Pastor search committees have one of the most difficult jobs imaginable. They have been tasked by their churches to evaluate and find the man which God has chosen to lead their congregations. But each and every one of us has the same burden when finding a church and/or simply deciding which religions teachers and leaders to follow. There are so many out there, so many denominations, so many blogs, podcasts and books – how do we even begin?
My intention is not to give a step-by-step or exhaustive look at practical steps to finding a church or choosing who to revere. That is in part because so much has been written on the topic already, and in part because each need and situation is unique. God uniquely gifts and prepares people for specific roles and abilities and thus one cannot outline with exhaustive specificity the steps required. We do have clear and helpful outlines of the requirements a church and individual should uphold corporately and personally when evaluating a teacher/pastor’s qualifications from Scripture, but no step-by-step manual from God (1 Tim 3.1-7, Titus 1.6-9).
There was, however, one man who walked the face of the Earth whom Jesus called the “greatest man ever born of woman” (Matt 11.11). He came as a prophet, as a leader and teacher, and he had many disciples who followed him. John the Baptist’s entire ministry and purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus, to declare His coming and the point people to Jesus. His witness was clear that even though he was proclaiming repentance and leading people back to the faith, he himself was not the Messiah and he himself was not the promised one.
This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”
– John 1.19-23
John knew his role. Because he knew that he himself was nothing and that Jesus was everything, he purposefully and intentionally continued to teach people and point them to Jesus. So much so, in fact, that the very people who were listening to him and absorbing his teaching left him immediately upon seeing Jesus and having an opportunity to follow Him:
– John 1.35-37
Was John upset by this? Did he bemoan the loss of his followers and the lessening dynamic of his ministry? Quite the contrary, he embraced it and recognized it as the goal of his efforts!
John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.
– John 3.27-31
This is perhaps the truest and purest example of humility in Scripture, and is in part why Jesus called him the greatest man to ever be born of a woman. John existed to point people to Jesus and had no care for his own reputation or ministry – in the sense that he wanted to not be in the spotlight so that Jesus could be in the spotlight.
This should be our first and foremost observation when observing leaders, teachers and pastors. Are they name droppers? Do they boast about their success in ministry? Do they take pride in their qualifications and education? Do they evaluate how exactly they can help you in your situation or teach you in your need? Or do they completely and fully point you to Jesus? Are they head over heels in love with Jesus, see Him as the source and end of their ministry? Or do they have a God-complex and want to be your guru and source of your enlightenment?
You can easily evaluate a church by the types of testimonies they share: do people praise the local church and the pastor for the changes and benefits to their lives? Or do people praise Jesus for saving them and redeeming them? Do they even have testimonies at all? Or is it just an event with all of the emphasis on one man? You can also easily evaluate an author/teacher that you might listen to or read throughout the week: Are the books and podcasts saturated with Scripture and direct teaching of the word of God? Or are they more experience-based and reflective on the self?
There is much value in personal testimony and we can use our own experiences to push one another on to know and love Jesus more. But let us be keenly aware that it is Jesus alone who saves. It is Jesus alone who takes away our sins. It is Jesus alone who sanctifies us and welcomes us into the presence of God. Jesus alone. We do one another the greatest benefit when we point each other into the arms of Jesus and when we spur in one another a passion for knowing and loving Him. We do each other no real benefit otherwise. So let us pray for discernment in choosing those people to whom we submit and follow. Let us also evaluate ourselves and our personal efforts and testimony to make sure that we never seek to draw people to ourselves but only to push them on to Jesus.