Effective Ministry as an Associate Pastor
A review of Robert Radcliffe's, "Effective Ministry as an Associate Pastor," by Don Payne.
Radcliffe, Robert J. Effective Ministry as an Associate Pastor Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998. 204 pp. Paperback, $11.99. ISBN 0-8254-3629-X.
The role of associate pastor feels, to many who hold the position, like a ministerial platypus. Since traditionally, the associate role has been treated as a means of gaining experience for more responsible ministry posts, associate pastors do not always feel like full-fledged ministers of the Gospel. Nor are they always viewed as such by those whom they serve. Yet, the vocational vision which beckons to the associate pastor incites the same hunger for influence (and that is not necessarily corrupt!) as that which drives so many senior pastors. Ironically, the proliferation of multiple staff churches in North America has made the associate pastor role almost as commonplace as that of the senior or solo pastor. Associate pastors may struggle with an identity crisis, but their numbers are strong and show no signs of weakening! The feeling of being “neither fish nor fowl” combined with the prominence and accessibility of the role for many young ministers serve to make what is often seen to be an easier ministry into a calling laden with complications and hazards.
In Effective Ministry as an Associate Pastor: Making Beautiful Music as a Ministry Team (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998), Robert J. Radcliffe brings his own years of experience as an associate pastor to bear on the tensions in this increasingly tumultuous calling. After laying a brief, but appropriate biblical foundation for multiple staff ministry, Radcliffe covers a wide range of relevant, practical issues. Some of the best chapters zero in on church expectations, the associate’s own expectations, relating to the senior pastor and other associates, relating to volunteers and church boards, organizing ministry, and making transitions. Each chapter ends with a fairly lengthy list of reflection/discussion questions that help bridge the concepts into the reader’s own situation. Radcliffe freely illustrates his thoughts with anecdotes from his personal experience in numerous associate roles.
One of the book’s strengths is the author’s utilization of research from various social sciences. Radcliffe’s dependence on the primacy of Scripture is obvious. Yet, his theological foundations also incorporate legitimate insights from “general revelation”. Intentional or not, the book tacitly recognizes that ministry in the church involves the same human dimensions and dilemmas that are found in any other organizational environment. Christians who wish to think that the church should be immune to the same sociological variables as other organizations demonstrate a weak doctrine of humanity and an underdeveloped appreciation for general revelation. Radcliffe’s use of data from the social sciences enhances his discussions of leadership styles, the nature and implications of being a “professional”, and even the family issues that arise for vocational ministers.
Effective Ministry as an Associate Pastor leaves few stones unturned. Though the chapter on family concerns initially struck the reviewer as somewhat forced into the flow of the book, its relevance surfaces in the fact that many associate pastors are in the early stages of marriage and family life. The desire to establish ministerial credibility tempts many young associates to not seek needed help during the period when it could be of the greatest benefit.
Radcliffe is particularly prophetic when he discusses criteria for deciding whether to leave a church staff. While he describes and validates several reasons for resigning (repeated deceit by leaders, lack of congregational support, lack of spousal support, among others), his list of reasons not to leave should motivate some associates to go the extra mile toward reconciliation of difficult situations. Perhaps most poignant was Radcliffe’s exposure of the oft-used euphemism “a difference in philosophy of ministry” as a device for not honestly confronting one’s own immaturity or incompetence. The appendix contains lengthy guidelines for choosing an associate position and an extended checklist for deciding whether to leave an associate pastorate.
Given its purpose, the book has no glaring weaknesses. It would have been helpful had Radcliffe addressed the challenges in relating to the legacy of a successful predecessor. The shadow of a popular predecessor is the bane of many an associate for at least the initial stage of service. Any advice that could smooth that initial turbulence would have been welcome balm for the wounds incurred by these associates.
Nonetheless, Robert Radcliffe has offered a handbook which, if actually heeded, can flatten the learning curve considerably for aspiring, beginning, or even struggling associate pastors.