Humble Advice to Pulpit Nominating Committees


Through my ministry, a number of churches have asked my counsel on how they should approach building their pastoral profile as they begin to seek out their pastor. I have the following things to say, and then would like to offer the best words I have ever seen on what to look for in a true shepherd.

First, generally, you should begin with a commitment to prayer

On prayer, let me say that as you approach building your PNC, you should do so by looking, not at just a broad representation of a congregation, but looking for wise, proven ministry leaders and congregational members, male and female, who prioritize prayer in their lives as disciples of Jesus. Also, once the choice is made, presumably by the congregation, then that group, under its leader, must see this ministry as a small group. Indeed, looking back on your work, you should view those days you spent in seeking God to find your next pastor as some of the greatest spiritual times in your life. Always bathe each meeting, each listening to a tape, and each review of ministry applicants with prayer, prayer that God would give you spiritual discernment. Remember the lesson from the prophet who sought out Israel’s next king:

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  1Samuel 16.7

Thus, prayer will be the power that ultimately opens up your heart and mind to see God’s choice for your next pastor.

Perhaps it goes without saying that you should have regular meetings.

For the work of seeking God’s man for your pulpit requires much work. But it requires a commitment to weekly work. You should, as a team, meet for this work as you would meet for Sunday school and worship. For this work is a spiritual work. You are not playing the role of ecclesiastical “head hunters.” You are “Samuels” looking for your “David.” And as Samuel was unrelenting in his search, so must you be. Set a regular time. Some have found that Sundays, before evening discipleship time, is a good time. Some have even seen this as a small group discipleship time and replace this in their weekly spiritual life schedule. I would think that would be wise. For these meetings should, I say again, be times of prayer and seeking God.

You should, of course, assign tasks.

The work of finding a pastor involves knowing the profile of the man and the Church (which should have been done in consultation with the session and perhaps a committee of the congregation along with a strong interim pastor, whose principle work is not only to shepherd the flock, as a John the Baptist, from the pulpit but to help you clarify the portrait of the Man and of the Church). Tasks vary, from PNC to PNC, but common tasks include gathering and sorting through referrals, making contacts, reviewing applications, arranging travel, and so forth. These tasks are mostly self-evident.

Now, for the most important thing: you, personally, and corporately, knowing and believing in the ordinary means of grace, Word, Sacrament, and Prayer, as the God given, God ordained means of fulfilling the Scripturally revealed purposes for the Church. To do this, I would like to offer to you a little devotion from A.W. Pink (there are also some books you might like to read including Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor, Stott’s Portrait of the Pastor, Clowney’s Called to the Ministry, Piper’s Brothers, We are Not Professionals, and perhaps even my own Leaving a Career to Follow a Call, but you would be well equipped to start with Pink’s 1939 article and then begin to meditate on the Word of God and pray!). In this work you will find nothing that hints of a pastors as CEO, but pastor as shepherd. He is right of course, The tools of a pastor’s trade are not Day Planners and financial sheets, first and foremost, but the Bible and a quiet place to study, and a Chalice and bread.  His arena is not first and foremost the Rotary Club, but the sanctuary, the hospital, the street ministry, the homes of the lost and the homes of the saints. And his own home. He is with the sheep, like the Highlander shepherd, in the hard places of life, the high places, the low places, the craggy places of life and the pleasant pastures of life.

The most important portrait of the pastor is the one drawn by God in His Word. Knowing that Word, studying that Word, and praying that Word will surely lead you to see that the man you are looking for is a shepherd. For that is precisely what the word “pastor” means in the Bible.

The marks of a true shepherd

(Arthur Pink, Studies in the Scriptures, May, 1939)


How diligently should they scrutinize their motives, who think of entering the ministry; for thousands have abused this Divine institution through love of ease, desire for authority and reputation, or love of money–and brought upon themselves “greater damnation” (James 3:1). Thousands have invaded the pastoral office in an unauthorized manner, to fleece sheep rather than feed them, robbing Christ of His honor and starving His people. 

Solemn beyond words is it to observe how sternly our Lord denounced these false shepherds of His day. (Matthew 23) As J. C. Ryle rightly said, “Nothing seemed so offensive to Christ as a false teacher of religion, a false prophet, or a false shepherd. Nothing ought to be so much feared by the Church, be so plainly rebuked, opposed and exposed.” 

What are the marks of a true shepherd, how are God’s people to identify those called and qualified by Him to minister unto His people?

First, the genuine pastor has the doctrine of Christ on his LIPS. The ministers of the new covenant are described as those who had “renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness.” Christendom today is infested with men who are full of deceit and hypocrisy, trimming their sails according to whatever direction the breeze of public opinion is blowing.

“We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.” (2 Cor. 4:2).

The true servant of Christ holds back nothing which is profitable, no matter how unpalatable it may be unto his hearers. He is one who magnifies not himself, nor his denomination, but Christ–His wondrous Person, His atoning blood, His exacting claims.

Second, the genuine pastor has the Spirit of Christ in his HEART. It is the Spirit who opens to him the mysteries of the Gospel, so that he is “the faithful and wise servant” (Matt. 24:45). It is the Spirit of Christ who gives him a love for His sheep, so that it is his greatest delight to lead them into the green pastures of His Word. It is the Spirit of Christ who enables him to use “great boldness of speech” (2 Cor. 3:12), so that he shuns not to declare all the counsel of God. It is the Spirit of Christ who makes him to be “prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2). It is the Spirit of Christ who gives efficacy to his ministry, making it fruitful according to the sovereign pleasure of God.

Third, the genuine pastor has the example of Christ in his LIFE, which is a conforming of him to the image of his Master. It is true, sadly true, that there is not one of them who does not fall far short both of the inward and outward image of Christ. Yet there are some faint tracings of His image visible in all His true servants. The image of Christ is seen in their words, spirit, actions; otherwise we have no warrant to receive them as God’s servants. Find a man (no easy task today!) who has the doctrine of Christ on his lips, the Spirit of Christ in his heart, and the example of Christ in his life–and you find one of His genuine ministers–all others are but “thieves and robbers.”

About Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., MPA (University of Wales; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author.
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