Brent Hobbs is the pastor of Severn Baptist Church in Severn, NC. He blogs at “Deeper into Grace.”
The first aspect of association ministry I would like to think about is the role of the Director of Missions (DoM). The typical structure of a local Baptist association includes an “association missionary” who leads the organization. In many cases this DoM position is a full-time, paid position.
Our local association is currently without a DoM, with a search committee currently looking for the next DoM to serve our association. (Just for clarity sake, I am not on the search committee of our association, but know more than half of the group—a godly, encouraging group of people!) This time without a DoM in our association has given me some time to think through what the role for a DoM ought to be.
Typical Perception of the DoM Role
There is a phrase I hear over and over again from people as we discuss what characteristics we ought to look for in a DoM, or what that role ought to look like: A pastor to pastors. In fact, I hear it so much, I’ve begun to think this is the essence of what most people expect a DoM to be. A pastor to pastors. Remember the phrase. I want to examine this concept closely and ask if this is really a good summary of how an effective DoM ministry would be described.
What Is Normally Meant by “a Pastor to Pastors”?
When I’ve heard people say that a DoM should be “a pastor to pastors”, I’ve started asking them to elaborate on what they mean by that. I get some puzzled looks. After a minute or two of conversational awkwardness (shouldn’t I already know what it means?!) I usually get something like the following: someone who will visit the pastors of the association if they are sick or in the hospital, attend funerals if the pastors or loved ones pass away, do some spiritual counseling of the pastors when needed.
Most, if not all, of the ideas behind the phrase “pastor to pastors” would really be more accurately described as a “chaplain to pastors.” They are pastoral care-type ministries and the assumption is like something of a hierarchy of pastoral care function: The pastor of a local church “pastors” (i.e. visits, prays for, cares for, offers advice to) the members of a church, but who will do these things for him? Enter the next “level” of minister, the DoM, who can do these same things for the group of pastors.
But What Is a Pastor?
Pastoral care is one aspect of being a pastor, and an important aspect at that. But biblically speaking, a pastor does much more: preaching, teaching, guarding sound doctrine, leading/vision setting, discipling, evangelism. Few, if any, of these will a DoM have opportunity or reason to practice regularly in the lives of pastors of the association. This is why I want to highlight the phrase “chaplain to pastors” as a more accurate description of the pastoral care functions a DoM can realistically do.
One reason for some confusion here is that many of our churches wrongly view their own pastors primarily as chaplains. This is particularly prevalent in our area of rural northeast North Carolina. There’s the story of the elderly woman who very nicely told her new young pastor that she didn’t want anything in her church to change, or large groups of new people coming to join, but that she would just be happy for him to hold her hand until she died and perform a nice funeral afterward. The ideal role of a pastor around here is often someone who will marry, bury, and show up to the hospital when you’re sick… oh yeah and preach a sermon on Sunday mornings, because… well… we need someone to do it! Deliver your nice little homily, don’t keep us past 12 o’clock, and be there for us when we need you.
It’s this kind of thinking that gives us those cringe-worthy phrases “he’s a good preacher but not a good pastor” or its converse “he’s a good pastor but not a very good preacher”. As if being a “preacher” and a “pastor” are two distinct roles, combined out of convenience because it’s more affordable to pay one salary than two.
A pastor is not a chaplain. A pastor is a biblically defined office in a local church. Pastoral care functions are a part of what a pastor does, but only a part. So one way this idea of a DoM as a “pastor to pastors” falls short is that a DoM cannot, does not, and should not function in many of the ways a pastor of a local church is called to.
Why No “Pastor to Pastors” in the New Testament?
Another problem with the concept of the DoM as a “pastor to pastors” is that there is no indication God saw any such role as necessary or beneficial. How do we know this? Because we don’t see the role in the New Testament. This isn’t a regulative principle argument either—I’m not saying it’s wrong to have this kind of role because it’s not in the NT. I’m a normative principle guy. I think it’s ok, using biblically informed wisdom, to do and practice things we don’t see in the NT. But please don’t say that we need a “pastor to pastors”. If we needed it, God would have told us about it at least by example, if not by direct command.
But wait, Brent… what about Paul? Wasn’t he a pastor (in some ways of speaking) to Timothy? (Multiply examples… ) How can you say we don’t see it in the New Testament?! I’m glad you asked. I’m not saying that pastors don’t need pastoral care at times, nor that they don’t benefit greatly from gospel-saturated friendships, mentors, etc… What I am saying is there is no indication whatsoever that any kind of organized role or position existed of a person whose main calling was to minister to pastors of churches. There wasn’t a true need for it then, nor is there today.
Then Who Will Minister to Our Pastors in Times of Need?
First, the church that a man pastors should minister to him and his family. Yes, I know this idea is shocking. But you don’t have to be on a church staff to minister to another person. We are supposed to love one another, care for one another, pray for one another. One another includes the pastor(s) as a member of the church. Second, fellow pastors who are also friends can minister to pastors. Third, mentors and other trusted friends and family can minister to pastors. Fourth, any number of para-church ministries (state conventions, conferences, counseling organizations) can be called upon as well.
There are plenty of ways for pastors to receive pastoral care, advice, prayer, counseling without the local association budgeting for a full-time salary and benefits. If the essence of the DoM role is to be “a pastor to pastors”, then we ought to do away with the role altogether. If we want to redeem the role of DoM from this poorly-thought-out description of “a pastor to pastors”, we need to articulate several other ways a DoM will serve the churches and pastors of the local association. I’m not saying that a fuller, more justifiable vision for the role of DoM is impossible or that it might not exist and function in some associations already. My main point is this: A DoM job description should include pastoral care, but that responsibility ought to be just a small part of the larger ministry of strengthening and equipping churches.