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Associate Pastor

The untraditional associate pastor

It’s been a little over four years since I wrote, The Work of the Associate Pastor (Judson Press) and a lot has changed. As church budgets get smaller and the pews reveal increasingly empty space, many church leaders cannot fathom having an associate pastor on a church staff.  A Hartford Institute for Religion Research study found that from 2010 to 2015, part-time clergy jumped from 29% to 38%. If it’s hard enough to staff one pastoral position, how could a church even think about two?

The answer is: it’s time to consider another model of associate pastor. Continue Reading…

Associate pastor demoted to church plant


Since writing my book, The Work of The Associate Pastor (Judson Press), I’ve come to two realizations. First, I found that there are very few articles, resources or blogs devoted to my book topic. Second, writing on leadership, ministry, and associate pastor work while trying to inject humor is challenging.  I’m just not that humorous when compared to such greats as Unvirtuous Abbey.

However, I found this gem over at The Babylon Bee, the trusted source in Christian news, brings us this sad sack tale of a lonely associate pastor. Enjoy:

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Finding the associate pastor you need


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:

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5 things associate pastors need to survive


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:

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Don’t forget about associate pastors



Last week I spoke to a group of associate pastors at a continuing education program with the  American Baptist Churches of New Jersey. This group of associates was very diverse demographically, but they all shared the same challenges.

I started on the topics of identity, calling, and roll of the associate pastor. Then, several folks brought up other associates books, “Leading from the Second Chair” or “Second Chair, Not Second Best”. Though I’m pretty enamored with “The Work of the Associate Pastor“,  I spoke about how those other books fail to see one thing: the power dynamic in the analogy of “second chair” is fundamentally flawed.

As I shared with this group of associate pastors that the power dynamics of #1 verse #2 pastor is not helpful. Ordering pastors with numbers frustrates associates into seeing themselves as lesser instead of seeing themselves into a different calling than their senior pastors. The relationship between the senior and associate pastor should be one of mutuality. Obviously, there is a supervisory role that the senior pastor must take, but that doesn’t mean that pastors cannot treat one another as equals.

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Are church staff associates sidekicks?

Remember to enter to win a free copy of my new Judson Press book.

With my new book The Work of the Associate Pastor out, fellow blogger and Baptist minister, Tripp Huggins (aka AngloBaptist) posed an interesting question to me, “are associates sidekicks?”

I wonder if this imagery is helpful or even healthy?

Tripp quotes from the book, The Wicked Truth About Love:

Sidekicks have enormous hearts and are incredibly intuitive about what other people need. They live to serve and get real joy out of helping those around them be successful. They don’t need the spotlight but celebrate when the spotlight shines on their family or friends. Sidekicks need to be needed more than they need to be loved. The Wicked Truth About Love can help a Sidekick lover figure out why they fall into this pattern.

I have not read the book, but at first I had a hard time with this image of church staff associates as sidekicks.

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Three simple ways to appreciate your associate pastor

Associate pastors, youth ministers, and other staff ministers often do the unglamorous jobs of ministry without much recognition. Associates have a calling and a title, but they often do not preach, must attend church meetings, and juggle several responsibilities which may be unrelated to their job description. It can be a thankless job.

Senior pastors and church leadership need to recognize the special nature and challenges of associates. They spend many hours doing unappreciated jobs that senior pastors would rather not do: long retreat weekends, spending time with youth, and responding to congregant complaints when the senior pastor is not around. Churches will be better served if they appreciate and recognize their associate minister’s work.

Since associates are often undercompensated to begin with, senior pastors and church leadership can show appreciation through simple actions. Recognizing their standing and place in the church will enable an associate’s longevity and self-esteem. Here’s how you can show your appreciation:

Appreciation through pulpit time. Many senior pastors guard their pulpit as if they were guarding Fort Knox. Let go! Give your associate an opportunity to preach. Some senior pastors worry that handing over the pulpit may lead to parishioners liking the associate more. Nelson Mandela once said, “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” Congregations will see a senior pastor’s strong leadership by allowing associates to take center stage. It shows that the senior has good skills in developing talented leaders by letting the associate take center stage for a short while.

Appreciation through quality time with the senior pastor. It’s easy for the senior pastor to go through their week and forget to meet or spend time with the associate. Senior pastors have to worry about budgets, administration, church meetings, pastoral calls, and sermon preparation. However, they should be sure to carve out quality time with associates. Taking associates to lunch, going to conferences together, or any time that can be spent together away from church will lead to greater trust and mutual appreciation.

Appreciation through loyalty. Church folk may think loyalty goes up the chain of command but it also goes down. If an associate makes a mistake, defend the associate. Then, in private, talk to the associate about what happened and provide encouragement. Being loyal to an associate pastor means publicly thanking and backing up the associate’s work in ministry. Duffy Robbins, youth ministry guru, once said, “If you are not making mistakes in ministry you are not trying hard enough.” Loyalty is about preserving relationship over failures and celebrating successes.

Aside from the obvious pay raise, these three simple acts of appreciation will go a long way in the eye of your associate and will bless your church’s ministry. Building confidence through appreciation will make for healthy church staff dynamics and will aid an associate’s work as a fellow minister.

Do you have associate or assistant ministers in your church? Are you an associate pastor? Get a copy of my book, The Work of the Associate Pastor. This valuable resource will set associates and churches up for success.

Associate pastors are not second chairs

2chairIn an informal interview for an associate pastor position, I was once told by a senior pastor, “Being an associate pastor is about paying the rent.”

“What’s paying the rent have to do with ministry?” I asked. I thought the church might be tight on cash! The senior pastor explained that paying the rent was about doing all the aspects of ministry that most pastors do not like to do, like working with youth groups. As I heard these words, I knew that there was something very wrong with this philosophy of ministry.

The senior pastor finished his thought with, “It’s about playing second chair to the senior pastor.”

In the relatively small market for books on associate pastors, a common image is portrayed: associates are like second chairs. In an orchestra setting, the second chair plays behind or next to the first chair, who is usually more talented or more skilled.  The associate as a second chair is an analogy that is fundamentally flawed in its approach.

In my book, The Work of the Associate Pastor I explain why associate pastor ministry is a calling, not a step on the vocational ladder of ministry. Accepting a ministry position as an associate pastor should come out of a sense that God desires you to use your gifts in a particular way. The second chair approach to associate-senior pastor relationship is more often about power and authority. Senior pastors might be tempted to employ the use of this relationship, but it will leave associates feeling micromanaged and frustrated.

If the second chair approach to associates is not a fruitful one, then how should churches and pastors articulate the relationship of associates and seniors?

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