The Three most important litmus tests for Pastoral Candidates

Three most important litmus tests for Pastoral Candidates is about testing and probing a candidate for the pastorate.

In this post, we will examine closer each of these three litmus tests for a pastoral candidate. But making these “the most important elements” I am not saying that there doesn’t exist other elements equally important, but at least these three should be extremely focused upon in your sessions with the candidate.

Written by Pastor Missionary David Cox

I.) His personal salvation.
II.) His family life.
III.) His preaching ability in expositing God’s Word, as well as his doctrines and practices.

The Three most important litmus tests for Pastoral Candidates

I.) The Litmus test of His personal salvation.

I see the personal salvation experience and daily walk with the Lord as the most important element to be absolutely sure of before you accept a man to preach and teach to you, equally to lead the church and also direct the spending of money, the setting and promoting the general direction of the church.

Let me be precise here. I am not talking about somebody seeing a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ at some point in his life. Nor am I talking about being physically healed of some sickness which is when “Jesus saved me”. These are not salvation experiences. They are God helping a person, and I do not mean to downplay that they happened and are real. But I am saying the salvation of a person’s soul is much more than these events.

  • Footnote – If Jesus ascended to heaven in Acts 1, and he said that he will not “return to the earth” until he returns that day to the mount of Olives FIRST, then I wonder if God is appearing in visions anymore. It seems to me that this is just wrong to count some vision you saw when sick and taking strong medication as a salvation experience. It is more like hallucinations more than truly seeing the Christ of the Bible. Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, and I think that could be exactly what happens in these visions of Jesus’ experiences. i.e. having a vision of Jesus is a unilateral disqualifier for me for any candidate.

What I want to see in a candidate’s salvation testimony is a clear understanding of what it is that makes a person saved. I want to see the facts and details surrounding that decision, including factors that brought the candidate to accept Christ. It is very hard to judge any other person’s salvation experience, but we should be doing that before baptizing them and accepting them into the church as a church member, so before we accept the pastoral candidate, we should make doubly sure of his salvation.

Why does it matter so much? Because a very smart and wise man can give us a lot of details from the Bible, but if he isn’t really saved, he will have zero insight into Scripture. He can even fake that by buying a treasure of good books and using other (truly saved) preachers insights, but he will fail over the passage of time. This is a given. No way around it.

Secondly here, an unsaved preacher that is a really good unsaved man, still he will not be able to deal with the issues a pastor needs to deal with. First of all, before all else, is that of preaching salvation to the church members, and the many that have snuck into the church as Christians and still aren’t. A saved man will have a smell test when dealing with people, and that will guide him greatly in all of this. An unsaved man is clueless. Even if you tell him, he probably thinks he is saved, and he cannot even figure that one out.

Thirdly, if the man is unsaved and becomes pastor, nothing but hurt and heartache will follow, and eventually, from that point, the church will go down the drain because of other issues. You cannot overrule a sitting pastor very easily. Most churches that have done it or attempted it end up in disaster and ruins. The time and place to overrule and an unsaved man from affecting your congregation is in the pulpit committee before any power and authority are given him, and even at that point, false prophets lie through their teeth and get in anyway. Be careful.

What to look for in if a candidate is truly saved? This is difficult. But first, before anything, he must understand salvation and be able to clearly and forcefully explain the plan of salvation to other people. For me as a pastor, I would want to go out soul-winning with him and listen to him explain the plan of salvation various times to see how he does it. (How successfully he does it). Within a church setting ask him to come and preach a sermon on how to be saved. Then ask him to go into a 7-10-year-old class and explain the same thing but at their level, and then to rebellious teens. Give him the problem of how to explain salvation successfully to different age groups.

Next, I would set him up with a visit to a Jehovah’s Witness and watch him to see how he does with these difficult people. The issue is not if he can win them to the Lord, that is not the issue in any of these settings. It is to see his ability with Scripture, and how he argues. Some people know a lot of verses (memorized). But memorizing verses is not the same as understanding the issues in people’s lives and answering them with Scripture. Reciting Scripture comes in AFTER he discerns what the problem is. With intermediates, it is simply not understanding what the words mean. With teens, they understand the words and concepts, they just don’t agree with any of those things. We the JWs, the problem is they twist everything we believe into being some other belief that is not biblical. Watch him sweat is the idea. If you personally cannot take on JWs, then don’t harsh in judging the candidate, but realize that the point is to see how much, how well he understands salvation. This applies to his own life. This applies to his evangelizing others.

*Footnote – Some people just shy away from witnessing altogether. NEVER ALLOW ONE OF THOSE KINDS OF PEOPLE TO BE YOUR PASTOR, EVER! The whole issue of being a pastor is leading us in the ways of the Bible, and we should all be working on evangelizing and soul-winning. We have to insist on this with the pastoral candidate from the get-go.

