The work of an associate pastor often does not receive the high praise or support compared to their senior pastor. Associate pastors have the challenging task of supporting the mission and vision of the church under the leadership of their senior pastor. Often, in the course of this supportive role, associates experience disagreements and their frustration can undermine staff synergy.
Church leadership and senior pastors need to realize the unique nature of associate pastor ministry. There are several key support mechanisms that need to be in place for associate pastors:
Consistent time with the senior/lead pastor - The senior/lead pastor has to have the ability to coach and carved out out time in his or her schedule for associates. Spending consistent time with associates communicates that they are important, their work is important, and that their input is valued. This will only help associate pastors experience collegiality with their senior, which is very crucial to associates.
Lay leader support and team – Churches make sure that their senior pastor has lay leaders and other supportive folks in the church, but does the associate pastor have the same type of support? Church leadership must support associates in the same way by creating teams to support the ministries of support pastors.
Ability to fail, and recover - I heard Duff Robbins, youth ministry guru and author, once say: “If you haven’t failed with a ministry idea, you are not trying hard enough.” What Robbins was addressing is an attitude of a lack of risk taking. Trying new ideas, ministries, and outreach ideas need to be encouraged among associate pastors and support staff. Churches can only grow if their leaders are encouraged to try new ideas or resurrect old ones. Evaluating what went right and what went wrong helps associates learn.
Time in the pulpit - Though the senior pastor might be accustomed to being the only “preacher” in the church, he or she must share the pulpit. Giving associates the chance to preach signals that the associate is trusted and valued. Also, it gives the primary preacher a rest. In addition, it shows the congregation that an associate is not a one dimensional minister but has other gifts in ministry.
Means for coping - This last one is critical. An associate pastor needs a support group of peers and lay leaders. A support group of other associates is ideal, but may not be available in every area of ministry. Having a means for coping with frustrations, disappointments, and other personal matters will help the longevity of the associate in ministry.
By putting these 5 ideas into practice your associate will work better within your church’s ministry and with the senior pastor.
Alan Rudnick is the senior pastor of The First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa and the author of “The Work of Associate Pastor” (Judson Press, 2012).