Whether the church has a large membership with a pastoral staff or is a small church with a pastor and local church elders, a team effort becomes necessary to have a successful ministry. Although they are colleagues in sharing the gospel, the pastor* assumes the lead in fulfilling the Great Commission in that particular area of God’s vineyard.
In order to effectively labor, pastors must place their associates in the best possible position. What, then, do they owe those who assist them?
Associate pastors bring their own academic and specialized training with them, which prepare them for the tasks to which they have been called.
Having given them their responsibilities and instructions, trust them to effectively and efficiently fulfill those areas of obligation. When you have to preach at another church, it does not matter whether the church elders who speak during the divine worship hour have degrees in theology or accounting or whether or not they are dynamic speakers. They want and need your trust. Empower them and release them to employ the spiritual gifts God has placed within them.
Provide resources for continuing development. As possible and financially feasible, such resources can take the form of workshops (inviting others with expertise in various areas to come and train them), books and journals (such as Ministry), discussion forums, and many others. And don’t overlook what, for many, is the most vital resource—you and your presence. Young associates especially appreciate the time you spend in mentoring them, for even the very words you speak one-on-one serve to equip them for the challenges ahead.
From the time Moses led the children of Israel through the wilderness to today, leadership has been vital for the church. Although the Holy Spirit can and will directly share a vision with associate pastors and other church leaders, the lead pastor must also provide direction for the church. Pastors who exhibit such leadership qualities inspire confidence from their associates and the church membership at large.
Closely connected with direction is motivation. It’s one thing to point others toward the goal. It’s another thing to inspire them to believe they can accomplish the task.
Motivation either comes from inside the person (intrinsic) or from outside the person (extrinsic). Some people merely need to know what is expected, and that is all the impetus they need. But most people, even in ministry, need to know that you, as pastor, believe in them; and that is often all the motivation they need. Tell them you have confidence in their ability to succeed—that will greatly benefit your associates.
Another source of motivation is appreciation. Say Thank you, and say it often. No one wants to feel that they are merely workers in a system, but rather unique individuals, fulfilling the call that God has placed upon them.
Confidence in pastoral leadership is enhanced when those who assist you see that you have been or are doing the same activities you ask them to do. Associates want to know that the leaders comprehend the challenges that they themselves face.
This does not imply that the pastor can ably perform everything that the associates can; rather, that the pastor has a working familiarity with the assigned task and, more importantly, that the pastor actively works with the staff. This involves more than delegation; it involves cooperation. While Jesus delegated tasks to His disciples, He was actively involved in showing them how to fulfill those tasks, taking the lead, being the Chief Servant among the servants.
Placing too many responsibilities upon your associates—no matter how competent they are—leads to burnout. They may be willing to work long hours, but even if they are unwilling to slow down, the pastor must slow them down—requiring they take time for rest and rejuvenation. Although ministry is important, rest is equally important. And Jesus is our Example in demanding rest of His colleagues (cf. Mark 6:31).
Pastors are understandably seen as shepherds to their congregations. But they also are shepherds to their associates, for ministers need ministry. Remember that your associates—whether paid or volunteers—are not mere workers in a system; rather, they are human beings first who have their own spiritual, mental, and social needs to address.
Ministry has always been, and always will be, a team effort. While the dynamic between pastor and associate exists, we are all colleagues in service to the Master, and as such, we exist to serve our congregations and one another. Let us work together, and in doing so, we will all grow together in Christ, rendering greater service as time goes by.
* In using the word pastor, I refer to the senior pastor who
has other pastors who serve on his staff or the solo pastor
who has elders assisting at the local church level.