As I enjoyed the fellowship of another Free Will Baptist pastor, the subject of church staff, particularly associate pastors, came up. We talked about how uncomfortable it is when someone you hired to help you subtly undermines you. I told my friend, "It would be nice if a prominent associate in our ranks would write a book called 'Second and satisfied... how to flourish in the role of the associate."
Some of us unnecessarily view the role of the associate pastor as a stepping stone to the pastorate. When I graduated Bible College, I chose this path to the pastorate because I wanted to learn, hands-on, from a veteran. There's nothing wrong with that. But sometimes the associate gets caught in the cross-hairs of church dysfunction - where lay-leaders begin to promote or prefer the "new guy" (the associate) over the "old guy" (the senior pastor.) Maybe, as in my case, the associate has definite opinions about the pastorate and doesn't shy away from making unfair comparisons or criticisms of the man they have pledged to serve. Some men refuse to hire an associate because they have been "burned" by naive, fledgling leaders.
How can we adequately train men to be good associates? What are the principles they must embrace to gain the necessary experience all the while offering valuable aid to the man and church that has employed them? Here are a couple of suggestions:
First, the associate must understand his role. You are there at the behest of someone else. You owe the senior pastor your outspoken support and cooperation. IF you cannot do that, IF he proves to be a man unworthy of your support, L-E-A-V-E. You do not want to harm him or the church. You are there to sharpen your ax, to add tools to your toolbox... not to destroy or disparage another man's work.
Exercise wisdom - those who stroke your fur now often have an agenda that is ungodly. If they are using subtle tactics to undermine the pastor, you better know you are only a pawn to be sacrificed when you no longer serve their purposes.
Ask for a clearly defined job-description. Life is much easier if the pastor is clear in his expectations. Often you are being hired as the "cure-all" to their problems. Churches and pastors make the mistake of thinking that the "home-run-hire" will jump-start a dead or dying work. I know one pastor who changes associates like some might change pants. When the church doesn't grow, he fires his associate to keep himself off the hot-seat. Every 18 months he makes a change. Job-descriptions help you AND the church develop realistic expectations. (It would be wise to consider a pastor's track-record with associates BEFORE you sign the dotted line)
Every chance you get - lift up, stand behind, and encourage the senior pastor. Pray for him. Never give him a reason to suspect your motives. Ask questions. Look for ways to shoulder the leadership-burden. Enjoy being second. Some of the strongest churches in our denomination are led by staffs with great chemistry and loyalty. Your life will be much more fulfilling if you cultivate a spirit of contentment wherever you are.