When I was a seminary student I heard of struggles that some of my friends (who had graduated a year or so ahead of me) were already experiencing as they served as associate pastors. At that time, it seemed to me that their biggest challenge emanated from the interpersonal relationship with their senior pastor rather than from working with both the wider community and the community of Christ to which they had been called.
In the ensuing years, upon reflection and with a certain amount of experience, I have become more convinced than ever that successful ministry is always a team effort; and especially when a church has multiple staff, the senior or lead pastor ought rightly shoulder the mantle of leadership amongst the staff as they serve along side one another and the congregation in carrying out Matthew 28: 16-20.
This means that for facilitating effective ministry, the pastor’s relationship with fellow team members is a crucial one.
Therefore, in these next two blogs, I want to consider two inter-related ideas:
- What a senior pastor ‘owes’ his or her associate pastor(s), or what an associate should expect from their senior pastor, and
- What an associate pastor ‘owes’ his or her senior pastor, or what a senior pastor should expect from his or her associate(s).
What a Senior Leader ‘Owes’ His or Her Associate Pastor:
- A valuing and understanding of the unique strengths and weaknesses that their associate pastor possesses. A wise leader will encourage the associate pastor to build on his or her strengths as a first priority while also effectively managing/minimizing their weaknesses as a second priority. The senior pastor should be able to both coach and champion the associate in terms of these two priorities.
- Clarity. An associate pastor should expect clarity in relationship to: the vision of the organization; responsibilities and behavioural expectations of their role; available resources for carrying out their responsibilities; defined accountability (to whom and in what manner); and an understanding of how success will be monitored, measured and rewarded.
- Team solidarity. Team members need to have one another’s backs. I love watching leaders who are quick to share their praise of others but step up and assume responsibility when there are problems. Of course, when the situation requires, the lead pastor must address areas of concern, but this should be done with the necessary degree of confidentially while following properly defined guidelines.
- Grace. The truth is, we all slip up at times. Commitments are forgotten. We stick our foot in our mouth. We fail to respond to a need. Some questions a lead pastor should ask are: Can this be survived? Is it representative of an oft-repeated pattern that requires address, or is it more of a one-of? Is the failure a result of attempting something great (recognizing that we cannot be afraid of failure, for without the willingness to risk failure success will never be achieved).
Of course, these reflections are not exhaustive nor are they nuanced as well as I would like, but simply are offered to stimulate conversation and encourage the development of best practices. What are some other things that you think of? Share them below (but please, do not use this as an attempt to take a ‘swipe’ at anyone), and don’t forget to watch for Part 2, which is what the Associate Pastor ‘Owes’ his or her senior pastor.