I have appreciated the work that pastoral search committees do. They pray, they advertise, they study, they discuss, they work really hard to narrow the list down of potentials to find an appropriate pastoral candidate. I’m sure that every church has a little bit different process in finding a pastor. All I know from experience is on the other side of the relationship.
I have seen some things done in the search process that are pretty good. Often a church will advertise on the web page of the fellowship of churches that they are a part of. They will accept resumes for a period of time and then they’ll wade through and separate the piles into the good, the bad, and the ugly (or something like that). Often the next part is to answer a series of questions. This is often followed by a Skype interview.
The questionnaire component can be the most vital part of the process. That is where they have a better idea of what the potential candidate believes about Scripture. Oftentimes churches will give interested men a few weeks to respond. When the potential candidate is finished, he can produce a paper of twenty or thirty pages in response to the questions. It’s a good process for churches and pastors to see if both parties are on the same page.
One of the questions that can be asked in different ways is the following: What are the essential Christian beliefs? A question like that can be a little overwhelming. There are so many important foundational issues relating to the local church. A number of very important things come to my mind but many people would turn to 1 Corinthians 15 to help them out.
 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV)
Paul was saying that the essentials are closest to the cross. So when I think about that I think virgin birth, Jesus as fully God, fully man, sinless life, death, burial, and resurrection, propitiation, the attributes of God (particularly His holiness), the Trinity, repent and believe for salvation (as opposed to just believe for salvation) and so on. There are many, many essentials.
I would suggest that more churches are becoming less together on the essentials. Churches that have pastors who edit God’s Word every week because they don’t want people to be offended by the truth of God’s Word. Churches that don’t nail down their theology on some document. Churches that are wishy washy on the inerrancy of Scripture. These kinds of things are essential for a church to function well. I would suggest that some churches are less nailed down on the essentials but surprisingly are more passionate on the greys.
When I speak of the greys I am referring to the areas that we have in our Christian freedoms that may differ from person to person. Romans 14 gives a full treatment on the grey area issues. Here’s a couple of snippets:
 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:5 ESV)
 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23 ESV)
I would suggest that some North American churches are less focused on these areas than they were forty years ago but some still have legalistic tendencies, whether written or unwritten in a church’s rule book. A friend posted a clever clip on Facebook that was called ’10 Things Only Kids Who Grew Up in a Super-Conservative Church Understand.’ And then came the list of outward don’ts. Things that made the don’t list included the following: using particular Bible translations, drinking alcohol, secular music, women wearing pants and/or makeup, smoking, tats, and movie theatres. Now with some of these grey area issues, words that need to be added to the discussion are moderation (1 Corinthians 6:12, Ephesians 5:18) and motivation (Romans 14:23) and not wanting our freedoms to cause us or others to sin (Galatians 5:13, Romans 14:13-20) but that’s not the point of this post.
I say all this to say that bodies of believers need to be together on the essentials. It has been said that doctrine divides, and it should. Right doctrine can separate wolves from sheep. Right doctrine separate genuine believers from bogus believers. Right doctrine separates strong believers from weak believers. Our churches need to be challenged on staying together on the essentials and to nail down what the essentials are. One way this happens is by faithfully expositing Scripture book by book, year after year. It makes for a church growing towards health. As for the greys? They might bring about some robust discussion but the beauty is, on the Christian freedom issues, we can walk away as friends, agreeing to disagree.