No one really ever tells you how to be an effective associate minister. The preaching minister is normally so much more visible that going into ministry people usually have in mind what that role is like. The youth minister’s role is usually pretty narrow and well defined. Often people want to be a youth minister because they had a good healthy youth minister at some point in their past. How many people do you know want to go into ministry to because they had a wonderful associate minister role model growing up? It is not that it is not a good role to be in, trust me I feel like I am doing exactly what God wants me to be doing. These roles are typically not as visible partly because they are only held is larger churches and do not have a “one size fits all” job description. Different churches have different needs. Different elderships have different vision for their congregations. Because of that the role of an associate minister is not always as cut and dry as other ministry positions.
1) Make sure that expectations and the job description are clearly laid out. The elders and congregation need to know exactly what they want. Along with that they need to be clear about which expectations are rigid and which are more flexible. My elders did a wonderful job about having in mind exactly what they thought the congregation needed most. That is not something to figure out in the interview. It should have already been planned out, thought about, and prayed about in advance of the interview.
2) Know who came before you, what they did, and how they were received. It is always helpful to learn the history of the position in order to know what people will expect. You may find the official initial expectations differ from the actual expectations for the role.
3) Interviews are a two-way street. Have questions prepared in advance. Remember these elders are going to be the elders for you and your family and not just an employer. It is essential that you feel you and your family fit with the congregation, with the other ministers, and with the eldership.
Once you are hired it is very important that you immediately build rapport with the congregation. This takes at least a year although it often feels like it happens much quicker than that. After our first six months at Northwest if felt like we were surrounded by family and that we had been here forever. Your role probably has something to do with helping the members of the congregation become mature disciples in one way shape or form (through education, involvement, small groups, etc). It is impossible for them to follow your lead if they don’t know that you love them and have their best interest at heart.
1) Cards, emails, phone calls, and conversations all come together to let people know you are interested in them. If you they hear you talk about is yourself chances are the doors for influencing them for God are not fully open yet.
2) Love people’s children. People need to see that what is most important to them is also important to you. Who/what is more important than someone’s child? Sporting events and plays are not just for youth and children’s ministers.
3) Treat people like family. I cannot tell you how many times when helping someone at church I say to them “We are all family here.”
4) Learn the picture directory. Knowing names is so important.
Tracking Your Job Description:
1) Make sure you know exactly which areas you are expected to be involved in and have readily identifiable ways that things are regularly being accomplished in each of those areas. What you do should not be a mystery to everyone. Results can take time but they should happen eventually and should be evident that the body is benefiting from your ministry.
2) Equip others to get the job done. Associate ministry can feel like plate spinning. As soon as three or four plate start spinning well one hits the floor. Because of this it is important that you are an equipper of others. This also ensures that some day when/if you ever go to another congregation that things will be left in good hands when you leave for the period of transition.
3) Have regularly scheduled times of accountability with your elders to make sure you are meeting their expectations.
Practice What You Preach:
I was speaking with a minister I know who runs a church’s small group ministry. I asked him which group he was a part of. He told me he didn’t go to a group on Sunday nights. That floored me! You are the model whether you like it or not. If your plea to the church is a goal of 90% of members in a small group make sure you are there.
Modeling is so important when it comes to associate/non-preaching ministries. It is important for preachers too but even more so for associate ministers. The main thing people see a preacher doing is preaching. Modeling that is not very helpful to most Christians as not many of them are going to find themselves delivering a 30 minute monologue about God or Christ to a room full of people in their average week. Associate ministers have their hands in so many different things that it is important that you model well what you expect of others.
Have Good Communication:
Good communication is KEY for any ministry to grow. There are so many ways to communicate what is going on now that there is no excuse for poor communication. The biggest cause for poor communication is not a lack of resources or methods for getting the information out. The biggest cause is lack of preparation. Be on the ball, be early, have things done well in advance so you can cast a vision for the future (more than next week!). If you are constantly getting slammed by what is happening tomorrow, how can you plan for next year?
Vision is Crucial:
Ministries change. That is the nature of things. Ministries that don’t flex some will eventually grow stale and possibly die. If you don’t provide a structured approach to making that change productive and relevant to the needs and direction of the congregation one to five years from now, chances are the changes will be unplanned, unproductive, and probably negative rather than positive. Have a vision and start taking steps toward that vision. Be intentional.