I get this question and others like it all the time. With a movement to establish a plurality of pastors/elders on the rise, the answer to this question has become that much more important and relevant. Because the pastors of our congregation just put forward 2 men for consideration to become pastors, the process of identifying these men is pretty fresh on my mind. Therefore, here are 3 evidences to look for as you scan the men in your congregation and wonder who the Lord is raising up to serve as a shepherd alongside the other shepherds of the church:
Find men who function as a pastor without the title or recognition. This is probably the most helpful counsel I have received on the matter. Identifying pastors in your midst is not about finding those who think they should be pastors, but those who simply are by the way they care for the congregation already. They shepherd the people without the title. They care for the hurting unconcerned if their effort is noticed. They disciple others because they long to see spiritual fruit in their life. They teach and preach God’s Word gratefully when asked and never demand it as their right. Most of all, the congregation looks to them as a shepherd.
Find men who assume the pastoral burden, although it has not yet been placed on them. One of the affirming signs for me with these 2 brothers recently put forward in our church was their presence and demeanor at a recent pastor’s meeting. As the shackles fell off their eyes and they saw the personal needs of the congregation unknown to them as we shared them and prayed for them, I watched the burden begin to fall upon their hearts as they considered the implications of “giving an account for souls.” They have not been affirmed by the congregation just yet, but their growing burden for the people was undeniably present and very encouraging to myself and my fellow pastors to affirm that they are ready for this task.
Find men who shepherd their family the way a pastor should shepherd God’s people. A member in our church made a profound observation during our recent public discussion about these 2 prospective pastors which was, “If he cares for us half as faithfully as he cares for his family, we will be well cared for.” Not only is a man’s care for his family a requirement to serve as a pastor/elder (1 Tim. 3:4), but is a helpful gauge on the kind of shepherd of the church he will be.
Regardless where you find yourself and your church in this process, look around. Who is teaching God’s Word humbly and faithfully? Who is discipling others? Who are the men to whom the members of your church gravitate for counsel? Whether your church has established any form of a plurality of pastors/elders or not, look for those men. They will be the ones to keep your eye on as you pray and search for the future shepherds of your people.