Book Review: When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search, by Chris Brauns
When you’re in the business of trying to encourage and equip church leaders, which is 9Marks’ mission, there’s always a tension between the realistic and the ideal. You want to say things like, “Ideally, every church should do ‘x.’” The thing is, you know that most churches are doing ‘y,’ and so you need to accommodate your counsel accordingly.
My principal critique of Chris Brauns’ book When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search is that it says nothing about the ideal world of ‘x.’ My principal commendation of Brauns’ book is that I can scarcely imagine a better book for addressing churches who live and may well remain in the real world of ‘y.’
In an ideal world, there would be no such thing as pastoral search committees, and the departing pastor and/or the elders would lead the search (Mark Dever and Bobby Jamieson explain why here and here). But in the real world, churches use such committees (and we can be grateful for their work). And Brauns’ book will equip those committees to conduct such a search in a way that, I hope, will mitigate and possibly eradicate the problems of a pastoral search committee.
Here are a bunch of reasons Brauns’s book is so good:
- It emphasizes and re-emphasizes prayer.
- It gets first things first. The only way a church’s search for a pastor will succeed, Brauns says, is if the search “is shaped by an understanding of Scriptures” (15). It’s like the book’s title says: the Word should lead our pastoral searches. And this point is made again and again throughout the book.
- It offers wise criteria for selecting committee members. Should committee members be chosen because they represent different demographics of the congregation? That may be a recipe for division, says Brauns. They should be chosen because they know the importance of the Word and are willing to exercise biblical discernment.
- It attends to the unity of the congregation. It does this by telling committees to avoid certain bad practices, such as thoughtless surveys that simply ask people what they want. And it does this by offering practical advice on how to actively promote unity, such as having the congregation read and study through Titus as an opportunity to meditate on what they’re looking for in a pastor.
- It teaches search committees what to look for: good expositional preaching. Brauns doesn’t merely give mechanical advice, like telling committees to divvy up responsibilities. He gives substantive guidance: look for good expositional preaching above everything else! In other words, the book is both motivated by and imparts a philosophy of ministry. And gratefully, it imparts the right philosophy. Along these lines…
- It teaches committees to look for a shepherd. Not a CEO. Not a life-coach. But a biblical shepherd. That is, Brauns helps committees look for men who have these seven qualities: they lead with exemplary character; they feed their flocks with the Word; they desire to know the church and the community; they sacrificially love the church; they guard the flock against danger; they point them toward a positive vision; and they care for straying lambs.
- It teaches search committees how to evaluate good expositional preaching. Brauns defines what expositional preaching is and what it’s not. It’s not just preaching on a topic from a text. It’s preaching the point of the text. Plus, it’s preaching a text to one’s particular listeners. He observes that Paul told Titus not to preach just sound doctrine, but what accords with sound doctrine (Tit. 2:1). Interesting—I’d never noticed that before. Brauns even provides a sermon evaluation form.
- It emphasizes how important this job is, as well as the need to be rightly critical.One section of the book is called “Judge, Lest You Be Judged.” Search committees need to exercise a loving and critical approach to choosing a pastor since so much depends upon it. Brauns rightly turns up the pressure.
- It’s very practical. For instance: don’t just rely on classifieds but ask pastors you trust for recommendations; let the pastoral candidate stay at a hotel so that he has private time; ask a candidate what he has done at least as much as what he would do;don’t require a seminary degree, but if a man doesn’t have such a degree, look for evidence that he has an appetite to learn. And much more.
All of Brauns’s instructions are aimed at search committees. Therefore, any elder boards out there who (strangely and unaccountably) wish to hand that responsibility over to a non-elder search committee should also hand those committee members this book! Or, the elders could read it themselves. Everything it says is just as applicable to them.
Beyond the the whole search committee thing, and one or two tiny details not worth mentioning, the only other weakness I’d point to is a matter of omission. Brauns clearly explains in his book that Christian preaching should always include the gospel. Excellent. But he doesn’t have anything on his sermon evaluation form asking the listener to indicate whether or not the gospel is clearly articulated. In one sense, I’m being nitpicky; it’s only a sample form, after all. In another sense, I see a clear opportunity here to encourage Christians to actively listen for the gospel in every sermon. Maybe worth adding in a second edition?
The book is well worth keeping in circulation long enough to make it to a second edition. If you’re in between pastors, do buy the book and give it to your church leaders. I’d even say that the first step of every pastoral search committee (or better, elder boards) should be to read Brauns’ book. I trust our churches would benefit immensely if they did. My heartfelt gratitude goes to its author.