The Pastor Search: A Discernment Practice

Some Pastor Search teams may approach their task as if they were a human resource office sifting through resumes, interviewing their perceived list of top candidates, and selecting the person whose resume best matches the position description at hand.

In my work coaching Pastor Search teams, I approach the task as a discernment process wherein the team discovers God’s good and perfect will for his church. For that reason, I introduce them to the work of Ruth Haley Barton: Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups. In this excellent volume, the author describes the discernment process, “as that ever-increasing capacity to see the work of God in the midst of the human situation so that we can align ourselves with God’s work in our small part of the world.”

Then Haley-Barton describes three prayers essential for the pastor search process, beginning with the “Prayer for Indifference.”  Through this prayer we follow the example of our Lord and say, “Not my will but yours be done.” Here is her excellent description of this important prayer:

In the context of spiritual discernment, indifference is a positive term signifying that I am indifferent to anything but God’s will. This is interior freedom or a state of openness to God in which we are free from undue attachment to any particular outcome…. We ask God to bring us to a place where we want God’s will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. (63)

That prayer leads to the “Prayer for Wisdom,” wherein we confidently ask the Lord for grace which compensates for our deficiencies James 1:5). Without the Lord’s help, we may be able to distinguish between the good and the bad, but we need God’s grace to discern between the good, the better, and the best for our particular context.

Now we are ready for the third prayer. Haley-Barton refers to it as that of “Quiet Trust.” Through this prayer we rest in God and in God’s promises with the hope of experiencing the childlike trust so essential to the discernment process. She offers Psalm 131 as an example:

My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.  Israel,  put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.

Are you a member of a search team and, thereby, entering into a discernment process with a group of other Christ-followers? Here is great agenda for your first gathering: fill it with prayer!

  • Begin with a Prayer for Indifference.
  • Continue with a Prayer for Wisdom.
  • Conclude with a Prayer of Quiet Trust.

1 Comment

  1. Nigel G Probert on July 27, 2018 at 11:53 am

    Great stuff, Sam! I pray for continued favor on your ministry!

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