Published: 24 April 2023

Selecting Pastors The New Testament Way

Selecting Pastors

How do most churches go about selecting pastors? In the vast majority of cases the church forms some sort of search committee which manages the effort to find and screen pastor candidates. At a high level, the process differs little from a business’s Human Resources department which attempts to attract talented individuals who can contribute positively to the organization.

In most instances, the pastor search team evaluates the ministry resumes of complete strangers. They may get a good lead through a mutual contact who has given the candidate a good reference, but for the most part the church and the pastor candidate have no familiarity with each other. Like interviewing for a secular job in the business world, it is very difficult to gauge a person’s fitness for the role based on a few brief face to face meetings.

In essence, the church ends up hiring a stranger who interviewed well. Everyone prays that the new pastor will end up being a good fit who will help the church to grow spiritually. How does this method of selecting pastors align with the way the New Testament says we should do it? 

In the New Testament selecting pastors was not a guessing game

It should be obvious from 1 Timothy 3:1-7 that the qualifications for elders (pastors) cannot truly be assessed if a man is a stranger. I mean, really, how can we know if a man is “temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous” if we’ve only met him during an interview process? 

It is impossible to know if a man possesses these traits unless we’ve spent a great deal of time with him. We need to see a man when he is stressed, angry, and pressured to know how he reacts to life’s difficulties. Someone once told me that a person is like a tube of toothpaste; only when he is squeezed will we see what’s on the inside. The only way to ascertain if a man truly meets the biblical requirements set out for pastors is for the congregants to already know him.

New Testament warnings about selecting pastors too hastily

Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure. (1 Tim. 5:22 NKJV)

24 Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. 25 Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden. (1 Tim. 5:24–25 NKJV)

Whether this refers to being patient about appointing new elders or accepting the repentance of those rebuked by the church, the point is the same. Do not be too quick to appoint someone to a position of leadership in the church. The church must test them to prove them fit for leadership (1 Tim 3:1-13). We must not take this lightly. The potential damage to the church is too great to accept someone who has not been thoroughly vetted. 

Selecting pastors in haste may incur blame

In what way might we share in the sin of others if we appoint them to a leadership position to hastily?

“Paul does not think that Timothy will start committing the same sins as the opponents; rather he is concerned that by commissioning a sinner to leadership Timothy may to some degree be responsible for their ministry and the sins they may commit, possibly because Timothy may appear to condone their sin and because a failure to punish sin may encourage others to sin.”

“Timothy should be slow to commission new elders because the sins of some take time to surface while others’ good character may not be immediately obvious.”1

If we rush and appoint a man without vetting him, we share part of the blame if he turns out to be a detriment to the church. When our means of selecting pastors involves hiring men who are virtually strangers, are we not guilty of being hasty to lay hands on (appoint) a man to the role?

“Paul says that a church should never be in a hurry about choosing its leaders, especially the pastor, because major problems or sins might be overlooked. It is a serious responsibility to choose church leaders. They must have strong faith and be morally upright, having the qualities described in 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. Not everyone who wants to be a church leader is eligible. Be certain of an applicant’s qualifications before asking him or her to take a leadership position.”2

When we hire a stranger, the way churches usually do, we have taken a shortcut.

Selecting pastors the right way

The ideal way to select a pastor is to appoint him from within the congregation. This is how the early church did it. Paul left Titus at Crete to “appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5 NKJV). Paul didn’t expect Titus to find men from Cyprus, Antioch, or Ephesus and bring them to Crete. The context suggests that Titus was appointing local, qualified men to fill the role. Selecting a pastor from a pool of local men ensures that the congregation is able to determine if they meet the biblical qualifications.

What if a church is unable to select a pastor from within?

What should a church do when there are no men “in house” qualified and gifted to serve as an elder? Unfortunately, this is often the case, especially in smaller churches. 

Practicalities usually dictate they must seek men from outside their local congregation to serve as pastors. This, of course, is not the ideal, but what can such a church do about this? In the short term, there is probably no solution.

Selecting pastors – a long term outlook

However, if a church is serious about the New Testament ideal in selecting pastors, they will need to take a long term outlook. They will need to become intentional about training and equipping the next generation of young men. The church will need to encourage younger men to start thinking about the possibility of becoming future pastors. 

Pastors should groom and mentor those men who show potential. Since it is the pastor’s job “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12), they should be intentionally training their replacement. The church may also need to put its money where its mouth is. They may need to be willing to financially assist men to get formal biblical training. The church should see this as an investment in the Kingdom.

What would it be like to be a part of a congregation known for producing pastors? Not only could these “homegrown” elders serve the future needs of their own church, but they could also be recruited by the church down the road. If a man’s character is already known in the local Christian community, other churches won’t be selecting a stranger.

Impractical to train pastors from within?

Many may believe that it is not practical, or even possible, to train young men to be future pastors in the context of the local church. Our church culture has conditioned us to think that a pastor must possess a graduate degree from a seminary. As such, many people may be skeptical of the notion of preparing men in house to be future pastors. I’d answer this objection by asking for the book, chapter, and verse where the New Testament says a pastor must have a seminary education.

A seminary education is a plus, but it is most certainly not necessary. If it were necessary, the New Testament would have said so. We have all seen men who have never graduated from college who are superb pastors. If we are honest, we have also seen highly educated and credentialed pastors who are complete duds. The more quality education a person has, the better. Nevertheless, seminary training is not a biblical requirement for a pastor.

It is possible for local churches to raise up the next generation of leaders. Yes, it is possible and there are a number of small churches that conduct “preacher training schools.” In a nutshell, these programs amount to formal training inside the local church which are often a yearlong full-time commitment. Of course, one year of full-time instruction alone does not produce a pastor. The point is that some churches can, and do, offer training, both formal and informal, which helps prepare the next generation of church leaders. We need to have a “can do” attitude about producing pastors.

Selecting pastors the New Testament way means not choosing a stranger 

Everything about the qualifications of pastors, combined with the fact that Paul advised Timothy to be cautious in appointing them, tells us that those selected as pastors should not be strangers to the congregation. 

The question boils down to whether or not we trust God’s word enough to do “Bible things” in “Bible ways?” It might surprise us what a local church can produce if they rely on God’s word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.


  1. Mounce, William D. Word Biblical Commentary, Pastoral Epistles, Vol 46, Nelson, 2000, 636-637.
  2. Life Application Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004.