Calvinists, Traditionalists, and Search Committees
There comes a time for every congregation to begin searching for a new pastor. This task is not only daunting, but crucial for the health and life of the church. This new pastor will have their hands all over the trajectory and direction of the church. When a search committee gets it wrong there will be a lot of hurt, and it can even result in a church split.
Every search committee needs to enter the process in prayer, seeking wisdom, using discernment, and asking blunt questions to any potential candidate especially in matters of doctrine. The non-Calvinist church isn’t likely to mesh well with a Reformed Baptist. And a confessionally reformed church wouldn’t even consider bringing on staff who didn’t subscribe to the confession the church uses.
Recently, Dr. Patrick, a voice among the Traditionalist Southern Baptists (anti-Calvinists) reflected on a post in SBC Today entitled “Helps For the Baptist Search Committee.” The article encouraged search committees (specifically those who would label themselves as “traditionalists”) to ask questions of potential candidates to weed out Calvinist pastors and utilize a resource that Connect 316 put together, “Questions For Non-Calvinist SBC Pastor Search Committees” that would help guide committees.
Listeners of the podcast sent me links to the article and asked us to do a response.
Here is my response: I agree with Dr. Rick Patrick. Theologically we have many differences, but this is an area where we would offer the same basic advice to church search committees.
The pdf that Connect 316 put together is a resource designed to be utilized by search committees of churches that are not interested in hiring a Reformed Baptist pastor. Likewise, those reformed leaning congregations would be wise to be just as careful in interviewing potential pastors.
The article does contain some mischaracterizations and misunderstandings of Southern Baptist Calvinists. For example, It is implied that Calvinists would “intend to replace [the church’s] congregational polity with an elder rule, and that they may want to implement “infant baptism–a practice which will cause them to be disfellowshipped from this association” This is just not true of Reformed Southern Baptists. Secondly, on the questionnaire pamphlet there is some misunderstanding of Calvinism, though it is generally fair. Joe and I will cover the theology of Traditionalism in a forthcoming episode. For now, I want to focus on what I agree with.
While I disagree with some of the characterizations and misunderstandings, I believe search committees and candidates need to do a better job on the front end being open and honest with each other on where they are at theologically, and what their plans and expectations are for the church.
A search committee and a pastoral candidate that is open and honest on the front end will have a better chance of avoiding conflicts, ministry stall, hurt, and splits.
When it comes to differences in theology, and soteriology in particular, conflicts can occur. If the elder team and pastor are not on the same page, then people may be upset with preaching. Undoubtedly, it is going to come up. No one is going to please everyone with every sermon, but if a pastor is preaching the doctrines of grace, at a church that is clearly “traditionalist”, it will create an unnecessary conflict among the leadership, which leads to the second issue.
Avoiding Ministry Stalling
If both the church and pastor know on the front end that they are in agreement, then they can focus on ministering to their people and reaching out to the community. Disagreements that could have been avoided, only distract from mission Christ gave the church. A church in need of a pastor is seeking to hire and partner with a candidate to reach the lost, make disciples, and glorify God.
If the leadership team is not on the same page, someone has to adjust. I know of a church where the elders stepped down. I know of a church where the elders remained silent as a pastor ran amuck. In both of these situations, people are hurt. Friendships have been strained, some even ended. Situations like these can be avoided if both are honest on the front end.
This is the most depressing of them all. Some conflicts and hurts go so deep that people begin to pick sides. At times, each side becomes so ingrained in their views that they are unwilling to reconcile or work together through their disagreement. At this point, separation could occur. This is so heart breaking and a result that could be avoided.
Every search committee and pastoral candidate has a responsibility and obligation to be honest. Each should not try to hide or withhold their theological views. Each are seeking to enter into a relationship and partnership. A relationship that has implications for members as who is chosen will be seeking to proclaim the Gospel and encourage a love for Christ. A relationship that has implications for the community as the church seeks to reach the lost. A relationship that seeks to ultimately glorify God in all things.