The bible clearly states that a church is not a building. So it doesn’t make sense to choose a church based on location, facilities or a nice coffee machine! By deciding to choose a church based on the people, more specifically the pastor, you are certain to find God’s best for you.
Does this mean it will be easy to find God’s best church for you? By no means! When selecting a church based on a preacher there are two routes you can take: judging them against biblical criteria or judging them against personal preferences. In an ideal world you would judge a preacher solely against biblical criteria.
Sadly we don’t live in an ideal world. We don’t have full access to every aspect of a preacher’s life and can’t know with full certainty that this is a man or woman of God. We also are hindered by personal preferences that are difficult to look by such as cultural, political or generational differences.
However it it important to be open. God did not call us to surround ourselves with like people. Jesus was neither a prostitute, tax collector or Governor, yet he spent time with all these people. If Jesus only spent time with those like Him, He wouldn’t have fulfilled God’s purposes. And He would have been very very lonely! So don’t disregard a church based on personal preferences.
Now onto the important stuff: criteria to mark a pastor on. One of the first points you should look to is the authority and Inerrancy of the Bible. The Bible shouldn’t be a minor point of reference. It should be the main resource for preaching and teaching. The pastor should believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God.
The pastor should also encourage spiritual growth and discipleship. It is a blaring warning sign if you feel as though your pastor is stunting your growth and encouraging worldly pleasures over God’s will.
They should not focus on solely on the basics. The writer of Hebrews claims, “by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.” Your pastor shouldn’t keep you as an infant when you ought to be a strong believer.
An apt pastor should not only consider growth within a church; they should consider external growth too. This is through community outreach programmes such as servicing, financial support, sharing the gospel and many other forms of outreach. A pastor in tune with the needs of a broken world is in tune with the will of God.
An apt pastor also believes in sound doctrine. According to What Christians Want To Know, a good doctrinal statement should explain the church’s position on the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit), salvation, sin, human destiny, the Bible, and the church.
The importance of fellowship is also expressed by an apt preacher. They will not only declare this importance but pave the way for it. The pastor will encourage support, correction and guidance through other believers in the church family.
There is an ancient style of preaching called “Expositional Preaching.” This style allows a pastor to expound on what is said in a particular passage of Scripture and to carefully explain the meaning and apply it to the congregation. The preacher’s authenticity begins and ends with scripture. The pastor commits to the study of scripture and through God applies the message to their own life, and then to the church body.
However with all this in mind, do remember we live in a fallen world. Your preacher won’t always live up to God’s standards. But neither will you. As much as we like to put our preachers on a pedestal (literally and metaphorically) we must remember they are still human.
Now how can you tell whether a preacher is all these things and more? Unfortunately it’s not always clear cut. Even very corrupt people can be great leaders and deceivers such as Hitler. You often only realise once it’s too late. However there are a few steps you should take before committing yourself to a church body.
The first is to pray. This should almost go without saying, but I will say it anyway. Talk to God about whether you should join this church body. You may find a church that meets your needs perfectly, but God may have a plan for you to serve in a different church. The simplest way to know is to ask.
Next you should develop some scope for the preacher’s sermon style. The old fashioned way to do this is to attend the church. But this can be intimidating especially if you’re worried about being roped in. But nowadays there is this wonderful thing called the Internet.
Churches are catching onto the potential of the Internet. You will find many churches upload recordings of sermons online for free. Take for example, Grace Evangelical, a Hamilton church. They have four pages of sermons dating back to 2012! What better way to learn about a pastor’s preaching style than listening in a non-committal way?