A DoM Is Not “a Pastor to Pastors” (by Brent Hobbs)

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 anotherOne 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.


  1. Rick Patrick says


    Thanks for posting. You conclude: “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.”

    I think a better title would be: “A DoM is not ONLY a “Pastor to Pastors.” As it stands, the title conflicts with the conclusion.

    You allow for its existence in the role, but just see many other things as well. I agree he does a great many other things, but I think this is a legitimate role, and I view it as being among his major responsibilities.

    • says

      Rick, one of my upcoming points in the series is that only local churches have pastors. So a DoM is not in any sense a pastor to pastors.

      A DoM should exercise pastoral care for pastors, but even that does not make him a pastor to pastors. (I’ll explain later in the series why I think it’s mostly unhelpful to refer to or correlate the job of DoM with pastor of a local church.)

      • Greg Harvey says

        This comment by Brent I agree with fully. A DOM ought to oversee ministries that have been agreed to by the churches in the association and that are actively supported financially by those churches. That is where the DOM responsibilities start and end although those responsibilities come with de facto influence that extends beyond those limitations.

        Speaking from a traditionalist (note the lack of capital T) SBC viewpoint, of course.

        • Greg Harvey says

          “have been agreed to by the churches…” was intended to be “have been agreed to enact cooperatively by the churches in the association…”

      • Dave Miller says

        The distinction would seem to be pastor as an office and pastor as an activity. To pastor is to shepherd – to give leadership and guidance. But within the context of the church, it takes on a more official sense, I guess.

        So, on that basis, I can see what you are getting at, Brent – that DOMs are not pastors (even to pastors) but that they can have a pastoring-type role.

        • Dave Miller says

          Also, there are issues of pastoral authority there. Obviously, DOMs have no authority in any way over the pastors they serve.

      • Rick Patrick says

        “A DoM should exercise pastoral care for pastors…”

        I agree he does not have the office of a bishop. He does not have authority over pastors. I reject denominational connectionalism.

        I embrace the more wordy and awkward statement: “The DoM exercises pastoral care for those who exercise pastoral care.”

        In common language, this is what I believe most people mean by the phrase, “pastor to pastors.”

        • says

          Rick, I’m glad we’re finding some common ground here. I guess I’m really opposed, for brevity’s sake, someone who understands the things you’ve just described, who’s also speaking to people who understand them, to use shorthand like “pastor to pastors.”

          However, in my experience working with our association, almost no laypersons have the background to make those kinds of distinctions, neither do some pastors. To avoid misunderstanding and unbiblical views taking hold, I still think the best thing is to avoid the phrase altogether. But I’m not the thought police. If you’re in love with the phrase, use it. Along with it, take every opportunity to qualify it when you’re speaking to people who might possibly not understand your concerns with bishop-ism or connectionalism or anything else that prevents clear, biblical understanding.

        • says

          oops… Second sentence should read “I guess I’m NOT really opposed…” Nothing like leaving out a word to completely reverse your meaning!

  2. Dale Pugh says

    I agree with your concluding sentence. I would also point out that the DOM is and should be a “primary responder” when the local church pastor has need.
    You note four places where pastors may find support. I would offer the following as what I’ve seen at work in pastor’s lives over the years. I’m not disputing your conclusion. I’m just offering a different perspective. It probably isn’t really in conflict with your conclusion. As I write this, I’m thinking of times I’ve needed the help of a trusted DOM (I’ve had three such men in my life. I’ve also had a couple that I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw them), and of those times when I’ve seen DOM’s rise to the occasion on behalf of a fellow pastor.
    First, the local church is often a source of the pastor’s need for pastoral ministry in the first place. Conflict, stress, and difficult relationships within the local church may keep it from seeing its proper role in the pastor’s life. The very people who could be a help are actually the hindrance. The DOM is often aware of this and is strategically positioned for help at such times.
    Second, fellow pastors too often relate to one another as competitors rather than servants. Those who’ve gotten past such stupidity can be a real help if they’re allowed to do so. So much of the time, pride and a stubborn independence keeps a pastor from receiving such ministry. Because of the fear of transparency, we pastors sometimes close ourselves off from the relationships that may be a great encouragement. Again, its dumb, but its a reality. The DOM can be in a place to help here as well, if he’s willing to open his eyes and heart to the possibilities.
    Third, it is true that mentors, friends, and family can be a help. Those who are also in ministry will be able to understand what he’s going through. Those who aren’t in the ministry can be faithful prayer partners. All too often, though, these people are either focused on fixing the problem or placing blame. The DOM can be an objective counselor at such times, if he’s willing to do so.
    Fourth, state conventions and their staffs are stretched in hundreds of directions. Maybe that pastor doesn’t have the benefit of a good relationship to those state staffers. Or maybe the state staff is so focused on its programs that it misses the people with which it is to be involved. Conferences and counseling services are often time-consuming and expensive. The DOM, as a caring, aware, astute, and Christlike observer can offer personal care that others may not be willing or able to offer.

