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What is an Assistant Pastor?

Category Articles
Date August 7, 2001

Towards the end of his life the great 18th Century Baptist preacher John Gill became rather weak and unwell. It was suggested to him by his deacons that he might benefit from the help of an assistant pastor. He did not take kindly to the suggestion. ‘I’ve read plenty in the Bible’ he is reported to have said ‘about pastors but I don’t recall reading anything about assistant pastors’. It is true that you will not find the phrase ‘assistant pastor’ in the Bible.

There is plenty about pastors (shepherds). The elders or overseers of the churches were to look after their flocks like shepherds look after sheep. See Acts 20:28, Ephesians 4:11, 1 Peter 5:1-3 for example. Although there is no direct mention of assistant pastors we ought not to be too quick to assume that the Bible says nothing on the subject. Just because a word is absent from the Bible does not prove it says nothing about the subject. In his day Gill was a great defender of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, a doctrine very much under attack at the time. The word Trinity appears nowhere in Holy Writ; indeed it was not invented until some time later. But it was a word that Gill used because it sums up the Bible’s teaching that God is one and yet three; a tri-une being; Father, Son and Holy Spirit – three equal persons but one God. ‘God in three persons, blesséd trinity’. In a similar way, though the phrase assistant pastor is not in the Bible we have good reason to believe that nevertheless the idea certainly is. In this, as in everything, the Bible must nevertheless be our guide.

Is the idea biblical? General models

Certainly the idea of assistants or helpers is there. We have the idea both in general and in both the Old and New Testaments in the cases of certain individuals.

First we consider three general models. We take these from the spheres of family, state and church.

Is the idea biblical? Specific Old Testament models.

As for more specific examples of men in a role like that of assistant pastor two or three again come to mind. There were no pastors as such in those days but they had leaders. The key ones were Moses and Elijah. Both had assistants who later lead God’s people themselves.

Is the idea biblical? Specific New Testament models.

In the New Testament we have no examples of assistant pastors as such but we do have three examples of assistant apostles.

How is one appointed?

What does it take?

Obviously, as in any spiritual work, one looks for someone who is godly. He also has to have certain skills of leadership and initiative. There is also the need for a measure of courage and self-sacrifice. John Mark showed a certain amount of character in being willing first to leave his family and friends in Jerusalem for Antioch and then to leave for Cyprus with Paul and Barnabas at the start of the first missionary journey. Sea travel in those days was perilous and Mark cannot have known what he was going to meet with. Sadly, when they reached Pamphylia, however, he was just not up to it and returned home, much to Paul’s sadness. Timothy showed a similar courage in being willing to leave his home and loved ones in Lystra. This included undergoing the painful operation of circumcision for the sake of the gospel. He showed even more courage when later Paul began to send him on trips on his behalf such as that into Macedonia (Acts 19:22). We sometimes think of Timothy as Timid Timothy but I think we will find that was not his temperament after all. Being a 21st Century assistant pastor in the west probably does not demand the same level of self-sacrifice and courage as being a 1st Century assistant apostle but it does call for such things. Pray for such people.

What does he do?

Bearing in mind the above data I think that we can list some three possible roles that we can expect an assistant pastor to fulfil.

One hears of instances where a minister sends his assistant to deputise and there are complaints – not because of any incompetence on the assistant’s part but because ‘it’s not the minister’. Paul seeks to nip this attitude in the bud in 1 Corinthians 16:10, 11 If Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. No-one, then, should refuse to accept him. Send him on his way in peace …. Congregations and others need to know that if an assistant deputises for the minister they should make him feel quite at home with them for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as the minister. No-one, then, should refuse to accept him.

To sum up, an assistant does very much the things that the minister does, though hopefully with fresh insight and initiative. Sometimes he will do things with the minister, sometimes instead of him. All the while he is learning the ropes, training for his future work in pastoral ministry.

What can be expected?

Assistants must expect temptations. Three obvious examples come to mind.

by Gary Brady Pastor for over fifteen years at Child’s Hill Baptist Church, London.

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