Thank God for Hur: a look at the role of the associate pastor
Should I remain as an associate pastor or should I start looking for a position as a senior pastor?" My friend and ministerial colleague seemed anxious on the other end of the phone. My advice was short and frank. "Don't go looking for any position, but be prepared to answer the call that comes from God." I reminded him of 1 Peter 5:6, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time" (NIV).
My friend did not argue with me, but shared a few of the frustrations he was experiencing in his current role as an associate pastor. One incident is typical and telling. After spending an hour at the hospital bedside of one his parishioners, he was about to pray, when the elderly saint asked him, "When was the real pastor coming to visit?"
By "real," she was referring to the senior pastor of the church. In her mind this visit was merely a tune-up to prepare her for the main event. After all, he was only the "associate."
The message came through loud and clear: The ministry of an associate pastor is not as valued or appreciated as that of a senior counterpart.
This experience would be almost comical if it wasn't for the fact that it was true. Having been in ministry for more than twenty years, I've had the opportunity to be both an associate as well as a senior pastor. I, too, can relate to the frustration that was felt by my friend and many others.
But why is the role of the associate looked down on by so many, including the associates themselves? Is it in fact a second-class form of ministry? A lot of the answer, it seems to me, has to do with the thinking that to be an associate is to be second in command.
Another common misconception that many hold regarding associate pastors is that they are not as qualified as the senior pastor. In some cases this may be true, but in many cases the associate is just as qualified and experienced as the senior pastor, and could be more so in some areas of ministry.
In many situations one is asked to serve as an associate not because they are less qualified, but because they may have specialized in a particular ministry area and being an associate would provide them the opportunity to focus more in that area than if they were in the senior role. For instance, how many senior pastors do you know who are able to spend a great deal of their time in youth or children's ministry? This is where the associate could be extremely beneficial to a particular church in providing quality specialized ministry.
Another misconception many have about associate pastors is that they are all hoping to be senior pastors one day. This may be true of some, but not all. Most associate pastors view their position not as inferior to that of the senior pastor, but simply different. Paul's counsel in another context says it best: "The eye cannot say to the hand, I don't need you. On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor" (1 Cor. 12:21-23, NIV). The apostle makes it clear that no one's function in the Body of Christ is more important than another's, just different.
While that is so, having been an associate can prove to be extremely beneficial if one day the person is called to serve as the senior pastor. Being a Joshua is helpful in succeeding Moses as the leader of God's people. But the point is: "Be content whatever the circumstances" (Phil. 4:11, NIV).
Moses, Aaron, and Hur
One of the best illustrations typifying the role of the associate pastor is found in Exodus 17. Here we find the Israelites threatened by the Amalekites. Knowing that the Israelites were not prepared to face this fierce enemy, Moses directed Joshua to choose from the various tribes a band of soldiers that would fight the battle. On the following day, as Joshua and his army attacked the enemy, Moses, Aaron, and Hur stationed themselves on a hill overlooking the battlefield.
Everyone knows Moses and Aaron, but who is this Hur? Jewish tradition has it that Hur was the husband of Miriam and the grandfather of Bezaleel (Exod. 17:10). All of this is important, but what matters most was his presence on that mountain with Moses and Aaron.
With his arms outstretched toward heaven and holding the rod of God in his hand, Moses prayed for the success of the armies of Israel. But as the battle progressed, it was discovered that as long as Moses' hands were reaching upward, Israel prevailed. They were victorious! But as the day drew on and Moses became weary, Aaron and Hur had to hold up the senior man's hands until the setting of the sun when the enemy was eventually put to flight.
If either man had not been there with Moses that day, the outcome might have been different. Yes, it's true that Moses had the rod of God in his hand, but the rod had to be held up, and Moses needed help doing so.
As he became weary, Aaron and Hur put a stone under him and both men held up Moses' hands, one on each side. Because these two men understood their role and stood by their leader, Israel was able to celebrate victory.
But imagine what would have happened if Aaron and Hur had not been secure in their role as associates. What if they saw this as an opportunity to become the senior leader? Or what if they viewed this as an occasion to embarrass or show up their leader?
The role Aaron and Hur played in Israel's success is similar to the one the associate pastors play in the success of the local church (and in many other roles in the church). It is their responsibility to give support to the senior pastor. This does not mean that the associate only cares for the duties that the senior pastor discards, or that the associate's role is to be defined by the senior.
Gifts determine one's purpose (Prov. 18:16), and it is the associate's role to utilize the God-given gifts and abilities he or she has been given for the carrying out of the overall mission of the church, while at the same time holding up the hands of the senior pastor.
I thank God for the Hurs. These godly men and women continue to play a vital role in the mission of the church, in being faithful to their God and the calling He has given them
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