A healthy working relationship between a lead pastor and associate pastor is rewarding for both the clergy and the congregation they serve. After more than 18 years as an associate, I have learned several things I would never have asked for, but need from my lead pastor in order to improve our working relationship.
The most frequent complaint I hear from associates is that their lead pastor does not respect them and/or their ministry. Lead pastors inadvertently send this message when they micromanage the associate, ignore the associate’s ministries, or task the associate with things outside her/his giftedness.
You respect us when you:
- Stay connected with our ministry areas. Ask us what is going well and what needs improvement.
- Use our expertise in problem solving and strategizing.
- Get to know us personally—our joys, our struggles, our passions, our dreams. Communication is a key in every aspect of the lead-associate relationship.
Associates feel respected when they and their ministry are vital to the church, and not simply an add-on the lead pastor could just as easily do without.
Lead pastors are called to lead; associates to follow. Lead pastors must not downplay their leadership role. To follow well, associates need to know how the role they play helps the congregation achieve its mission under your leadership.
You lead us when you:
- Clearly communicate the mission, vision, and goals of the congregation. Do not assume we are all on the same page. State it often.
- Help us formulate goals for our ministry areas. Unspoken expectations are hard to meet. Speak them.
- Share with us the role you would like in our ministry area. This includes decisions you want brought to you and those you don’t.
- Share your struggles with us. We grow as leaders when you are transparent. Also, some of your staff may have gifts to assist you. A healthy lead pastor is a better lead pastor. So that benefits us both.
Leading a staff was not a class offered when I was in seminary, so you may need to read leadership books, and attend seminars on management. Those will be continuing education time and dollars well spent—for both of us.
Associates want to know their lead pastor has their back. When associates know they have the support of the lead pastor, they can lead with more confidence, act more decisively, and take more responsibility for their ministry areas. While the lead pastor will not agree with every decision, public support is necessary. Disagreements can be resolved privately.
You support us when you:
- Do not take sides in a conflict. Instead you listen to all parties.
- Come to us with a concern or complaint.
- Listen intently to our rationale.
- Correct us, then help us fix problems.
- Mediate resolution.
Associates want the same support from their lead pastors, every lead pastor expects from his or her staff.
Ministry can be a thankless job for both lead and associate pastors. A genuine word of appreciation can make a world of difference.
You appreciate us when you:
- Notice when things are going well. Including us in a list of thank you’s in your annual report means little. Stopping by our office to share what you saw or heard about our ministry speaks volumes. When things are going well, let us hear it.
- Brag about us. Letting people know your appreciation of our work during announcements, or in the newsletter, legitimizes us and our ministry.
- Advocate for pay increases. Staff members make 60%-80% of what the lead pastor makes, and have many of the same expenses.
A staff should be a mutual admiration society. When a congregation consistently hears the staff is competent and dedicated, they feel well cared for and proud of their church.
5. Room to Grow
Ministry is beyond any job description, and often staff members have expertise outside the bounds of their official responsibility. Associates, like everyone in ministry, are looking for ways to best use their gifts to glorify God. Give the associate room to grow to do just that.
You give us room to grow when you:
- Recognize passions, interests, and abilities in us and ask give us opportunity to use them in some way.
- Affirm a gift in us we do not see ourselves.
- Help us work with our supervisory committee to tweak our job descriptions, even using evaluations to let them know of duties we perform which are “above and beyond.”
When we have room to grow, we can better serve.
The relationship between lead and associate pastors is not always easy, but the ministry benefits are worth the effort. These five tips will go a long way in contributing to a healthy relationship between the two and to the congregation as a whole.