Searching for a pastor in today’s world has become a complex process.
As the search for a new leader takes place, wise churches look upward to God and inward to evaluate needs, desires and the mission of the church before making calls and interviews for the man they will be following for years to come. It is a very healthy process. But it can become overwhelming and the list of desired qualifications long. Sometimes it helps to simplify the list of qualifications in order to clarify our priorities.
If you had to boil it down to two things, what would they be?
The First Quality: An Inner Reality
Far above all leadership qualities and ministry skills, the one quality I long for in a pastor of a church is that he knows God deeply. That is my #1, and I’m afraid that it gets glossed over far too quickly as search teams name numerous desired qualities and competencies. This happens because most people believe that pastors do know God – after all, he is a pastor! That is the assumption, but it is not always the reality.
The key difference here is life motivation and priorities. A huge proportion of those in full-time ministry are quite taken with the idea of ministry and this often collides with a life of knowing God. When (not if) ministry life and a life of knowing the Lord begin to compete with each other, the former wins. Walking with God becomes something that only happens when the pastor has the time – which is rare.
Of course it matters greatly if he is a good teacher of God’s Word; and he should have great leadership qualities – indeed these are extremely important. But for my money (and I should say, “for my soul”) when I look at this man who leads God’s assembly I want to see a man who really knows God – as Father, Son, and Spirit. This takes time. This takes experiences with the Lord. This takes a life of pursuing the Father. The end result of this kind of life shows up clearly in at least three ways: intimacy, enjoyment, and balance.
There is just something about a pastor who has spent years walking with God as his Father and in helping others do the same. It is an intrinsic quality that makes people want to follow him because they know that the Word of the Lord has seeped deeply into their leader’s mind and soul through intentional and quiet solitude before God. You can just tell that this person walks with God and has been shaped by His Spirit. It is infectious and people will sacrifice much to follow him if they sense it. Having all the other leadership qualities in the world cannot make up for a lack of intimacy with the Lord. Those fishermen who followed Jesus saw this kind of relationship between Jesus and His Father and they abandoned all to be with Him. That is spiritual leadership.
Second, it becomes clear to those he is leading that this pastor is enjoying his walk with God. There is a restfulness to his relationship with God, not anxiousness, and not a list of spiritual obligations he is following. His walk with God has transformed into a stream of living water. He enjoys God. This is totally refreshing to everyone around him and is described in Psalm 1, “…his delight is in the law of the Lord and on it he meditates day and night.” This is not mere knowledge of Scripture or the ability to teach it. This is a delighting in it as words coming from the Father. As he delights in this walk with God, the pastor continually learns more and grows deeper and becomes like a tree planted by the streams of water. Its leaves do not wither and it bears good fruit. Of course this is not to say that he does not go through valleys or have times of real personal suffering – that is reality for everyone who serves. But the tenor of his life is settled peace, knowing that God is in control, and that brings him joy.
Finally, it brings reasonable balance into the man’s life. You can see it in his family, in his physical health and in his social life. No one is perfectly balanced and the “balanced life” is somewhat of a myth – ministers are constantly readjusting their life and priorities. But if he is pursuing a life of knowing God then he knows the work he does is his Father’s work and he is called to be a faithful steward in all areas of his life. Because this pastor is not building his own kingdom he is able to be faithful in putting time into the other areas of life in which God has blessed him. He is not addicted to ministry; he leads a normal-looking life and appears quite ordinary to those he leads.
How This Affects All Other Leadership Qualities
If a pastor has entered into a life of knowing God, it will produce many of the personal qualities of a leader that we are hoping for. He will influence people deeply because those who know and watch him will grant spiritual authority to him. This happens as they see that the life he has with God is the real thing. He will be a good listener because he spends time listening to God. He will bring vision to the church because he will look to God for it. He will be able to faithfully and truly give a message from the Lord because he has been waiting on God all week for it and it actually does come from God.
All of the essence of Christian leadership flows from a person’s union with Christ. On paper the resumes may be similar and will show that there are many great men of God. But what we need is a man of a great God – humble, happy, and growing in this life of knowing God as his life priority.
The Second Quality: An Outward Ability
If he has this life of knowing God, the next big question is: does he possess the ability to transmit it to others well through teaching and through relationships. This is the second most important quality of a pastor – to take what is his and to pass it on to others. We see Jesus doing this all the time – giving to people what He possessed from the Father.
Not all pastors are good at transmitting to others what is inside of them. Some have a gift of transmission through preaching or writing and other pastors transmit the life of God in them more through relationships. It is the rare combination of having the skill of transmitting it through both teaching and relationships that most comprehensively influences people.
Of course if we look at the life of Jesus and how He actually did it we will see a holistic and living model of how to build people through relationships, experiences, teaching and special encounters with God, all in a variety of life settings – some formal and many non-formal. Transmission of the life of God occurs in all these ways and we should look for those pastors who have learned to follow Jesus in how He did it.
The two bottom-line greatest needs of people in churches regarding their pastors are: the need to know and be taught God’s Word; and the need to be known and loved by God’s servants.
A pastor has to be able to feed the church God’s Word unequivocally; and he has to be able to express love for people to the point of shaping them into Jesus’ disciple-leaders who follow God – just like their pastor does.
We can add to this list of two qualities, and we should. But are there any more important than these? We may compromise or adjust our expectations on other qualities, but we must maintain a clear focus on finding a pastor who lives a life of knowing God and who is able to transmit it to others instructionally and relationally.
When it comes to expectations of finding a spouse, a wise counselor has said that you should write a list of your top ten qualities and then cross out half of them. And if you find someone like that, you should marry that person – and never let go.
The same goes for finding a pastor. Write out those qualities. Pray about them. But make sure you prioritize and have the core qualities clearly in mind. And when you find someone like that, do not let him go!
These are the two non-negotiables: an inner reality of God and the ability to transmit it well.
 A model of how Jesus built people: http://www.leadersource.org/about/models.php