Seek to Affirm God's Choice

by Eddie Rasnake

Editor's note: The principles described in this series were successfully tested by the Woodland Park Church Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., a few years ago when the present senior pastor was called.

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Is there a biblical model of calling a pastor? Several passages can help churches in this area. God's calling of David to replace Saul as king offers a wealth of guiding principles. Although a congregation doesn't want its pastor to see himself as a king, Psalm 78:70-71 tells us that God "chose David His servantfrom the sheepfoldsto shepherd [Israel] His people." The job of a king in Israel was not to be a dictator, but to be a shepherd. That, too, is the job of a pastor (1 Pet. 5:1-5).

Identifying the Process

How did God guide Samuel to Israel's next leader? First, Samuel became aware of the need. The chapter on David's call (1 Sam. 16) begins with Samuel grieving over King Saul. Though Samuel recognized the need for godly leadership, it took a revelation from God for him to see that Saul must be replaced. Second, with the need for a new man clear, God gave Samuel a direction to look. It was God who sent Samuel to the family of Jesse (v. 16:2). Samuel looked to God before starting to look for the man.

Third, Samuel looked at Jesse's sons one at a time. He didn't make a beauty pageant out of the process. Rather than comparing the candidates to each other, he placed each before God. Samuel didn't look at the next candidate until he heard from God concerning the one before him.

Fourth, Samuel was still learning the process: the Lord rebuked him for focusing on outward appearance. If we focus on the wrong things, we may find what we are looking for without ever finding the person God wants. God admonished Samuel to look at the heart. We'll address that further in a minute. In 1 Samuel 16, you will recognize a change after the Lord rebuked Samuel about Eliab. Instead of Samuel's eyes focusing on the man, now they looked to God about the man. The difference is significant.

A fifth principle is that it was not Samuel's job to do the calling. When Jesse brought Abinadab before Samuel, he responded, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." It is God who calls, not churches. If the church is Christ's body and He is the head, then our job is not to call a pastor, but to affirm the Lord's call. A pastor is not called to serve a congregation, but to serve the Lord at a particular congregation. This not only shapes the calling process but the serving process as well.

 The sixth principle gleaned from David's call is that when Samuel didn't find what he was looking for, he didn't "make do" with the best of what was available. He kept looking until he found God's man (vv. 16:11-12). David wasn't even home when the process started.

Seventh, once Samuel found God's choice, all that was left was to publicly affirm what God had already revealed. Samuel anointed David before his brothers so all would know that the prophet of God, stood behind him.

A Man After God's Own Heart

Clearly, the heart of a leader matters most to God. When considering a candidate, the heart must catch the church's attention. Just as in the Old Testament, this issue of the heart is placed as paramount in the New Testament. Scripture says much about appointing church leaders. (The most common term for a leader is "elder," appearing 67 times in the New Testament.)

The criteria for selecting church leaders are extensive, but each list focuses most on character rather than abilities (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9). Again God emphasizes the inside of the person as most important. Neither passage says anything about the person's training except as it relates to God's Word. They must be "able to teach," says 1 Timothy 3:2, and Titus 1:9 adds that they need the ability to "exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict." 

The primary proving ground of a leader's abilities as a shepherd is not previous churches, but their own family. Titus 1:6 tells us they must have "children who believe." In 1 Timothy 3:4-5, Paul is even more emphatic: "He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)."

 If you want to know about a person's character, look at his family. His reputation is what other people think he is, but his character is what his family knows he is. A leader's family life speaks much of his heart. A person with a shepherd's heart to his family will have it to the church. If family life suffers because of ministry, neither is properly balanced.

Affirmed By the Sending Church

Up to this point, we have said much concerning the calling church, but where is the sending church in the picture? Are they merely the losers in this equation? While most churches ignore this dimension, God considers sending as important as calling. This principle is beautifully illustrated at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3), where the Holy Spirit calls out Barnabas and Saul (Paul) to a new work.

God revealed His calling to all the leaders at Antioch, not just to Barnabas and Saul. God's calling was affirmed by those letting go of them. This supports the common practice of a person being ordained by the sending church, not the calling church. Who knows this person better than those where he has been? If God has truly called a person, then even those he is leaving should be able to rejoice in the new task. Involving the sending church becomes a safeguard for anything unknown about the person, and also draws everyone's eyes to God for the transition process. Clearly, the relationship with Antioch did not end for Paul and Barnabas after they were sent out (see Acts 14:21-22, 26-28; 15:30-35; 18:22-23). Be wary of one who doesn't want a relationship with the place he is leaving.

To be continued

Eddie Rasnake is associate pastor of Discipleship Ministries at Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn. Among other writings, he has authored or co-authored nearly all of the Following God series published by AMG Publishing in Chattanooga

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