Saturday, July 16, 2011

Book Review: When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search

As part of a blogger review program, I am reviewing the book When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search, by Chris Brauns, Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2011. The book is a must-read for any search committee before any major meetings are held.

This is a mostly philosophical work dealing with both the biblical requirements and duties of a pastor. It is designed to assist the pastoral search committee of a local church. His main focus is on the pastoral ministry of preaching. I felt that he may have overemphasized its importance, but it is clear from Scripture preaching of the Word is very important. I will review some of the main ideas from the book in order.

First, Braun emphasizes the importance of avoiding self-reliance. This concept is all too common in search committees because of a focus on worldly marketing or interviewing tactics. Instead, he counsels such a committee to rely on prayer. He writes, “The biggest clue to the self-reliance felt by pastoral search committees is the small amount of attention they devote to prayer” (p. 25). I thoroughly enjoyed Braun’s approach to prayer being central to the search for a pastor. Too often, prayer is ignored in our personal lives, so why would we expect it to come naturally when we gather corporately?

After directing church members and leaders to pray specifically for the pastoral search committee, he turns his attention to the idea of finding the right members. It is not simply enough, in Braun’s estimation, to place the “smartest” people or to have equal representation from all groups. The problem, according to Braun, is that in the attempt to unify the church through this representation, more problems are created than they solve.

The major idea in the pastoral search is that both the committee and candidate be Word-centered. The committee ought to be Word-centered by evaluating the pastor by biblical standards, and the candidate ought to be Word-centered by fulfilling those requirements. He suggests some very practical unity-building exercises on p. 48. They center on the Gospel itself, and the mission of the church.

The majority of the rest of the book focuses on the homiletic skill of the potential pastor. Braun teaches how to evaluate sermons and make sure they are properly interpreted and applied. He centralizes on the common theme of “bullet sermons,” or sermons that have one major point. I believe the sermon is a very important aspect of being pastor, if for no other reason than that the Word of God must be handled correctly (Matt. 4:4). However, he seems to place more emphasis on this aspect than any other. Perhaps it is a function of the purpose of the book rather than the level of importance.

A minor point of disagreement I had with the author comes on page 120. He mentions that there is a difference between that which “accords with sound doctrine” and “sound doctrine” itself. But this seems to be philosophically confused. When Braun says one ought to teach that which accords with sound doctrine, he must realize “doctrine” just is teaching. This means that if the teaching “accords with” sound teaching, it is itself sound teaching! While I understand that the apostle Paul wrote that to indicate that the teachings taught must be in harmony with previously revealed teaching, I think Braun misses the point (even while making a correct point by saying doctrine should “show . . . the kind of behavior that ought to adorn their lives.”).

After this particular chapter, I actually think the best is yet to come from Braun. Starting on page 128, several checklists or forms are shown as examples for evaluation. Also following this are several interview questions, examples of these questions and their purposes, and the type of answers one is looking for. This is perhaps the most valuable resource the pastoral search committee could have. This book is a must read for any church in transition, as it also provides external and current resources that any church can utilize.

He recommends good benefits for pastors and candidates (that is, reimbursing their expenses), but I wish he had touched on the issue of pastor’s wives. Too many churches think that pastor’s wives are co-pastors, so that churches get two full-time employees for the price of one. This is wrong.

This book comes highly recommended. Even though it is highly philosophical (as in theoretical), it also balances out with some very well thought out advice in practicality. This is a must read for any church going through a pastoral change, or any church leader or pastor who wishes to interview or prepare his church for his departure. This is highly recommended for all other church leaders for future reference.

I received this book free from Moody Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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  1. As a preacher/pastor recently looking for a churc, I have been very frustrated with committees. I like the points you highlighted and would like to read this book.
    I like that preaching is elevated as the priority in selection, as I feel that is where you start (but it is not the only factor). I have heard a DOM and later an SBC official tell me that preaching is not the the first priority of a committee, that the whole pastoral experience is then preaching. What about a gifted candidate that is not effective in the pulpit? Great, let that talented person serve as an associate. Everything comes from the Word and that is given from the pulpit. The Word, preaching and pastoral authority have been lessened I think in most church cultures. If you preach wrong it all goes south.

    Points of frustration by me about committees-
    The committee makeup is always baffling. I have heard it said by churches that men are the spiritual leaders but then have women on the committee?
    Committee can not meet because of mission trips or operations of the members. Was there no consideration of this concerning personnel selection when the committee was formed? I pray this book will lead churches to review their process. Thanks for your review and letting me comment.

  2. Thanks for your comment! I definitely appreciate the insight and have heard these frustrations before. Hopefully as churches realize these tactics are not well-thought-out (nor Word-centered in most cases), they will change to fit what is better pragmatically and spiritually.


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