by Rick Lowry
The relationship between a church’s senior minister and her elders is a frequent topic of discussion in leadership circles. But what about the connection between the elders and the associate ministers?
Elder-associate interaction is often determined by the size of the church or the church’s philosophy of ministry. But here are some general principles that apply in most leadership situations.
Develop a personal relationship. Most associates feel supported when an elder takes time to show a loving interest in them and in their ministry area. An elder can be an ally, not just an authority. Some eldership teams annually assign individual elders to specific ministry leaders, who then get together with them regularly and offer encouragement.
Make sure elders and staff are like-minded about the direction of the church. The church leadership team should have a handful of forward-thinking values and visions they have agreed on, and every leader should support those ideals. If the leadership has agreed about the philosophy of any given ministry in the church, individual leaders can confuse associate ministers if they promote their own agenda privately with a staff member.
Get involved in their ministry. Elders are a great benefit to their staff members when they get involved in their ministry. Not to check up on them, but to intentionally take a sincere interest. And of course, the best way to get involved is to volunteer for needed ministry roles in their area.
Appropriate Financial Compensation. If they are full-time, make sure their family can thrive. It’s hard for a guy or gal to completely focus on their ministry if they are always worried about the financial health of their family. And in these days of staff looking more like a team and less like one main figure in charge, compensating an associate on the level of a senior minister is often appropriate. If the associate minister is part-time, expect them to work only the number of hours they are being paid for. Many conscientious associates quietly work full-time hours for part-time pay. Elders can and should play a key role in protecting them in this regard.
Allow their voice to be heard. Associate staff members often feel powerless. Decisions that affect their ministry are sometimes made without consulting them. In many settings, it is not possible for associates to be a part of the key leadership team, but creative ways can be introduced to get their input. Invite them to key leadership meetings a few times a year. Or have their team leader on staff brainstorm with them and then take their ideas to leadership meetings. It may also be beneficial to have a trusted elder talk with an associate minister before a decision that has the potential to alter something in their ministry area.
Confront Privately, Support Publicly. Wise elders handle complaints about associate staff members in an appropriate way. Confronting a member of the staff in the presence of church members, or even in a meeting, can be harmful. Concerns should initially be expressed in a private setting. Associates need to be perfectly clear about who their supervisor is, and that person (or persons, in a team setting) should be the final job performance authority for them. A staff member who receives conflicting input from a variety of individual elders and staff members, especially when it is negative in nature and aired publicly, can be left confused about who they really need to listen to and what they really need to do. Confronting an issue one-on-one will help the person to hear and understand the substance of the critique with better clarity, and without being defensive or dismissive.
The way elders relate to associate ministers and staff can be one of the most powerful ways they lead the flock – by serving the flock.