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I walk the line

Being an associate is like walking a tightrope. Well, I’ve never actually walked a tightrope. I’m afraid of heights. So I guess I’m saying that being an associate is like what I imagine it would be like to walk a tightrope. Or maybe it is more like a Johnny Cash song. Either way you have to walk the line.

The line we associates walk is the fine one between overstepping and paralysis, between competing with the lead pastor and waiting for her/his blessing before doing anything, between being a help and being a burden, between owning your ministry and disregarding the rest of the ministry of the congregation. Lean too far either way and you are headed for a crash.

You know about this from those whom you supervise. There are some you need to rein in. If you are not diligent in keeping tabs on that volunteer in charge of fundraising, he would organize a Casino Night for the youth group because it would make a lot of money. There are others you need to push. If you are not checking in with the choir director, you will not hear about the 20 families interested in starting a children’s choir. She is waiting for your say-so. You wish those serving under your supervision would take some initiative, without going overboard. You want them to walk the line. Your lead pastor is looking for the same from you.

From your unique perspective in the ministry, you may see ways that ministry could improve, or hear needs from congregation members. Some associates see that opportunity for ministry and because it is outside of their job description or because they don’t want to take on any more work, they keep it to themselves. They rationalize this decision by telling themselves that the person in charge of that ministry area will certainly see the need eventually. Or they convince themselves that if their supervisor(s) thought it was important they would assign it to them. Other associates see the same opportunity and go to the opposite extreme. They plow ahead. Sometimes they wind up encroaching on areas of ministry supervised by other staff members. Other times they get so consumed by this new area they neglect the things they were hired to do.

Neither keeping quiet nor plowing ahead are the right way to proceed. There is a middle road. When you see that opportunity, it is time to take that first step onto the high wire.

So how do you walk the line? The key is communication. Here are some tips:

  • Put it out there – Share what you see with your lead pastor and/or other staff members. You have a perspective they do not. That is beneficial.
  • Remember your perspective is unique – You are an associate with a specific responsibility. Others on staff may have a different vision for the need you see. Share in such a way that invites others to participate in a conversation, each sharing his or her expertise.
  • Be willing to let go – There is a real possibility that someone else might want to take this on. That is OK. It is not about you. It is about improving ministry.
  • Be honest about your availability – If appropriate, volunteer to work on this new ministry opportunity and talk with your supervisor(s) about current responsibilities you might need to delegate to volunteers to make room for this new one.
  • Don’t stop communicating – While you want to take the ball and run with it, keep communicating with the staff. Good communication can help you correct a misstep here and there before they become catastrophic.

Even a staff with great communication will not always do this perfectly. The lead pastor will not communicate her desires or needs clearly and leave you guessing – a direct route to paralysis. Or you will think you have communicated well with the lead pastor, but he will not have heard it. You are on your way to being perceived as overstepping. Constant communication allows for quick correction to any missteps.

[pullquote]What makes a tightrope walker good is his/her ability to quickly make adjustments to regain balance.[/pullquote]Notice that a tightrope walker never “gets it down” and strolls across the rope as though walking across the living room floor. What makes a tightrope walker good is his/her ability to quickly make adjustments to regain balance.The associate pastor needs to do the same. Oh, I overstepped a little on that one. I need to pause and make sure the lead pastor is in the loop. Now I get the feeling I somehow missed that the lead pastor wanted me to run with this thought. I need to step into it, asking less questions and taking more responsibility. Like the acrobat on the wire high above the center ring, corrections need to constantly be made.

Oh, and it is a good idea to have a net underneath… just in case.

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