Going directly from a call to preach to leading a church is extremely rare.
Preachers need the maturation that comes from serving with or under another pastor, before leading their own congregation.
Yet many associate ministers wish they could just skip this process.
Pastors treat associates as flunkies. Congregations neglect the vital role associate ministers play. Members view associates as step-parents, substitute teachers, or “garbage-time” bench riders.
It can be discouraging. But it doesn’t have to be. Your time as an associate minister can be an affirmation of your ministerial call, a time of spiritual development, and a fruitful season of Christian service.
Here are 10 ways you can maximize your role as an associate minister.
Seek clarity about your calling. Not every associate preacher is called to be a senior pastor. It may be to serve alongside another pastor. This is a noble calling. You ministry is not unimportant because your name is not on the bulletin. Seek the Lord about the calling on your life. Is it missionary work? Should you be in the classroom, rather than the pulpit? Is there an area of specialization, like youth of Christian education, the Lord has purposed for you? Or are you called to the pulpit of a local church? Get clarity about your calling and head in that direction.
Be ready to preach and teach. You may not have a scheduled time to preach. And you may have to share opportunities with other associates. So take advantage of every chance you get. Be ready. Don’t wait to get a date before you prepare. Study now. Write a sermon. Get your pastor’s input. Show him by your work that you are ready. And don’t wait for Sunday morning spots. Volunteer for a Sunday school class, prayer breakfast, or funeral. Teach whenever you can. Prepare for the pastorate by increasing your skill and experience in ministering the word.
Learn everything you can. Consider yourself an intern. Be marked present. Get involved. Participate in behind the scenes work, not just platform stuff. Follow your pastor around. Ask a lot of questions. Listen to the answers. Don’t talk too much. Process what you experience. Learn from successes and mistakes. Soak up all the knowledge and wisdom you can get.
Be proactive about your growth. Time doesn’t fix a flat tire. And it does not produce a skilled minister. You must be intentional about your development. Don’t be pulpit furniture. Don’t be guilty of ministerial sloth. And don’t wait for others to invest in you. Read. Study. Go to school. Attend of ongoing training events. Seek out your pastor’s counsel, guidance, and mentorship. Ask for assignments that will help you grow. Don’t be indifferent about your ministerial future. Determine to be the best you can be for God.
Be loyal to your pastor. The pastor was voted, called, or selected to lead the church. You were not. It is not your place to run ahead of the pastor or to work against him. You are there to assist him. Respect him, even if you are older. Support him, even if you have been there longer. Honor him, even if you have more training or experience. Pray for him. Do whatever you can to help him. Be trustworthy. Keep private information confidential. Do not speak against the pastor to members. Do not listen to members speak against the pastor. Remember the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12).
Have a servant’s spirit. The paradox of Christian discipleship is that the one who would lead must be a servant. This is the Christian way to leadership. We are servant-leaders. Serving as an associate minister can help you develop a proper attitude toward Christian leadership. Be a servant. Imitate the one who washed his disciples feet (John 13). Make yourself available to serve. Serve as to the Lord, not for men. And don’t get offended when you are treated like a servant!
Keep your ego in check. Don’t let compliments, encouragements, and opportunities go to your head. You may be a better preacher or leader than your pastor. But it may just be your pride talking. Regardless, there is a reason the Lord has placed under his leadership. And it is not to compete with the pastor. Be humble. Be submissive. Be faithful. In due time, the Lord will exalt you. Don’t exalt yourself!
Do not usurp authority. If you are not the senior pastor, do not presume authority that is not yours. Do what you are asked to do. Don’t take liberties with the opportunities you are given. Don’t let leaders or members pressure you to act impetuously. Don’t make a golden calf for the people while the leader is away. If in doubt, ask. Or, better yet, don’t do it. Stay in your lane.
Wait your turn. You have a burden to pastor. It has been your heart’s desire for some time. You have done what you can to prepare yourself. But no doors have opened. You are stuck in God’s waiting room. Don’t get impatient. God knows who you are and where you are. God knows the place he has for you. God also knows how and when to get your there. Don’t be weary in well doing. Trust that God’s timing is perfect.
Leave when it’s time to leave. You are asking for trouble if you leave an assignment prematurely. God punishes AWOL soldiers. At the same time, don’t stay too long. Don’t sit in neutral unnecessarily. Don’t hide out from your true calling. Don’t be a source of confusion or disunity. If you do not respect your leader or cannot follow his leadership, leave. But make sure you leave in a way that leaves the door open.
Do you find this advice helpful? What advice would you give an associate minister? What advice would you give a senior pastor about his responsibility to his associate ministers?