, 2011. https://www.9marks.org/review/when-word-leads-your-pastoral-search/ .