August 20, 2017

Windows into the Life of a Pastor and His Assistant

Mike Stalnaker

Windows • FrontLine • September/October 2007

This issue’s Windows emphasizes the theme of ministry assistants. Both the senior pastor and assistant pastor are to be faithful in their obligations.

The Foundation of a Ministry Assistant

George Ella tells of a time when the members of John Gill’s church encouraged him to hire an assistant pastor:

By 1 April 1771, however, Gill was growing noticeably weaker. This caused some disquiet amongst a number of young people in the congregation who felt that as their pastor could now only preach once on Sundays, he should at least take on a young co-pastor to assist him as a son would his father, or as Timothy helped Paul. The church was gradually reaching the stage, they argued, when all the “hearers” i.e., the unconverted and non-members, were being “drawn off.” Twenty-two of them, supported by two deacons Button and Warne, who eventually left the church after Gill’s death, thus conveyed their views to Gill in a letter, arguing that the deacons were not answering the needs of both members and hearers. Unusual for such a letter was the fact that ten sisters signed the letter first, this being always the prerogative of the brethren.

This move strengthened Gill’s determination to resign as he realized that the time was more than ripe to hand his mantle to a younger person. His reply was read out to the full church on 29 April.

Dear Brethren and Sisters,

. . . That Christ gives pastors to churches is certain, but that he gives Co-pastors is not so certain: a Co-pastor, you seem to be desirous of, is an Officer the Scripture is entirely silent about; and which is much the same thing, as if a man should take to himself another wife; whilst his first wife is living; or rather, as if a woman should marry another man, whilst she is under the law, dominion and power of her former husband: the instance of Timothy serving with the Apostle Paul as a son with a father is not the case; for they were neither of them pastors of any particular churches much less co-pastors; the one was an apostle, the other an evangelist—both extraordinary Ministers; the one accompanied the other in his travels into different countries and was sent by him into different parts, but stayed not long in any place: It would therefore, be more clear and unexceptionable, for me by consent to lay down my Office as Pastor, when your way will be plain and open to chuse another, and when you come to such a choice, may you be directed to chuse one who is sound in the faith, studious and diligent in his work and exemplary in his life and conversation; and may you have one to preach the gospel to you as faithfully as I have done, according to the best of my lights and abilities; I can’t say, I wish he may serve you, as long as, I have, for perhaps that may be but to his disadvantage and yours, but I wish he may serve you with greater success.

There my dear friends, are my best wishes for you, Who for the present am, but not long expected to be your Pastor, Elder and Overseer

John Gill[1]

Unlike Gill, who resisted the office of an assistant pastor, his successor, C. H. Spurgeon instated his brother James to serve as his assistant. It was said of James that “during the remainder of his brother’s life ‘he did a vast amount of daily routine work at the Tabernacle, of which the outside public heard little and knew less, but in the doing of which proved the most effective assistant to the senior pastor that could possibly have been provided.’”[2]

Godly assistants are still needed today, and their ministry can greatly bless senior pastors, as well as impact the cause of Christ in local churches. As James Stalker wrote,

The average man cares little for the future, except so far perhaps as his own offspring may be concerned: if he is happy, what does it matter to him what the state of the world will be after he is dead? But to a Christian it does matter. The faith and love in his heart bind him to the saints yet unborn. He is interested in a cause which is to go on after he has left it, and which he is to meet and take up again at a subsequent stage of his existence. It is almost as important to him how the work of Christ will be prospering when he is in his grave as how it is prospering now. This ought to make us think anxiously of those who are to be doing the work after we have left it. Christ thought of this from the very commencement of His own activity; and it was not too soon. A man may do more for a cause by bringing younger forces into its service and training them to their work than by lavishing on it every moment of his own time and every atom of his energy.[3]

The Importance of Training Ministry Assistants

Commenting on pastors who were successful in training younger men in the ministry, Spurgeon said,

Those pastors or shepherds always have a younger brother to travel with them wherever they go. He watches the elder pastor, observes his ways, listens to his holy prayers, is inspired with his spirit, learns to tread the craggy mountains with him, learns to defy the enemy through the course that he sees in his elder brother. He learns lessons of wisdom that are not to be learnt from books, lessons of practical pastoral training that are not to be gathered from the best professors of the best colleges in the world.[4]

