Going from A to C in Pastor

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16.7)

I recently wrote a post about my personal journey in discerning my call. A part of that journey is moving from associate pastor to co-pastor. December 15, 2013, we will be installed, which coincidentally marks John Anderson’s 22nd year at St. John’s (started December 24, 1991) and my 10th year of ordained ministry and time at St. John’s (started November 17, 2003).

Reflecting on my time as an associate pastor, I am extremely grateful for the example and legacy that John Anderson has set, not only as a pastor, friend, and colleague, but more importantly as a Head of Staff. He has greatly affected, influenced, and shaped my role as a pastor, a parent, and a human being. I do not take it lightly how blessed I have been to work alongside him. I know he is one of the many reasons I am still at my first call.

I know this experience as an associate pastor is not universal. The “happiness” of an associate pastor is greatly affected by the way the Head of Staff functions. Below is what I particularly appreciate about John as Head of Staff, what I think Heads of Staff should consider, and honestly what I think associate pastors would appreciate:

There’s No “I” in Team

IMG_0756From the beginning, John was clear about how we are a team. He not only said it but he practiced it. I always had input, power to edit, and space to try new things. Even on outdoor signs, website, and worship bulletins, our roles were never distinguished by rank, but by function. This was important because people needed to know who was the lead on pastoral care, family ministries, bible studies, etc.

Parishioners as well as I needed to know ultimately where the buck stops. Depending on the function, the buck stopped at different places. John was ultimately responsible for the staff and mission and vision of the church, but session, members, and I also had our load of responsibilities as well.

Rah, Rah, Shish, Boom, Bah!

John always had my back. In fact, he was my biggest cheerleader. Sometimes, I felt like he looked out for me more than I looked out for myself. It was always John who asked session to give me a raise. It was John who started the journey to change our calls to co-pastor. It was John who moved the church to take a leap of faith to hire an associate pastor in the first place.

Whenever I came up with an idea to restructure session, change worship, get rid of this or that, he was always willing to try it. He never said, “We’ve already tried that and it didn’t work.” He was always willing to try again. When things didn’t quite go as planned, he gave me space to reflect, change, and tweak it. When people were upset by a change, he never let me take the blame or fall alone. Sometimes, he took it for me because ultimately the buck stopped with him.

I Got You Babe

Our working relationship worked because we held each other accountable. In fact, the church functions this way. We are always assessing, re-evaluating, experimenting, and holding one another accountable. Even this new co-pastor model is a disciplined experiment where we will re-evaluate in  three years the progress.

Along with accountability is the extension of grace. Things are not always going to go well, but we extend grace in order to continuously be open to other possibilities.

Mayday Mayday!

When the Committee on Ministry examined St. John’s on their decision to change our call, they asked us what would we do when conflict arises. How will we navigate conflict as equals versus Head of Staff and associate? Good question. Because John and I have had some serious conflict in the past and have willingly worked through them gives me confidence that we will work through them again. To have a partner in ministry that is willing to do the work to reconcile, repair, and strengthen a relationship has been vital to the success of our working relationship.

Room to Breathe

I always appreciated that ministry didn’t have to happen inside the church office while sitting at my desk. Ministry doesn’t happen at a particular time. As a parent, this allowed me to support my kids at games, school functions, and family time. As a wife who is married to another pastor, this allowed me to have date days while the kids were in school instead of nights and call on a babysitter. As a pastor, this allowed me to engage in community as well as presbytery and be inspired.

John and I also had meetings only when necessary. In fact, the church only has meetings when necessary. I rarely have a night meeting at my church. We encourage each other to take sabbath and vacations. While we are guided by are allotted days off, I never felt micro-managed in how I used my time – knowing there are weeks when I worked way too much and weeks when I didn’t. In the end, it all balances out.

Check Your Ego at the Door

As an associate pastor, I appreciate that I never had to think about, care about, or attend to John’s ego. He did a great job of that himself. Nor did he tend to mine. If things had to get done, things had to get done. While he is unplugging the toilet, I’m picking up dog poop on the front lawn. If a Sunday School teacher didn’t arrive, John would teach if I was preaching or I would teach if he was preaching. He never hogged the preaching schedule. In fact, I wish he hogged it more. Last year, we began switching off every month, where he takes one month to preach and plan worship and I take the next. This freed us to do other stuff that we usually wouldn’t have time for.

All in all, I am grateful. I am grateful that it took a community to affirm and continue to affirm my sense of call – whatever that is. For now, it’s co-pastor and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in Christ’s service.

3 responses to “Going from A to C in Pastor

  1. Theresa, what a generous, thoughtful blog! Let me correct you however, in some of your confusion.

    What you confuse for openness, teamwork and allowance of space, is in fact, laziness.

    It is far easier to allow someone to discover their own strengths, limits and challenges than to try to pre-empt with instructions, warnings, false guidance or “been there, tried it.” Trust is far easier than restriction. It is about God’s call, not my tracking. It is far more stress-free to allow someone to find their place in ministry, to discover their areas of expression than to micro-manage and continually have to see if they are getting tasks done that only I may value. Having a supportive team is far more relaxed with a real companion in ministry than to be isolated in vision. To share the load rather than be lonely in a territorial ministry, and vulnerable rather than not risking sharing my doubts and discouragements brings way more contentment.

    It is more about you and I as persons, than the particular aptitudes, experience or skills we may bring. The seasons of ministry change; adeptness, willingness and imagination needs to carry both of us. So then, going forward, it is about the relationship; how our relationship moves, lives and has its being in the life of the congregation.

    Allowing each other to grow with the congregation, allowing the congregation to discover each of us, to engage us and love us, rather than trying to manipulate what we think our roles should be, is easier. It takes far more energy to constantly seek power and control, than to allow God’s influence and vision.

    Oh, by the way Theresa, it’s your turn to unplug the toilet!

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