Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Work of the Associate Pastor: An Interview

One of the challenges that many pastors face is working with and leading other ministerial staff.  This is one of those skills that are rarely addressed in seminary, so it is usually learned by trial and error.  Help is available in a new book by Alan Rudnick from Judson Press.  In The Workof the Associate Pastor, Rudnick (a former associate himself) seeks to provide “insight and reflection upon the ministry specialty of associate pasturing.”  He includes all specialize staff ministry—youth, education, worship, etc.—in this category.

I had the opportunity to ask Rudnick some questions about his book, and I share those questions and his responses in this blog.

Why did you write this book?

After experiencing several positive ministry relationships with senior pastors, I found myself in a new church as an associate pastor and I was frustrated. It was difficult to work with a micromanaging senior pastor. He wanted to manage just about ever aspect of my ministry: who I would use for leaders, what resources to use, how to run retreats, and how to even position my hands during communion. I wanted to resolve our different approaches with a book on associate pastor ministry. As I looked for a resource, nothing presented a perspective of a shared ministry relationship. Most associate pastor books see the associate as the "second chair" and not co-equal workers of the Gospel. After I left that church, I decided to write a book from a completely different perspective of associate minister work. 

Who should read this book?

Anyone who deals or comes in contact with an associate minister or pastor, youth minister, youth director, education minister, administrative pastor, or just about any supporting ministry role in the church. I include directors and program staff in the book to help churches see them as ministers, too. Of course, senior pastors and staff relation committees who deal directly with associate pastors should read the book.

Why do you try to avoid using the "second chair" image in describing the ministry of an associate pastor?

Having spent time around the church music world, I know the weighted dynamics behind the concept of "first" and "second". There is a type of competition that exists. Books that employ the "second chair" image often paint a picture in which the second chair is exactly that, second. The first is better. That type of power dynamic has led to many short term associate pastorates. I make the case that just as Paul called his associates (for lack of a better term) "co-workers" in the Gospel, we should do the same. Paul saw his companions as equals and not in a first-second relationship. 

What do you think is the most fulfilling part of being an associate pastor?

First, being able to focus on a specific ministry area. Senior and solo pastors have to be gifted in a broad range of skills. Associates often focus on education, counseling, youth, children or music. I miss the days that I slept soundly at night not worrying about the budget, membership numbers, or congregational conflict.  Second, being with people. An associate can spend more amounts of time and energy investing in a smaller group of people. When I was an associate, I was able to create a small group youth ministry with parents and leaders in the church who I had direct relationships with. It was very fulfilling. 

How can seminaries and theological schools help in encouraging and equipping associate pastors--both full-time associates and part-time?

The key here is that seminaries and theological schools need to stop thinking and offering degrees with solo pastors in mind. Fortunately, seminaries are slowly realizing that people who want a seminary education are not specifically solo pastors. Offering more classes in leadership, staff dynamics, and church administration will help. And of course, offering courses with associates in mind. 

Rudnick's helpful book is available both in paperback and as an e-book.

(Thanks to Linda Johnson-LeBlanc of Judson Press for arranging this interview.)

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