The work of elder/shepherd/pastor is clearly defined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, 2 Timothy 2:15, and Titus 1:5-9. These descriptions and qualifications are essential for all pastors.
Because of the unique culture and learning styles and preferences of Deaf people,a pastor/shepherd of a Deaf Church must not only meet these biblical requirements, he must be able to do so effectively utilizing the signed heart language of the congregation and its members.
The pastor of a Deaf Church is to be a servant leader, effective communicator, encourager, teacher, and discipler. He leads the church to fulfill her task of being the incarnation of Christ on Earth, the obedient and sanctified Bride of Christ. He leads the church to pursue the Great Commission through faithfully proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nations.
The pastor of a Deaf Church must sense a divine call to equip the members of the church for ministry by helping each member discover their spiritual gifts, develop those gifts, encourage members to engage in ministry opportunities and serve as an example/mentor for ministry.
A pastor of a local Deaf Church must be a born again Christ follower who has an active and growing relationship with our Savior. He must be a person of prayer, one who is growing in his knowledge of Scripture and who obediently puts into practice what he understands of God’s Word. He must be a person who is able to clearly discern God’s will for his life and the life of the church.
Although all pastors have different gifts, abilities, training, education, personality and experience, a pastor of a Deaf church is seen as the servant leader who actively and willingly knows his congregation. He seeks to nourish the members through accurately, clearly and faithfully communicating the word of God through ASL (or other specific signed languages).
The pastor of a Deaf Church must be an effective communicator. He must provide wise counsel in a variety of circumstances to a variety of individuals. The Bible is the basis for all his teaching, leadership and counseling. He must be available to meet with people in or away from their homes and in places like nursing homes and hospitals to pray with, encourage and minister to their needs.
The pastor of a Deaf church is to openly demonstrate his love for the Lord above everything else and to love others as described in Matthew 22:34-40. He must be a person who spends quality time in prayer and studying Scripture and who lives his faith in an open and dynamic way (Acts 4:8-20)
This individual must be able to effectively communicate in the signed/heart language of the congregation the truth as found in the Bible. He must be able to teach, instruct, encourage, correct and rebuke as needed using the word of God as his authority.
The pastor/shepherd of a Deaf church is a lifelong learner. He is to be a person well-grounded in Scripture and is actively/growing daily in his faith. He is a born-again follower of Jesus who understands his calling to minister.
Different Deaf churches have different educational requirements for a person to serve as pastor. Some may require a college education. Others may require studies at a seminary or the Deaf Training Center (Brentwood, TN). While formal education is not a biblical requirement, a local congregation may deem formal training as desirable.
It will be imperative that the pastor/shepherd has been mentored and instructed in how to correctly and effectively interpret the Word of God. Through studying biblical theology and hermeneutics, the pastor of the Deaf church will better be able to guard against heretical teaching and defend the faith.
It is essential that the pastor/shepherd of a Deaf church have an in-depth understanding of Deaf culture and be able to clearly preach, teach, exhort, encourage and mentor in ASL (or another specified Sign language). Normally, a Deaf church will expect their pastor to be Deaf, a CODA, Hard of Hearing or otherwise have a lifelong history of being immersed in the Deaf community.
Deaf Peoples are found throughout the world and live in virtually every community. The need for Deaf churches (churches which are Deaf-led, in signed worship and teaching) continues to grow. There are a number of Deaf churches who do not have a pastor. Among the Deaf there is a desire to begin new Deaf churches, but often there is not a qualified pastor or church planter for these new Deaf works.
Because many Deaf churches are smaller congregations, a pastor/shepherd will often be bi-vocational. There are a number of SBC churches that have a Deaf church as a part of multi-congregational structure. In these circumstances, the pastor/shepherd of the Deaf church will lead the Deaf to function autonomously but collaboratively with the hearing congregation.
Pastors/shepherds of Deaf churches are selected and called by the members of the church to serve. Deaf churches often seek counsel from other Deaf congregations and agencies of the state/national SBCD (Southern Baptist Conference of Deaf churches) for suggestions and recommendations as they seek to find a pastor for their local church.
Because of the knowledge, gifts, training and experience a pastor/shepherd of a Deaf church may have, he may occasionally be asked to serve as a consultant to SBC/SBCD agencies. Such consultation may be to give input as to where and when a new Deaf church should be planted, how a local association or state convention may more effectively establish or more strategically target the Deaf community for evangelism and discipleship efforts. He may be asked to represent the Deaf community to different agencies and boards and explain the spiritual and social needs of Deaf to others.