The role of the associate pastor or minister is one that many churches think they cannot afford. In reality, the are a variety of ministry callings that do not involve staffing a full-time pastor or minister. In many cases, the associate pastor or minister can be found in their church.
As church budgets get tighter congregations struggle to use lay people to meet the needs of church goers. This model can be effective but there are particular situations where a church needs an associate pastor. The typical indicator of the need for staffing another minister is when the worship or membership begins to approach the hundred mark: 200, 300, and so on.
Typically, the larger the church the more likely that a church can fund a full-time associate pastor. For those churches that hover around the 150-200 membership range, they should make a plan for staffing an associate pastor. Not every pastor or ministry on staff needs to be seminary trained.
I use the term associate pastor/minister interchangeably. In the free church tradition, every member is a minister. Depending on your tradition, the tile of pastor may carry a different meaning. Regardless, most denominational polity allows for a church to empower a person with a specific ministry as “minister of ….”. Your church would benefit from utilizing people in your own congregation for the work of an associate pastor/minister. Here are some ways to staff such a position:
Retired pastors/ministers: You may not be able to find a seminary educated and ordained individual but there are retire pastors who would enjoy sharing in the life of a church. These retired pastors can work part-time with ministries such as visitation, prayer meetings, Sunday school, Bible studies, and preaching.
Youth and children workers: Everyone wants a dynamic seminary trained youth pastor/minister, but those are challenging to find. Instead, look to invest in a someone who has a calling for youth ministry. Perhaps a church could fund their training or education in exchange for their work with youth. In my community, a number of churches committed to funding a community youth minister to work with all our youth groups. We support this person with housing, compensation, and training for youth ministry.
Educators: My church is full of educators. They keep up to date with all the different approaches to learning. Teachers and educators can lend their skills and talents to their church as a minister or pastor of education. Educators can aid discipleship and education teams/committees in their approach to Christian education.
Nurses/health aids: The concept of the parish nurse is not new. Many believe that a parish nurse is just a nurse, but they are more than that. They are ministers of visitation and healing. With some trailing and guidance, a nurse could volunteer or be paid to visit elderly church members or those who are recovering from surgery as a minister of visitation and care.
Musicians: Every community has a musician of some sort. Usually, they are teachers in public school or are private tutors. Many churches have a “director of music”, but to strengthen the role churches should consider calling them “minister of music”. Seeing their work as ministry empowers a music program to see itself not as just music but a ministry that is filled with the presence of Christ.
With prayer and planning, your church’s leadership should consider what the needs of the congregation are. By looking within the congregation, you can find members who have gifts for ministry. Adding an associate pastor or minister might be easier than you think and will empower leaders to see their work as ministry.
Rev. Alan Rudnick is the author of “The Work of Associate Pastor” (Judson Press).