  3. Nate says


    I agree with your assessment. I would add that in many cases (probably in almost all cases ) the DOM does not have the time to get to know the pastor well enough to even be a source of pastoral care for each pastor in the association. The local church is a family and we need to foster relationships in that family for our personal and spiritual care. As you noted, the pastor can use his network of mentor/friends to fill in the gaps as well.

  4. says


    I think you are spot on: the DoM is NOT the Pastor to pastors, although the chaplain function is up to the individual. I agree there is NO biblical warrant for the DoM being in part or in whole a “pastor to pastors.” I think it is misleading and troublesome.

    Due to this misconception one DoM with whom I’m familiar believes that as the “pastor to the pastors” he is also the defacto pastor of everyone in the association telling me that I should not disagree with him and submit to his authority as “pastor” over me. When I followed up on his misunderstanding of my position he began to cry out that I should be careful bringing a charge “against the Lord’s anointed…”

    There is an inherent imperialism that goes with that description and the sooner it is forgotten, the better.

      • cb scott says

        Yep. I have worked with several who needed that same reality check and therein lies a problem very specific to many Local associations within the framework of the SBC.

        However, there are many Associational Missionaries who are doing an excellent job. I have met and worked with four guys here in Georgia who are truly fulfilling the role of an Associational Missionary. The experience has been very refreshing.

  5. Allen Davidson says


    I think you make some good points in this article. On the whole it seems that this is a phrase that has crept into our vocabulary and we have assumed it uncritically.

    Your assertion that we should see DOM’s as chaplains definitely comes closer to the theological framework of the NT. While the DOM may perform pastoral ministry to those pastors in the association on the whole he does not come close to the pastoral role of leading a church- shepherding people. And since it is foreign to the NT to have pastors pastoring a select few from a church this designation cannot be held.

    If we want to take this “pastor of pastors” seriously and to its logical conclusion, the DOM would lead multiple churches and practically function like a bishop, making the state convention heads the cardinals, and the SBC president the pope. But I don’t think Fred Luter is too big on wearing funny hats. (but it would be cool if he pulled up to the convention in the “Luter-mobile”)

  6. says

    I disagree with some of this article, though I agree with the last sentence. I’ve seen more than one Director of Missions serve well as a pastor to pastors, as well as a number of other needful jobs.

    A few of my thoughts on the Association are at

    DOMs are not directly mentioned in Scripture, but neither are youth ministers, Sunday School, janitors, secretaries, treasurers, church buildings, chaplains. But many would say we “need” them.
    David R. Brumbelow

    • Allen Davidson says

      The question is not whether or not we need DOM’s, but whether the description of them as a “pastor of pastors” is fitting. While I agree with much of what you have said the heart of the argument comes down to the implications of the phrase “pastor of pastors.” Pastors have authority invested in them by the congregation to lead their churches. For a DOM to actually be a “pastor of pastors” the pastors would grant him some authority over them as their “pastor.” But this isn’t what is actually practiced. The authority granted to the DOM by the churches is to manage and facilitate the resources of the association. In this respect DOM’s function more as facilitators and encouragers that pool, funnel, and manage the resources that the churches share. Sure, they do visit pastors when they are sick and pray for and with them but this isn’t more than we should expect fellow pastors to do. In this sense they are primarily managers of the shared resources for the benefit of the churches who seek to encourage their brothers in their association.

  7. William Thornton says

    OK, if you don’t like the phrase “pastor to pastors” in your DOM job description, don’t use it. Use “friend of pastors,” “helper of pastors,” or some substitute. I’ve never known a DOM who considered himself a “pastor to pastors” in any biblical or hierarchical sense nor have I encountered that pastor who did not expect some of the pastoral care role in his DOM, nor have I ever read a job description that did not include this aspect of the job.

    In a broader context DOM/AMs have always had a hard time defining their role and my feeling is that it is probably more difficult these days.