What to look for? I would want a pastor that understands what salvation is, and is tender and gracious in dealing with sinners about their sin, both saved people and unsaved people.

II.) The Litmus test of his family life.

1 Timothy 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

1 Timothy 3:4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 1 Timothy 3:5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

It would be great if you can separate a man’s personal life, family life, and marital life from his work, but in the case of the pastor, that is not possible, and in fact, that is exactly the crucial element for pastors, how they work with other people. In many families, it is the wife-mother that deals with the children and the father doesn’t have to deal so much with them. (That is not necessarily wrong or anything, just the way things are.)

But the Apostle Paul himself uses the issue of a bishop’s family life as a litmus test to see if he is acceptable or not. Our conclusion is missed here so often, so let me make it clearly. A pastor is to his church as a father is to his family. That means, good fathers and husbands make good preachers-pastors. Never let this element pass you by in the candidate committee.

“gravity” – While the word “subjection” (be kept under) is understood, gravity is not. Gravity here (G4587) means with reverence for authority. Seriousness, honesty. In other words, children are rebellious savages, and this is true, but the parents are to “keep them” (something like tying them up in the basement, but not quite that extreme) in “rank and file” (acting like Christians). Let me be the first to say that every individual has his own will, and even the best of Christians will have a son or daughter that goes away from the Lord when they are adults. What we are dealing with here is not that he has to have a perfect family, but when they do go astray, he is not shy in seeking to correct that. Confront the child, teen or adult with the truth of the Bible just as if he was doing it to somebody else’s kids. The issue is not so much that they go away from the Lord or not, as that he has done sufficient and a lot in his responsibilities to teach, train, disciple, and guide them in the correct path. I would also make a dividing line somewhere, I am not sure where, but at the age of 19-21. If the child is under 21, then his rebellion is met with physical discipline. If he or she is over 21 and out from the house of the Pastor, then I would not necessarily reject unilaterally the candidate, but it would be a consideration if there are other men without this issue.

Why is having a good wife important? Oh let me count the ways. A man’s wife basically makes or breaks him. So many pastors wives and missionary wives I have seen destroy their husband’s ministry or make it. The truth of the matter (I am married) is simply that

Having said that, notice that the requirement is that he is married and that they have children of some age. While single pastoral candidates will argue up a storm that Paul was single, well nobody can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was single or not. But the point is, even if we accept that Paul was single, it is still Paul (under the inspiration of Scripture) who requires a pastor to be married and with children. Maybe I could see a young couple of 25 just and they just are getting out of seminary with no children as having the goal of having children as soon as possible, and I would not hold that against a candidate at all. Nor would I hold a couple where they cannot have children for medical reasons as absolutely rejected. But the dealing with a wife and children is what helps the pastor be able to deal with church people. My famous saying is that when I retire from being a pastor I am going to start a kindergarten. That is because all these years of church work, that is the mentality and spiritual maturity of the people I have to deal with all the time. Realize it. That is why Paul speaks about having a wife and children as necessary, or essential. (Hint that means without a wife and children, the candidate will make a bad pastor.)

The Nitty Gritty. As they say, “the nitty-gritty of the matter is” that people in authority sometimes get there without having a real romantic relationship with somebody of the opposite sex (without having a girlfriend/wife). In “getting a girl” a young man must understand and learn to handle matters when he is not in charge over what is happening so many times. Thus the parallel with a pastor and church. Pastors are often victims more than commanders. Sorry for the wake-up call on that one. To be a successful pastor, you must learn how to get good objectives accomplished with other people who do not see things exactly your way most of the time. You have to learn to give a little and take a little, except with wives and church members where you have to give an awful amount and take hardly a thing in return to just have peace, and if anything spiritual gets accomplished, glory to God! (because a miracle happened!)

In reality, a pastor/husband has to learn how to convince and motivate the enemy in sleeping in your bed with you.

By that, I mean, these people are way too close, way too weaved and involved into your daily and weekly life to ignore. You cannot get mad at them and live with them. That is the point. So when you live with your wife without talking to her (or your teenager) how long can that go on before your life is turned upside down? You have to (1) deal with life with them, and (2) let them breathe. Letting them “have some air” means that they get their way on some stuff just because you are generous and good. Don’t miss husband/dad/pastor giving in on things. He loves you, and that is the real point, we are family, we love each other because we are children of the God of love, and that is what pleases our God, so love is the order of the day.

* When a pastor is dealing with a troublesome member, and in the church, he stands up and invites everyone present to go with him to another church because they have some revival or some other perk that is better “than here”, and you as pastor smile and let it pass, that is love. Without that motivation of wanting the best for others, you are lost as the head of a church and should resign and go pump gas or something.

