Have you been to a church where the pastor had an armor-bearer? What do you think about a pastor relying on a personal assistant in order to be freed up to focus on preaching and teaching?
armor-bearer n. A personal assistant or aide to a pastor, evangelist, or other church leader.
This figurative sense of armor-bearer as an assistant seems to have originated with James Davenport (1716–1757), a popular traveling evangelist (see quotes from 1742, 1743, 1842, 1928, 1996). Davenport referred to I Samuel 14:7 as his inspiration for using this term in his ministry (see 1743 citation).
Since the late 20th century, the term (and the role it describes) tend to be more frequent in Black churches than in other denominations.
Note that some African and Caribbean religious cults use the term armor-bearer to refer to certain functionaries in their rituals. So be cautious in using the term armor-bearer with someone who might be familiar with these cults.
See also *Paul–Timothy friendship; *stand in the gap.
• 1742 New-London (14 Mar.) 3 : At the Beginning of the present Month came to this Place the famous Mr. Davenport, accompanied with Three Armour-Bearers, and some others; upon his Arrival, the Christians, or dear Children, gather’d round about him in Crouds, who paid him such profound Respect. 1743 Chauncy Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England 196 : Mr. Davenport … was asked, why he call’d his Fellow-Traveller his Armour-Bearer? In Reply whereto, he said, that before he commenc’d Itinerant, this Brother that was now with him, and had been his Fellow-Traveller from the beginning, propos’d to him to go and preach the Gospel beyond the Bounds of his own Congregation…. After some Meditation upon it, and Prayer to God, as he [=Davenport] opened the Bible to read, the Story of Jonathan and his Armour-Bearer cast up to him, without his having the least Thought of turning to it…. He communicated this Impression to the Man, who answered as Jonathan’s Armour-Bearer did, do all that is in thine Heart, behold, I am with thee. 1798 Butler The Lives of the Primitive Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints 421 : Thus the saint finished his martyrdom on the 20th of November, in 870, the fifteenth of his reign, and twenty-ninth of his age; the circumstances of which St. Dunstan learned from one who was armour-bearer to the saint, and an eye-witness. 1842 Tracy The Great Awakening: A Hist. Revival of Religion in the Time of Edwards and Whitefield 234 : At length, some of the people in Easthampton said they should like to have [Davenport] come and preach to them. He went, with his friend before mentioned, up to their knees in snow, as Jonathan and his armor-bearer climbed up the hill to the Philistines, on their hands and knees. This same man [=Tuthill] generally accompanied him in his future itinerations, and was called by Davenport and by others throughout the country, his armor-bearer. 1868 “The Cherokees in North Carolina” The Am. Baptist Year-Book 39 : Bro. Morris married a native, and has stood for about forty years as an open door for the Gospel among the red men. He was armor-bearer to Elder Posey, the memorable founder of this mission, whose work is still following, although he has long been resting from his labors. 1873 Swan The Evangelist: or, Life and Labors of Rev. Jabez S. Swan 177 : Let it not be supposed in the prominent mention we make of the names of the evangelists who led out the elect host in the revival epochs of our country, that we ascribe to them undue influence and honor. We remember all who did preparatory work; and all who stood valiantly by their side as armor bearers or aids. 1900 Banks David and His Friends: A Series of Revival Sermons 63 : There are many ways in which the individual members of a church may be helpful armor-bearers to the pastor in a time like this. 1907 Pidgin Theodosia, the First Gentlewoman of Her Time 90 : A flaming young preacher … has come to town…. His name is Buell…. Mr. Buell will stay the second week and then Mr. Hopkins will go with him, as a kind of armor-bearer, or lieutenant, to Boston, to capture that city for the Lord. 1928 Loud Evangelized America 69 : Benjamin Pomroy of Hebron … Davenport’s “armor-bearer.” 1996 Cray “James Davenport’s Post-Bonfire Ministry, 1743–1757” The Historian 59/1 (Sep.) 62 : A privileged few assumed the role of “armor bearer,” personal escorts who physically carried or assisted the often ill preacher in his travels. 2002 Rubietta How to Keep 49 : Robert’s church set up a chain of contact by appointing an elder to function as a liaison between church, board and Robert himself. This gentleman defuses inflammatory situations and handles communication problems and questions, interpreting situations for both parties. Functioning much as an armor bearer in the Old Testament, he has become not only an advocate for the pastor but also a tried and true friend, standing in the gap and facilitating godly relationships between minister, staff and church. 2002 Brown In the Spirit of Armorbearing: Being the Gift of Support to God’s Leaders 11 : A modern day armorbearer is one called by God to serve and help his assigned leader in life, ministry, and especially in the fight of faith. 2004 Childers Purposes of Preaching 54 : Preaching at times seems to be a competition based on the number of call-in supporters, money raised, size of church, size of building, number of “armor bearers” and ministers on staff or conference invitations. 2007 Matthews I’ll Come … When I Get Myself Together 166 : That brought back memories of how I used to serve my Pastor when I was an associate minister. I was what they referred to as my Pastor’s “Armor Bearer.” I made sure he had whatever he needed so all he had to do was focus on preaching the Word. I often got teased by other ministers or lay people for being the Pastor’s flunky—but I didn’t care. 2007 Hendricks The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus 90 : An example of these status claims is seen in the increasingly popular practice of ministers’ having attendants, often called “armor bearers,” to serve their every need, when in the testimony of the scriptures this was a privilege reserved for kings. 2008 Cooke Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Non-Profits Make a Difference and Other’s Don’t 111 : The current rage in many churches is the role of “armor bearer.” While the term is a bit out of touch, the concept isn’t necessarily a bad one. Based on an assistant who helps a warrior with his armor, in today’s churches it’s often a personal assistant who carries the pastor’s cell phone, Bible or briefcase, helping him or her with schedules, navigating crowds, driving cars, and dealing with other details. 2009 McClain Kingdomgarten Kids 68 : The small-time preacher can’t wait to get big so that he can have two armor bearers following him around everywhere. But hold on, you don’t have to pastor thousands in order to have armor bearers. 2011 Har’rell Church Boy in the Dark ch. 5 : He asked me if I would like to begin traveling with him as his armor bearer. Basically that is a preacher’s caddy. 2011 Gilbert The Journey and Promise of African American Preaching 137 : [A pastor’s] ministry staff—so-called armor bearers—those deemed part of the pastor or bishop’s inner circle, have the critical function of protecting his or her life physically but also ensuring that the privacy and desired liberties of the pastor are not encroached upon.