I was recently interviewed live on UCB2, a Christian radio station in the UK. I was interviewed about my ministry, my life, my blog, my history with depression and my contribution to a book called “The Pastor with a Thorn in his Side“. In the interview the presenter, Chloe Wilson asked a great question; do you think people assume that pastors have it worse than assistant pastors? I can only assume that Chloe was talking about the spiritual struggles and the difficulties of ministry. I’ve thought about that question a lot since Tuesday morning. Here are a few thoughts…
Chloe and I were talking about the difficulties of ministry and the struggles that most of the time go unseen. I think it’s quite natural for congregation member to assume that the ‘lead pastor’ has it worse (meaning ministry is more difficult) for the pastor than the assistant. This can be because the pastor normally gets more ‘air time’ than the assistant, that they are seen more as those leading ministries, ideas/initiatives and pastoral care. However, I think that this shows a lack of understanding about the role of a pastor.
A pastor is no different from an assistant pastor (at least in my context) and a pastor, assistant or not, is the same as an elder. The big difference is that the pastor is normally a paid full-time elder who has been set apart to do his work, in conjunction with other elders.
Does the pastor have it worse than the assistant?
It depends on the context. There are contexts in the US for example, where an assistant pastor, or a pastoral assistant, is a seminary graduate who wants ministry experience. There are associate pastors, who are seen as equals to the ‘senior pastor’ meaning that they share the same responsibility. And there are assistant pastors, who do the same work as the pastor, but they preach less. Regardless of the context, the biblical principle applies, that a pastor is an elder and therefore must fulfil the biblical criteria to do his ministry in that office.
There are many Christians who don’t seem to understand this. For example, I’ve been told before that I’d be a great pastor one day, almost suggesting that my current work is a kind of half-baked pastorate. The role of an elder is the same, whether you’re full-time employed to do it or if you do it in your ‘spare time’.
But, back to the question, does the pastor have it worse? I don’t think he does. I think he has it ‘differently’. As an assistant, I have more time to prepare sermons, to train church members, to do discipleship, to lead more ministries, to do more pastoral care. My ministry is not completely different from that of a senior pastor, but it can mean that I might have more time to do other kinds of things that the senior pastor can’t do.
There is freedom in that and it’s possible because I’m not the front man (with a lot of things). For many people the pastor is the one who will receive angry emails and complaints, he is the one who is seen to be ‘leading’ and therefore will receive most of the kick-back.
The roles of the pastor and assistant aren’t too dissimilar. Do people think the pastor has it worse? Yes, I think most church members would agree. Is this correct? No, I don’t think it is. The senior pastor won’t necessarily have it ‘worse’ than his assistant, but he will have it differently. Regardless of what you think of your pastor, assistant or elders, each of them and their families need care regardless of the extent of kick-back and struggles they go through. Check in on your pastor today and see how he is doing and check in on all of your elders and ask how you can be praying for them.