Being an associate pastor is both very rewarding and challenging. It is not necessarily the role that is difficult but rather the mindset that goes with it. Here are few things I learned during my time as an associate pastor that may help you.
1. Have a clear role.
This is easy for a youth pastor, less easy for a generic associate position. At one church I was at, my job description was basically to make things easier for the senior pastor. That went as well as you may imagine. Make sure that you have a clear job description and put your energy into that.
2. Invest in your relationship with the senior pastor.
You are paid to minister to the church but the success of that ministry largely depends on your relationship with the senior pastor. Do not start investing in this when things go bad and you need the senior pastor’s support. Start from day one.
3. Don’t get competitive.
I don’t know why, but there are people in every congregation that like to pit the pastors against each other. They offer subtle little comments about who preaches better or who has the funnier jokes. They know how to stroke the ego. Get away from those conversations as quickly as possible. Pastoral staff are a team and not a competition.
4. Be secure in your role.
One of the most discouraging things is when you visit someone from the congregation and they ask you when “the pastor” will be visiting them. Or a well-meaning member asks you if you are considering becoming a “real pastor.” Those things will happen. You cannot get your affirmation from people who misunderstand the role of an associate pastor. Know who you are, the ministry you have and the impact you are having on the congregation.
5. Enjoy what you have.
Some associate pastors go into the position as a stepping stone. They are hoping for a few years experience so they can get the job they really want, that is a senior pastor of a nice, thriving church. God often does use the experience of an associate pastor to make good senior pastors, but don’t get ahead of yourself. If you are focused only on the ministry as a stepping stone, you may not be either a good associate or senior pastor. There is much about associate pastoral ministry that you should enjoy right now. In fact, if I returned to pastoral ministry, I would be looking for an associate position rather than a senior position.
If you are an associate pastor, God bless you! Churches need good associate pastors and I hope you are one. Some of that comes through natural gifts but some of it also comes through the choices you make. I hope these tips will help you to make good choices.