Even before he started a college, Spurgeon felt such a burden about training men that he challenged his church to realize their responsibility to train the next generation:

The church of God, not a college, is the pillar and ground of the truth. Every church should itself see to the education of its own young men. It should look out for its own evangelists. It should train its own soldiers and send them forth to the fight. . . . The church, then, has no right to delegate to another her own work. Let her bring forth her own children; let her give them nourishment; let her train them up; let her send them forth to do the Master’s work. . . . Let the church of Christ train her own citizens for the battle of Christ. Let her bring up her own young warriors for the defense and maintenance of the truth.[5]

This is not to say that there is no need for further education in a college setting, but to challenge pastors to help train younger men for ministry. Spurgeon was clearly not opposed to colleges for training men for the ministry.

Be a Principled Assistant

Be a servant.

A leader in the Church of Scotland said to Mr. Taylor: “You must be sometimes tempted to be proud because of the wonderful way God used you.” Hudson Taylor replied, “On the contrary, I often think that God must have been looking for someone small enough and weak enough for Him to use, and that He found me.”[6]

Be willing to sacrifice.

People talk about sacrifice. Can that be called sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of our debt owed to our God which we can never repay? Away with such a word, such a view, such a thought. It is emphatically no sacrifice, say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering danger now and then, the foregoing of the common charities of this life may make us pause and cause the spirit to waver and sink, but let this be only for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us. For this we ought not to talk when we remember the great sacrifice which He made Who left His Father’s throne on High and gave Himself for us.[7]

Be careful.

“The young man who cannot distinguish between the wolves and the dogs should not think about becoming a shepherd.”[8]

“A bad dog sees not the thief. We have plenty of bad dogs nowadays. Ministers will not see the error which abounds; statesmen wink hard at vice; and religious people sleep while Satan plunders the church.”[9]

Be candid.

Timothy Tatum served in the U.S. Military as a chaplain for almost thirty years. “Military commanders,” he observes, “have found that a staff that thinks like them will praise a decision that may lead to destruction. They need men on their staff that see the world differently and react differently to the world around them. . . . Like the general, we need people on our staff who see the weakness in our position or who use their intuitive strengths to see a different picture.”[10]

Be faithful.

If you hired a gardener to take care of your lawn and then went past his house and saw that his own yard was sloppy and unkempt, would you trust him with the care of your lawn? Or, if you went to the dentist to get your teeth checked and sat down in the chair only to look up to see that the dentist had a mouth full of rotten teeth, would you trust him to work on your teeth? How can a minister expect any positive response to his ministry if his life is not holy?[11]

It was said of Alexander Whyte, after “he went home to be with the Lord each of the younger men gave thanks for the privilege of having worked with such a leader. They all appreciated his letting them do the work in their own way, without suggestions or criticisms.”[12] May God help all pastors—senior and assistants—to make an impact on others for the glory of God and not our own!


Dr. Mike Stalnaker is the pastor of Community Baptist Church, Spring Hill, TN.

(Originally published in FrontLine • September/October 2007. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. George M. Ella, John Gill and the Cause of God and Truth (Durham, England: Go Publications, Bath Press, 1995), 240–41. []
  2. Ibid., 79. []
  3. James Stalker, Studies on the Person of Christ (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1995), 274–75; emphasis added. []
  4. Charles H. Spurgeon, “Church Conservative and Aggressive,” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim, 1976), 7:367. []
  5. Ibid., 363–64. []
  6. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (Chicago: Moody Press, 1932), 201–2. []
  7. David Livingstone, Livingstone’s Private Journal: 1851–53, ed. I. Schapera (London: Chatto and Windus, 1960), 108. []
  8. Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1985), 917. []
  9. Charles H. Spurgeon, The Wit and Wisdom of Charles H. Spurgeon (Baltimore: R. H. Woodward and Company, 1891), 201. []
  10. Timothy C. Tatum, “What We Can Learn from the Military about Pastoral Leadership.” Voice of the Alumni, May/June 1999, 32. []
  11. Michael P. Green, 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 242–43. []
  12. Andrew W. Blackwood, Pastoral Leadership (Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1949), 89. []

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