So the pulpit committee needs to meet the wife and the children (at least once for the children, and several times for the wife). An overbearing wife would disqualify a pastoral candidate in my opinion. But having said that, an overbearing and obsessive pastor (pastoral candidate) would also be disqualified for me. You need to see a working-together attitude of give-and-take on both parts because any overbearing personalities will come back to haunt you if they are put into the leadership of the church. I think that is the point. Gravity again is reverence, obeisance, honesty, and a respect for authority (of the father, of the parents, of the pastor). Yes, he has the authority in the sight of God. Is he perfect? By all means, NO HE IS NOT! But the wife does not showcase all his failings and complain and rail against her husband nor the kids against their parents. The kids realize that one day the positions will change, and they will be the parents and somebody else will be their kids, and their day will come, so we will see how they do, but for now, don’t be vocal or rebellious against your authority.

Pastor’s Wife is a Key Minister in the Church. While I am on the subject, can I just offer that the Pastor’s wife is a key minister in the scheme of things in a church’s ministry. Unless the church is so large and so many needs have paid or volunteer people taking them, then outside that, the pastor’s wife does a lot of things for him. Beside what every wife does for her husband (cook, clean, grocery shop, take care of house and kids, etc), the pastor’s wife also helps him in the ministry. The clearest thing I see here is in discerning spirits. Yes, you heard that right. Somebody new comes, and they promise a lot of stuff, and it is often the wife that sees through things. People do something and it is the wife that “sympathizes” because she is a mom. Show me a family where a small child trips outside playing and is bleeding and the kid runs crying to her father! Never happens. But always to her mother, because pain means I want sympathy, not “you shouldn’t have been playing that way.”

Churches should be paying the pastor’s wife some salary every month like him. She gets the bad end of things so often, and rarely gets appreciated. But her input gives the pastor both input or insight to things as well as balance. Maybe he disagrees with her assessment. But the fact that she is not going anywhere if she tells the pastor his sermon Sunday was a bust, that is worth paying for. She is honest, and an innumerable uncountable number of times my wife has told me to retie my tie it looks bad, or change ties, or comb my hair again, etc. She is a sounding board for me. I am not going to get mad at those things because she is helping me “look good”. Likewise, an innumerable amount of times she tells me flat out, you shouldn’t have said that in your sermon, or you shouldn’t have said that that way.

Also, my wife is my spy. While I am not going to go into a group of all women and listen in on conversations, that is exactly what my wife does. Out of those openly listening times, she tells me some issues that our people are having or dealing with, and a future sermon is born. If the pastor’s wife is offensive, overpowering, overbearing, and trying to be forcefully “in charge” so that nobody else can even speak in her presence, that is not going to work as well as an understanding and sympathizing pastor’s wife.

Why is having a good family important? We have to emphasize the idea or concept again that a pastor’s family is key to him being a good or poor pastor. Men, fathers, have to deal with their families. They can neither be overbearing nor ignore issues. They have to deal with them, and deal with them in the right way. Many times, the Christian father needs to discipline and correct his children. But sometimes, he needs to understand stress, pressures, and the weakness of his own children, and instead of yelling, hug some. Do I wish my own kids were perfect? Yes, I do. I pray for them every night. But people mess up at times. People make mistakes and bad decisions. People don’t seek help that is there for them if they want it. But while I say this about my kids, they are MY KIDS, and just like me, and I do the same at times. So that relationship with them, even when they make mistakes and are wrong, that loving none-the-less is what is important.

Let me flip this for you. So many pastors take a position and practice of it is my church, and you are either for me or against me. If you are against me then you should leave, but still, send your tithes and offerings. Whenever somebody disagrees with the pastor, they become his enemy, and by association, they should be hated and excommunicated by everybody in the church. There is no middle ground. To just be present in the church without going overboard in supporting whatever the pastor wants is to end up being considered a public enemy also. This is immature, and it is childish behavior, but so many churches flaunt this so openly that it is sickening.

It is like we are in school again. Everybody wants to be the teacher’s pet, and the teacher wants everybody to want this. The teacher wants authoritarian control over everybody, or get out of her class. You can learn so much by studying a pastoral candidate’s kids.

III.) The Litmus test of his preaching ability in expositing God’s Word, as well as his doctrines and practices.

There are a million good Christians out there wanting to take over a church. And we should not depreciate the value of their desires. But the principal task of a pastor is to spiritually feed the church through preaching and teaching, and if the candidate cannot do that, pass on him.

This really desires its own post, but briefly, a good pastor needs to be able to get good meat out of God’s word, apply it in his own life, and communicate the experience to others clearly and forcefully. We are talking about exposition here.

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