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When a local church has determined that it needs additional pastoral staff, both the senior pastor and official board need to have a clear understanding of the relationships between the board, senior pastor and additional pastoral staff.  Carefully chosen titles help to define relationships.  The titles, assistant pastor and associate pastor communicate different relationships.

An associate pastor is one who, while clearly accountable to the senior pastor, is expected to be the senior pastor, as it were, in the areas of his/her responsibility.  He/she is not expected to assist the senior pastor with things that will be shaped and directed by the senior pastor. (That is what an assistant does).  The associate gives formation to his/her area of church life, while the assistant does tasks in ministries shaped by someone else.

The associate pastor possesses the same kinds of training, experience and high competence for his/her area of responsibility that the senior pastor does for his/her area.  In this, they are viewed as equal (in terms of gifts and training and level of responsibility in their own areas) and different (in terms of assigned responsibilities).

Because someone must ultimately be in charge in an organization, that responsibility belongs to the senior pastor.  Employing an associate who is clearly an equal in gifts, training and responsibility (except final oversight) does nothing to negate the fact that every organization needs one person who is ultimately responsible.

Whether a pastor is an assistant or an associate is not a simple matter of choice.  To a greater or lesser extent, formational and temperamental factors incline most people to be better suited for one role or the other.  Some pastors find it difficult to function as assistants; some find it hard to perform as associates; some senior pastors find it hard to manage assistants; some find it hard to work with associates.  There are reasons for this.

Some people’s temperament and formation make it difficult for them to allow others to have real responsibility in areas they are ultimately responsible for.  They tend to strongly prefer what Hersey and Blanchard (Management of Organizational Behaviour:  Utilizing Human Resources, Prentice-Hall, 1982) call “telling” (high task, low relationship) or “selling” (high task, high relationship) forms of leadership behaviour with followers.  They find it hard to “participate” (high relationship, low task) or “delegate” (low relationship, low task).  They have too much of a need to stay “hands-on” and to give shape and formation to what they are ultimately responsible for.  These persons should probably not hire an associate or ask that their secretary to function as an administrative assistant.  They don’t work that way.

Other people tend by personality and formation to prefer leadership behaviours that are termed participating or delegating.  They have to work hard to give directions (telling or selling) to people working for them.  These people should not hire an assistant who needs the high levels of direction and support they find hard to give.

Likewise, some people have such a level of what Hersey and Blanchard call “Job Maturity” (willingness + ability) that they would only be frustrated to be in an assistant role.  They are leaders who need to shape their world and create things.

In the same way there are people who need a narrowly defined task to do, and who will do it with distinction under good supervision.  Such persons should not be asked to function as pastoral “associates.”

From the perspective of our denominational polity, the process for the selection and appointment of an assistant/associate pastor will be the same or very similar to the appointment of a senior pastor.  The qualifications and doctrinal position of all appointed pastors must be approved by the conference MEGaP committee.  From a legal perspective, both the senior pastor and assistant/associate pastor are employees of the local church.

Both the senior pastor and the official board (or a locally appointed subcommittee) need to be involved in the process of defining the proposed job descriptions for additional pastoral positions, and in interviewing and recommending a candidate for the position.  It is important to recognize that this needs to be a “side-by-side” process.  Senior pastors must be involved since they will need to work very closely with the new assistant/associate.  The board must be equally involved since they must represent the interests of their congregations as well as approving the position description and related employment conditions.

Local churches with multiple staff may wish to appoint a personnel committee.   This committee may be a subcommittee of the board, or the board may serve as the personnel committee.  This committee will be responsible for recommending the job descriptions and roles for all pastoral positions and terms of employment, such as salaries and benefits, housing allowances and vacation allowances.  It will also be responsible for developing and implementing procedures for periodic performance assessments for all pastoral staff.

Official boards need to recognize that assistant/associate pastors are supervised by the senior pastor.  This also needs to be recognized clearly by the senior and assistant/associate pastors.  The senior pastor is the chief administrative officer, or temporal leader of the local church.  The senior and assistant/associate pastors need to work in close co-operation.  There will be occasions when, as is the case in any working relationship, someone needs to take the leadership and decision making role. The board’s role is to provide the policy framework within which these decisions can be made. It is not in a position to make the day-to-day administrative decisions.  Any attempt to do so will ultimately undermine the leadership and supervisory role of the senior pastor.

In practical terms this means that:

  • It must be clear to all involved that the assistant/associate is supervised by the senior pastor.
  • The assistant/associate pastor may attend official board meetings at the discretion of the senior pastor.
  • Directions from the board to staff are in principle made through the senior pastor. The senior pastor is solely responsible to the board for the administration of the local church.

If problems arise between a senior and assistant/associate pastor, and they have not been able to resolve them between themselves, they should refer the matter to the pastor’s cabinet or board for review and advice.  The senior pastor may recommend a change of assistant/associate pastor, or termination of employment to the official board, for its consideration, if such problems cannot be resolved, or if the performance of the assistant/associate is unsatisfactory, and reasonable attempts to resolve the performance deficiencies are unsuccessful.  Disciplinary action by the bishop and ministerial education guidance and placement committee may also be grounds for dismissal. Except in the case of disciplining action, the assistant/associate pastor should be provided with a minimum of 60 days notice, or appropriate compensation in lieu of notice in accordance with provincial labour laws.

Assistants/associates who want a change in appointment should formally inform their senior pastor and board by requesting of the bishop that they be released from their appointment.  The 60 day notice applies.