Associate Pastors…Second-Class Pastors?
More than likely those of us who are currently serving (or have served) as Associate Pastors (APs) have never been labeled as such. But just because something is not verbally expressed doesn’t mean that it isn’t being communicated, advertently or not. Thankfully, for the most part, it is not malicious, and neither is it characteristic of the experiences of APs everywhere.
If we were honest though, some of us would attest that on occasion, in particular churches and contexts with certain members we have indeed felt like second-class pastors (And, yes, it is possible that a person can feel or think something to be a reality when it is not. However, truth be told, there are occasions and contexts in which this is not simply a figment of the imagination). But most of us will probably not openly admit it because we do not want to appear weak, perceived by members – or approvingly viewed and used by detractors – as negatively blasting the church, or that we are placing our identity and significance at the feet of people’s opinions of us instead of at the foot of the cross of Jesus. So we just prayerfully, privately, and internally deal with it, and continue serving God’s people.
But I want to publicly come forward and say to my fellow Assoc. Pastors who are wrestling with this that you are not alone. I understand. I’ve been there. Gratefully, I am not there anymore…at least right now. I wrote this post for you, but not just for you. It is also for the Senior Pastors, Elders, Deacons, Trustees, and members of your churches. What ensues are some practical ways of dealing with and counteracting this reality for three groups of people: Associate Pastors, Senior Pastors, and Members.
Lest some think that this whole issue is bogus and has no biblical underpinning, let me remind us of a segment of Paul’s final instructions to the church at Thessalonica, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” (1 Thess. 5:12-13a) To not do so, my friends, results in sentiments such as this one in the hearts of pastoral leadership.
Note: Please know that my perspective and points related to this subject come from a particular context. Adapt whatever you read to your reality. What you can take from it I pray is beneficial. The rest you can feel free to leave on the blog floor.
- Fundamentally, root your identity and value in Jesus and not in how others treat you.
- Understand the fact that you being appointed or hired as an AP says that the leadership values you and what you bring to the table by God’s grace and gifting. I understand value and appreciation should be communicated on a regular. But if it is not, at least you have this to fall back on.
- Don’t take it personal if a member (or members) continues to call you Rev. _____________ or [Insert Your Full Name Here] and not Pastor ______________. It could be that they are not used to referring to you by that title and simply forget, or are only used to calling the Senior/Lead Pastor (or whatever designation) “Pastor.” Even if a member refuses to call you “Pastor,” still try not to take it personal. Your life and ministry doesn’t revolve around him or her. You’ve been called by God to serve as a pastor at that church. Enough said.
- Don’t compare yourself to your Senior/Lead Pastor as it relates to public adulation. Realize that your Senior/Lead Pastor will attract more attention (and more criticism, by the way) than you due to him being the primary preacher and vision-caster.
- “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24 – Although the context of this text is dealing with slaves in relationship to their masters, I believe there is a principle that is applicable to our situation.)
- Live out your pastoral calling without expecting the applause of people. If you don’t go looking for it, you won’t be disappointed if you don’t find it (at all or in some measure).
- Focus more on those who do express appreciation to you than those who don’t.
- Don’t be so quick to interpret all criticisms or disagreements as disrespect.
Some of the points below come from observing how my Senior Pastor, Dr. Karry D. Wesley, models before the congregation respect for us as APs.
- Whether you are publicly addressing or privately conversing with members, refer to your AP as Pastor _________.
- Give them credit for their ideas and work.
- Direct or re-direct members to speak with the APs regarding ministries, projects, or programs that fall under their oversight.
- When you are able, be present when your APs are preaching. This helps to set a tone for the membership to not skip out when you are not occupying the pulpit, and it teaches them to be eager to hear the Word of God preached regardless of who is doing the preaching.
- During Pastor Appreciation Month in October, encourage the congregation to show appreciation to all the pastors and not just yourself. If your congregation is not in the habit of doing this, then you can publicly honor them to set the precedence.
- As appropriate, ask your APs to conduct or be a part of a presentation at your State of the Church address or Vision Casting Night. This aids in establishing their leadership and responsibilities in the minds of the membership.
- Do a Ministry Spotlight (newsletter, video) featuring your APs.
- In your preaching or public praying, include them when you reference pastoring the church. For example, “Father, I pray that You will lead myself and all the other pastors of this church as we seek to shepherd Your people.”
- If you are a part of a church culture that customarily uses titles when addressing those in leadership and you personally do so as well, please give the same respect you have for the Senior Pastor to the Associate Pastors as well.
- Pray for the APs (and their families) of your church. Many times prayers of the members are only rendered for the Senior Pastor and his family (which I wholeheartedly agree with, support, and do). But we need your prayers as well.
- Respect and submit to the order that has been established in your church as it relates to your APs. For example: Don’t try to go around your AP’s leadership and oversight, in a manipulative fashion, in an attempt to get your proposal seen or approved by the Senior Pastor.
- Periodically express your appreciation to the APs of your church for their lives, love, labor, and leadership. Trust me, it goes a long way.
- “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17) Submission is a form of appreciation…so please do so willingly and delightfully.