Congregational ministry associates are second chair leaders. They are the lieutenants of the congregation who “get things done.” For those called to this ministry, it can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience (“I can’t believe they pay me to do this!”). But there are some challenges that come with this calling.
1. Context matters
While the job of a ministry associate is to some extent the same across the board (the job description of “Director of Christian Education” or “Youth Minister” or “Pastoral Associate” reads pretty much the same from one congregation to the next), context matters. At least two factors matter in your context. First, whether your particular congregation is a good “fit,” and second, whether the Pastoral leader of that system (the First Chair) is someone you can work with. The challenge: finding a church that “fits” your vision, orientation, and ministry philosophy, and a pastoral leader who functions well as head of staff.
2. Cultivating Trust Early and Deeply
No staff ministry associate can carry out her or his work without trust: from the Senior pastor, ministry colleagues, and congregational members. This trust needs to be established quickly, and, it must be cultivated so it has, in time, deep roots. Any ministry associate who is not able to establish trust quickly will likely find themselves micromanaged, left out of important conversations (even those involving decisions that impact their ministry), and will lack the ability to effectively impact the sphere of influence among church members they need to support their ministries. The challenge: establish trust early in your relationship with the senior pastor, colleagues, and church members—appreciating that trust is earned.
3. Leading by Influence
Not unrelated to the above, ministry associates are most effective when they lead by influence. Novice and inexperienced staff associates get frustrated when they realize they have neither authority or power in the system. Those are not granted to second chair leaders, ordinarily. The way to bring about change and to make an impact and a difference in your context is to lead by influence. This is a product of trust, competence, and generosity mediated by the relationships you cultivate. When you talk, people should listen. The challenge: cultivate relationships through which you can expand your sphere of influence. Influence up toward the Senior pastor; influence out toward your ministry staff colleagues, and influence down toward congregational members. Remember, however, that your sphere of influence will likely always be smaller than that of the senior pastor.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.