Friday, August 10, 2012

Your church search committee and Calvinist candidates

So, your church is without a pastor and you have been elected to the pastor search committee. In addition to the usual questions about salvation experience, theology, family, and other things, should you be specific and pointed in questioning candidates about Calvinistic beliefs and practices?

In today's SBC climate you would be irresponsible not to.

A couple of years ago there was some reaction to a document circulating about how to smoke out a calvinistic pastor. Tom Ascol blogged about it speaking of that particular set of documents as "wickedness and ignorance."

Seems the attitude has changed a bit towards such things.

 A panel of SBC luminaries (Frank Page, Herschel York, Steve Lemke, and David Dockery) that included both Calvinists and non-Calvinists met last week, Baptist Press reported on it, and part of the panel discussion included advice to search committees.

Lemke said that committees should ask candidates "Are they committed to missions and evangelism," and, "Do they talk more about Calvin than about Jesus?"

Good advice, although some candidates might be offended by the latter question.

While both sides declare fidelity to the concept of honesty and openness in the search process, our search process sometimes doesn't foster a climate where both the church and the candidate is completely forthcoming.

I've never been on a pastor search committee and doubt I will ever be on one. I have been in the position of offering advice and would be more pointed today about advising such a group to be specific and clear about Calvinism.

The best indicator of a prospective pastor's future behavior is his past practices. It is sometimes difficult to achieve but a committee has to find a good way to obtain a reliable third party estimation of the pastor's behavior in his present church.

An associational missionary is sometimes a good source for this but not always. The old search process usually included attending the pastor's present church and hearing him preach but I understand that many pastors today would rather not have a committee show up at their present church.

Our pastor search system has always been messy. In today's denominational atmosphere committees must be better informed and prepared on the issue of Calvinism in the same way that it was necessary for them to be informed about charismatic matters forty years ago or about theological liberalism thirty years ago.

They cannot afford not to be prepared. 


Anonymous said...

I read your blog and thought I'd offer a suggestion. If asked if they are a Calvinist, a good practice for candidates is to ask the committee to define what they mean by Calvinist first before answering. The candidate needs to know the committee's presuppositions and ideas upfront, as well, to make sure he and the committee are not talking past each other. I think it goes both ways on open disclosure.

By the way, the best book I've come across for search committees is by Chris Brauns, When the Word Leads Your Pastor Search. I read it to challenge myself, as I grow as a minister searching for a church.

Anonymous said...

"to define what they mean by Calvinist first before answering"

And which point, if I were on the Search Committee, you would be toast.

Anonymous said...

Rather than asking if the candidate is a Calivinist, why not ask them to explain what they believe about predestination? This would get to the heart of the matter a lot quicker, since this is what most people are concerned about anyway. Calvinism, as we have seen, can be a tricky word.

Anonymous said...

Just a question: Should the search committee in an SBC church ask if the prospective pastor is
an Arminian?

Mark said...

Why not ask the candidate to go through the BFM2K and ask questions based on it?

William Thornton said...

The present SBC climate is such that a committee has to be specific about Calvinism, and using that term. As most informed SBCers know, there are many who look askance on Southern and Southeastern grads and that reflexively. the better approach would be to have informed conversations with individual candidates rather than to informally pre-screen on the basis of alma mater.

AE said...

Good morning - I'm the anonymous commenter from 9:53 - I wasn't sure how to log in with a Google account, but I figured it out.

My suggestion about having the candidate ask the committee to define their understanding of the term Calvinism is due to definitions that I have read recently regarding the subject from Dr. Eric Hankins and Tim Guthrie, both bloggers at SBC Today.

Dr. Hankins said, "“I felt that the underlying criticism of the Sinner’s Prayer from New Calvinists is related to the fact that they do not believe that all people can pray that prayer because some people are hopelessly condemned." I have never heard a criticism such as this from a Calvinist. Perhaps there's a hot-bed of hyper-Calvinists in Oxford, MS where he pastors. He would obviously have a different understanding of Calvinism than I would.

