Associate Minister: aiming for success

Life as a minister is one long learning curve. These last few weeks have included adjusting to a new ministerial colleague. She is only the second person to join the staff since I came five years ago and is the first to arrive only having had the search process to get to know the church.

So what have I noticed, which might be of use to others?

1. While the search process involves lots of questions, by all sides, getting down to work involves navigating all those assumptions you have about each other but never thought either to ask or to articulate. This matters because expectations are often based on the unsaid things. The successful minister is someone who is alert to this and adjusts quickly. 

2. Joining a staff team as an Associate rather than Team leader has an added dimension because the church isn’t going, in the short term, to mould itself around you but rather expects you to mould to it. By contrast, when you arrive as a sole minister or as the new ‘senior’ minister the church anticipates you will want to establish your own patterns, vision and way of working. The successful associate is one who manages to lead from the middle (as an insider) rather than from the front (or as an outsider).

3. Having responsibility for areas which have been under resourced creates a reservoir of goodwill; people look forward and are genuinely welcoming. Perhaps this relaxed attitude is because they are not expecting significant change, though in turn it creates opportunity and openness to change! The successful associate uses this goodwill to get alongside people and get stuck in.

4. Someone new brings a fresh perspective on things. But since many things in church life are the way they are as result of compromise or a history events combining the benefits of new perspective without unhelpfully rehearsing the reasons why ‘we do it this way here’ takes some skill. The successful minister logs these early perspectives before they get used to the new environment but then waits long enough to make sure they understand the background before seeking change.

5. A new team member affects everyone in the team. All of us have to adjust so we blend our relative strengths for maximum benefit. The successful team will be one which can adapt best and build good relationships in the early days. In my particular case one change seems to be the freedom to be more pro-risk (releasing the inner charismatic?) knowing that someone else is also handling the day to day stuff; so it will be fascinating to see how the next few months develop.

Fortunately our new team member is really good and is navigating these challenges with skill, including working out how to cope with me.

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