Seminary students graduate with a passionate desire to serve in pastoral ministry. Prayerfully, these men have already been involved in the life of the church while obtaining their education. Oftentimes when they graduate they are ready to find the place where Christ would have them serve Him as a pastor. Similarly, believers look for the church where they should be a member. During this process of searching, if they are grounded and mature believers they try to find a pastor who preaches biblically, a congregation who loves deeply, and a body where they can be of great service ultimately. Churches themselves also engage in the process of searching at some point or another. They come to a season where the man serving as their pastor passes away or moves on to another post where Christ has called him. Either from within or without, that congregation now must find an individual to fill the office which has been left open. So, they diligently implore every means possible to find a man who shall shepherd them well and lead the flock.
I wholeheartedly support a man in the ministry trying to find the specific church to which God has called him, by all means, please spend time on your knees asking Christ for wisdom and clarity! Neither do I take any issue with a believer trying to find the most Bible-saturated church they can to be a member of to serve the Lord in that place. Nor am I somehow asking pastorless churches to give anything less than their absolute best effort to find the man Christ has called to serve in the role of an elder. I firmly believe many of us as Christians, pastors, and congregations fall prey to not thinking robustly about any of these decisions when we make them. Yet, there is just as steep and dangerous a ditch on the other side of the road that few of us take the time to talk about. It is a grave mistake to believe that because we serve a perfect Savior we as individual Christians, congregations, and pastors are perfect as well.
Let’s start on the level of assuming you are a Christian simply trying to find a church. If you are looking for a biblically faithful congregation according to the Word of God, that is wonderfully commendable. However, please keep in mind, there is a significant difference between faithful and perfect. Remember that local churches are made up of individual Christians. John says that if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). We will not reach perfection in this life, though we have the promise of being without sin in the next. Since local churches are made up of imperfect individuals that reality means congregations will not achieve a state of absolute perfection either. Hence why the New Testament authors constantly had to give not only encouragement but also rebukes to the churches (case study: 1 and 2 Corinthians). Can churches reach a point of mature faithfulness? Of course, they most certainly can by the work of the Lord. That fact does not mean there will never be a need for repentance because of a harsh word. It does not dictate that all believers in the local church will be entirely humble at all times. Neither does it mean the pastor will always be perfectly clear in each sermon. No, from the pew to the pulpit, faithfulness is definitely possible, but imperfection is certainly guaranteed.
In only a subtly different vein, if you are preparing for a pastorate and want to find the spotlessly white church on the tall hill with no flaws, you had better be ready for a different picture brother. I hope Christ plants you in a place where the people love the Lord, love the Word, and love one another. Yet, even if you do serve there, it is perfectly assured you shall still have bumps. However, brother, Christ often calls men to go and carry a hard load. Titus was left in Crete to put things in order and appoint elders in each town (Titus 1:5). Clearly, different points in the church needed stability brought to them and the church government structure was not entirely in place. Beyond just Titus, Timothy was left by Paul in Ephesus specifically to combat false doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3). In pastoral ministry, brethren, you can expect to have difficulty even if you are in a very faithful church. And, many pastors will be called by Christ to serve in less than ideal circumstances. Beyond simply your everyday local church pastor, there are also those going out like Paul himself to places where the Gospel has never been heard (Romans 15:20). He did not go to the ideal center to build the biggest church on the planet, he simply sought to be where Christ called him. No perfect places, no perfect pastors, no perfect congregations. If you have your hope in the notion that you just found the pastor without any issues or the congregation with no error, you will be left with a restless soul. Because you are trying to ground it upon something which is merely a fanciful fiction of your imagination.
Only one anchor exists for our soul who is absolutely perfect and His name is Jesus. He is the One who makes the local church a beautiful place of light. Believers gather at the church to come and praise the glorious Lamb who was slain. They sit to feast upon His Word desiring to know more of the Lord and His splendor. The grieving widow needs the perfection of Christ placed before her. A young couple weaving through marital struggles needs the love of Christ worked into their souls that they might know how to love one another. Children need to be taught the Gospel of the Lord so that salvation might dawn in their hearts. Ultimately, the anchor point for a Christian, a pastor, and a local church is the Lord Himself.
So, yes, strive to find a congregation where you can take your family to be accurately taught the Word of God. Diligently labor as a man in the ministry where the Lord has called you to serve. And, work hard as a church to find the qualified man Christ would have shepherd the flock. Amen to all of these truths, but let us keep our eyes upon the perfect Lord. He is the glorious One who is our firm foundation when everything else is sinking around us. It is He who is our plumbline to evaluate when something is off in the local body or in our own lives. Christ shall build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail (Matthew 16:18-19). He will continue to equip faithful men for the work of the ministry to point to Himself as the perfect Savior and Lord. Jesus will, beyond a doubt, send those men to local churches in need of shepherds so that the saints might be edified, the lost evangelized, and God glorified.
I praise God for the fact that as a man in the ministry I have recently been called to be the pastor at Vesta Baptist Church. They are a very faithful and caring congregation with a passion to serve Christ, love each other, and know the Word of God. Living life together, checking on each other, and working at whatever needs to be done are all strengths among the people of this congregation. Truthfully, they amaze me with their heart to serve the Lord and love one another. Does that mean that the church is perfect? Neither they nor any other faithful church would claim to be. Will there be battles of various kinds we have to face together? Absolutely, there always are throughout life in this fallen world for both every individual believer and local church together. Are they getting a perfect pastor? I almost chuckle as I write the word “no” to that question! Yet, they are clearly a very faithful church with an increasing desire to excel still more because all of us as believers can continually grow in the Lord. Which brings me to the crux of the issue. Let us as local churches and pastors pursue Christ together, grow in His Word together, go through heartache together, rejoice together, weep together, share the Gospel together, love together, and forgive together. Perfection? Only our Holy God has that status. Being a part of the local church is a privilege, serving in the local church an honor, and pastoring a blessing. May we be found faithful as we seek His honor and renown!