Tim Guther has commented on Calvinists in Louisville and children's ministry by saying, "The reason for this is that the author [children's minister at Sojourn Church in Louisville], and those who think like him [other Calvinists], actually believe that you are either born being saved or you are born with NO hope of ever being saved. No decision is required. It is a settled thing with God and Jesus only died for the elect. So you are either elect at birth or lost, damned to Hell for eternity." Again, perhaps there's a hot-bed of hyper-Calvinists where he lives in Tennessee, but as a Louisvillian, and someone who knows Sojourn's children's minister, I can tell you that I have yet to meet someone who believes such a statement about evangelism and children. So, again, Tim Guthrie and I would have a different understanding of Calvinism. He would define it one way, and I, in another.

It's best if both the committee and the candidate define terms.

Adam Embry

Anonymous said...

"It's best if both the committee and the candidate define terms."

Both congregation and candidate have expectations of the other party, and both, hopefully, are aware of the Non-Calvinist - Calvinist issue in SBC and that it warrants a discussion. If the candidate will not respond to a legitimate question until after he gleans the search committee's perspective, and if the committee grants this request, the committee would have lost control of the interview and provided the candidate room to speak in less than forthright terms, should the person be inclined to do so. Hopefully the committee will not abdicate control of the interview to the candidate. The candidate, speaking first, has an opportunity to influence the direction of the discussion, thus is not without power in the interview process, but for the candidate to assert a strategy of deflection (as asserted in the original comment) on a very sensitive issue is to come across as arrogant and coy, two pretty reasons for not issuing a call to the prospective minister.

AE said...


There's no reason why my first comment should be taken as nefarious or recommending a strategy of deflection. Of course, he should answer their question if he's asked, even if he doesn't ask them to clarify their terms. He should be courtesy, as he's the one being interviewed. Search committees let candidates ask questions; they've not giving an interrogation. And, of course, I'm not recommending he take control over the interview. Even if he doesn't ask them what they mean by the term, he can tell them what he doesn't mean by the term when he answers. I listed the examples of Dr. Hankins and Tim Guthrie to show that even public spokesmen apparently disagree with the definition, in my opinion. I would never recommend a strategy of deflection by a candidate. He's there to shepherd and love the people, not hide what he believes. There's no reason to read a strategy of deflection into my first comment. I apologize if that was the perception I gave.

Adam Embry

Anonymous said...

A search committee should ask at least three questions of a candidate. 1)Do you believe Jesus died for the entire world or just for the elect?
2)Do you believe a person can resist God's salvation?
3)What authors are you reading and which influence you?

Yes, it it appropriate for a committee to ask a pastor if he is Arminian if they want one or do not want one. The same would be true of KJV only, dispensations, old earth, young earth, closed communion, etc...

A local congregation should call a person who they are comfortable has the same convictions if they choose.

Sorry no google acccount.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Postmillenialist.

Perhaps Calvinists do believe that Jesus died for the world and for the sins of the elect. Why post such an ambiguous question as a litmus test? The scriptures don't seem to draw that line, why should a search committee?

The New Testament puts a strong emphasis on the fact that it is the world that is the object of Christ’s redemption. “Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world” (I John 2:2). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him” (John 3:16, 17). “The Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (I John 4:14). “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “We have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42). “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself” (II Cor. 5:19).

Let's not reduce this great commission to the premillenarian program of preaching the gospel as a witness to a world that is to grow worse and worse until it plunges into its doom in destruction. To do this would be to send the gospel out into the world as a futile thing, foreordained to failure from the start. No, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and Jesus Christ, marching in the greatness of His strength, sends us on no empty errand of uttering a message that will die away in the air on an unheeding and hostile world, gathering only a few out of its innumerable multitudes and consigning the vast majority to destruction, but He sends us to ‘make disciples of all the nations’ and thereby win the world itself.

Christ’s work of redemption truly has as its object the people of the entire world and that His Kingdom is to become universal. And since nothing is told us as to how long the earth shall continue after that goal has been reached, possibly we can look forward to a great ‘golden age’ of spiritual prosperity continuing for centuries, or even for millenniums, during which time Christianity shall be triumphant over all the earth, and during which time the great proportion even of adults shall be saved. It seems that the number of the redeemed shall then be swelled until it far surpasses that of the lost.

This is Calvinism with a smile.

William Thornton said...

I think that a leisurely, honest, and congenial conversation is much to be preferred for any candidate as opposed to merely a set of fixed questions to be worked through.

Is the candidate one with whom you can converse, or is he combative and inscrutable? Does he actually talk to the committee or does he preach to them?

If I detected impatience, condescension' or obfuscation when the question of Calvinism was raised, That would be a rather considerable red flag.