4 Ways To Set Your Associate Pastor Up For Success


If I were to tell you that I was a Senior Pastor or a Teaching Pastor, chances are, you would have a pretty good idea of what my role and responsibilities were in the church. However, if I told you I was an Associate Pastor, it would be slightly ambiguous what I did. The reality is that Associate Pastor roles are as unique as the hundreds of churches we have had the privilege of partnering with. That’s because Associate Pastors are often the "utility players" – the staff members who tend to wear a number of hats and carry a variety of responsibilities to make the ministry happen.

Some Associate Pastors teach on Sunday mornings, others run youth programs, and still others manage volunteers and administration. I have experienced this first hand from years of being an Associate Pastor at my previous church.

Because the Associate Pastor position can be so flexible, it can be a strong asset to a church. But the role can also be a difficult position to navigate. When such a flexible position is left undefined, it is easy for the Associate Pastor to grow frustrated or for the expectations of the senior leadership to be unmet.

Here are four ways to set your Associate Pastor up for success.

1. Define the needs within the church.

When establishing or revising an Associate Pastor role, it is important to take the time to identify and explore the immediate needs of the church. This means evaluating the direction of the church, how it has taken steps towards accomplishing the vision God has given, and where it seems to be falling short or lacking. This may take some time, as there is often a difference between the expressed and perceived needs of the church.

We experienced this in my previous church. We had a strong desire to develop in-depth devotional curriculum but had to choose between that and investing time in connecting with newcomers. In the end, we realized that because we happened to be an extremely transient community, creating a strong connection process for newcomers was more important than developing the curriculum. If people didn’t stick around, there would be no one to benefit from the devotional material to begin with. Make the true needs clear to your Associate Pastor.

2. Prioritize responsibilities and tasks.

Anyone who has ever been in any kind of ministry position knows that there is always more to be done. Even after putting in a full week’s work, there are more projects to complete, meetings to schedule, and lessons to prepare. This reality can easily be even more present for the role of the Associate Pastor due to the fact that they often have responsibilities in multiple areas of the church. If each responsibility is given the same priority, it is only a matter of time before the spinning plates begin to fall. Furthermore, when every responsibility is weighted the same, every spinning plate that falls and breaks is felt as a huge failure.

As an Associate Pastor, I found that it was incredibly helpful and freeing to spend time working with my Lead Pastor to determine which responsibilities and tasks were the most important and which could fall to the wayside if necessary. The beauty of this lies within the fact that the most important things almost always get taken care of, and the less important things still happen, but at a time when it doesn’t jeopardize the core ministry.

3. Schedule regular meetings with leadership.

Because the Associate Pastor's role is often determined by the needs of the church (which are constantly changing) it is important to have regularly scheduled meetings with the leadership of the church. While these meetings should include reports on what work was accomplished, they should also be a place where the task priorities are reviewed and adjusted as necessary. An Associate Pastor’s time is a crucial resource to the church and should be treated as such.

By scheduling regular check-ins and reviews (my team has these meetings every two weeks here at Vanderbloemen), you not only ensure that the valuable resources of time and energy are being used well, but you will also create a space for the Associate Pastor to express frustrations, concerns, or ask questions when necessary. Creating an open channel for communication builds healthy organizational relationships, which can often extinguish conflicts before they begin.

4. Set attainable goals and celebrate them!

It is always tempting to treat an Associate Pastor like a first mate of a ship, whose job is to plug all of the leaks in the boat expecting it to be done out of duty. However, ministry is a long journey, and running from one leak to another can get exhausting, especially when it seems like the leaks never end. That said, it is important to set measurable goals for anyone in the Associate Pastor role. Because so much of the work of ministry produces intangible results, having work that can be officially be “checked off the list” or labeled as done at the end of the day can go a long way for building moral and excitement in this role.

Furthermore, make sure to take time to celebrate these things. I was often tasked at projects that seemed to be far outside my wheelhouse of skills and passions as an Associate Pastor, but the leadership of the church did a fantastic job of making sure that I knew I was appreciated and valued. It was this kind of support and encouragement that only made me love our church more and want to give 110% all the time. 

A healthy church cannot thrive without a healthy associate pastor. These 4 steps will help ensure that your Associate Pastor is without frustration or risk of burnout in the busy year ahead.

What can you do to help your Associate Pastor this week?

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