    • says

      William, I think Allen said it very well above… the issue is not exactly the use or non-use of the phrase “a pastor to pastors”. Though I hope this series will show that to be an unhelpful phrase. The implications of the phrase and the thinking behind it rely on some very unbiblical assumptions and it has caused an unhealthy culture to grow up around the local association ministry.

      • William Thornton says

        But you built the article off of the use of the phrase and the presumption that it is being used in a technical sense. Find me a single person who really believes that the role is pastor to pastors in the fullest Biblical sense. [As an aside, I have been around a DOM or two who thought and acted they were the bishop, but this is through acquired influence and power rather than by asserting any biblical fiat.] I have never been around anyone who considered it so but I have been around many who like the phrase because it fits in a generalist sort of way some of the role that the DOM plays.

        In a pragmatic sense the DOM absolutely has to fulfill a positive role with the pastors of churches in order to maintain goodwill and funding. Part of this is proving to be skillful in a non-technical sense of being a pastor to the pastors. In a real way the DOM often provides value to churches by his role as a friend to their pastors.

        I detect here a mild whiff of the old genre of finding something that is extra-Biblical and declaring it to be non-Biblical. Perhaps we could take another approach that is more relevant to the issues: the changes that must come if associations are to maintain relevance in the 21st century. I have looked at some of your stuff on your site and will be interested to read it more fully here.


        • Allen Davidson says


          Part of the issue here isn’t just a differentiation between technical and nontechnical language. It is a question of the function of the dom, especially as it pertains to how some in churches think he functions. The argument here is that this term and its implications lead people to misunderstand what a dom does and should do. I believe that we should seek to communicate clearly about voluntary associations and how they function (for example- how many people in our churches think that the Convention can enact sanctions or pass resolutions that are normative for churches). My contention, and I believe it to be Brent’s, is that we ought to be as clear in our descriptions as possible, recognizing that certain terms may carry theological weight that cannot be avoided.

  8. dean says

    Brent, thank you for your post. I think that “pastor to pastors” is difficult for some to receive because a pastor is seen as an authority figure and many pastors do not see their DOM as an authority in their lives. No one, I assume, would be opposed to a DOM offering prayers and support in times of need but many would not care to see the same as an authority for them.

    I do think that you will see the view that many have concerning the DOM will be divided along church size lines. A smaller church pastor will be dependent on the DOM and the association for resources and guidance. He may very well be viewed as a pastor to many of these guys. A medium sized church pastor will see the DOM in many ways as a peer. He will be a confidant and friend. To larger church pastors the DOM is a lot like a ministry you support and believe in but have little interaction with.

    Finally, the caliber of the DOM will determine how many embrace this issue of the roll of the DOM. In the church I pastored the longest my DOM may have been the smartest and most Godly person I have ever met. I loved spending time with him and came to a place that even though I was his pastor I leaned on him in many ways as you would a pastor.

  9. cb scott says

    When serving NAMB as an associational initiatives diagnostic interviewer (contract basis), we always made an effort to lead associations away from the “Church Model” with the “Pastor to Pastors” role for the Associational Missionary.

    The goal was to encourage Associational Missionaries to be resource agents to local churches to aid them in the fulfillment of the Great Commission, to be a safe confidant to the pastors and church staff members in the association, and to be a missionary to the lost within the associational boundaries and to the entire world.

    Frankly, the titles: Director of Missions and Executive Director of the Association convey a baggage that should be abandoned. Associational Missionaries should be missionaries, not executive directors.

  10. says

    Well, when I introduce our DoM to someone I always proclaim that he is the “Boss of all Baptists” in our county. He always groans, blushes and shakes his head. That nickname is made more ridiculous because our county Baptist chruches tend to be a particularly quarrelsome bunch so even if he was…. yeah, it wouldn’t work.

    Great fun

  11. Jess Alford says

    Our DoM is one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. He is not only the DoM,
    but a pastor to pastors, and friend. When our church burned. and people started to gather around the site, I looked around, and there stood our DoM in the cold rain. His words to me was some of the most encouraging words I’ve ever heard. I felt alot better after talking with him.

    Our DoM is always ready to aid us in the Great Commission. He is ready to aid us in any way possible.

  12. says

    From a Director of Missions in the northeast, thank you! If our job title is related in any way to our role, we are to be missionary catalysts, marshaling the resources (financial, volunteers, etc) sent to us by churches for more efdwctive fulfillment of the Great Comission locally and globally. Obviously that work will require developing trusting relationahips with pastors and churches, as well as helping pastors and churches trust and value each other. But chaplaincy work alone qont get