I grew up in church. In the seasons where my dad wasn’t a pastor, we attended a variety of churches. Often, we didn’t even agree with the pastors on much of their theological perspectives.
We went to Charismatic churches, Baptist, Lutheran, Reformed. There was always at least one facet of the teaching that we didn’t agree with. But that didn’t mean we left the church. We always stayed planted until it was time to move to another city to pastor a church or start a new work on the mission field.
You’ll never find a pastor you agree with completely. You’ll never find a church that does things exactly the way you’d do them. And that’s okay. But there are some things you should look for when you’re finding a new church—especially a new pastor. Since a pastor takes an authoritative role in your life, it’s important to find the right one.
The next time you find yourself looking for a new church, here are seven things you should see happening as you submit yourself to a pastor’s leading.
1. You start having more grace for other people.
If you find yourself becoming more critical of others under your pastor’s teaching, he or she might be leading you inadequately. Whether it’s sinners, a politician or even the pastor down the street, a great pastor will give you a greater vision of grace for others. That isn’t to say you’ll agree with everyone, but compassion should outweigh any strong opinions you have.
A great pastor will remind you about the importance of having grace for others—the importance of forgiving others. As it says in Ephesians 4:32, we should “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
2. You experience more personal grace and boldness.
If you continually leave services feeling more shame than when you went in, your pastor is failing at his or her job. The pastor’s job is to equip you for the work of the ministry. Shame strips us of our ministerial power. Instead, grace empowers us.
Along with that grace, boldness should be part of the equation. You should feel empowered to chase after that God-given dream to start a business, launch a ministry or take that risky step.
3. You question what you think about God.
If you aren’t a little bit shocked now and then by something your pastor says, your pastor probably isn’t teaching the Gospel. The truth is, the power of the Gospel is nearly impossible to grasp. The Gospel is simple, but it’s mysteries are endless.
That’s not to say your pastor needs to discuss eschatology or predestination every weekend. But even fundamental topics like grace and sin can rock your world when you dig into what the Bible has to say about them.
4. You find yourself hungry to read the Bible.
A good pastor will whet your appetite for Scripture. Self-help sermons won’t do that, but unwrapping the mysteries of God will. Look for a church where the pastor is introducing you to an amazing God who isn’t just an abstract concept in the sky or a set of self-help steps.
5. You’re challenged to give regularly.
Your pastor shouldn’t guilt you into giving. But if he or she isn’t talking about the heart issue of generosity, you’re missing out on an important element of trusting God. To be honest, you should be challenged to do more than just tithe. Yes, tithing is an Old Testament mandate, but the New Testament actually teaches us to do more than the minimum. If your heart follows your treasure as it says in Matthew 6:21, a good pastor should encourage you to invest your heart and your treasure in the right things.
6. You’re challenged to serve other people regularly.
Volunteering in your church is a good start, but it shouldn’t end there. You have a calling to be a minister at your workplace as well. Your pastor’s job, as outlined in Ephesians 4:12, is to equip you to do God’s ministry. If you don’t feel the burden to share your time and energy with non-believers in your sphere of influence, you might not be getting challenged the way you should be.
7. The pastor is your authority, not your hope.
Finally, your pastor can’t take the place of your God. While no pastor would presume to become your hope, it too easily happens when you don’t see their humanity. If they appear perfect, it’s easy for you to put your hope in them. That will always disappoint you.
Your pastor should be—at least somewhat—honest about his or her mess. It’ll help you see grace much more, but it’ll also point you to God as your hope instead of to your pastor.
You’ll notice I mentioned nothing about your pastor’s age, political affiliation or social background. It doesn’t hurt if they’re different than you are; in fact, it’s an asset.
A great pastor will challenge what you believe and lead you into a stronger relationship with God. Make sure, when you’re looking for a new church, you find one where the pastor will lead you well.