During Christmas you may have preached a sermon or two (I’m lobbying to have the Sundays after Christmas and Easter declared “Associate Pastor Sundays”), led a mission project, organized a Christmas-themed event, or even “held down the fort” for the week between Christmas and New Year’s while the lead pastor went on vacation. You enjoyed it. Congregants have complemented you on how well you performed these tasks. You are thinking, “I could be a lead pastor,” or even “I will be a lead pastor.”
Your ability to be a lead pastor is probably true. We associates should not consider ourselves the junior varsity of the church, and should always be working to improve our abilities to lead, serve, and follow Christ. Opportunities like those you received during Christmas are good both for you to stretch your abilities, and the congregation to hear a different voice of leadership. But it can be seductive.
When we believe our own press, “I could be a lead pastor,” sometimes becomes, “I should be the lead pastor.” When could becomes should, we are in the danger zone (cue Top Gun music). Subtly a competition begins, if only in your head. You begin to judge every move of the lead pastor. You begin to work toward your purposes, rather than the good of the whole congregation. You build your fan-base, rather than Jesus’. When this happens you have lost your way. You are not fulfilling your God-given call.
Thankfully there is a cure. The medicine can be bitter to swallow, but it is incredibly effective. Simply commit six words to memory. Tape them to your bathroom mirror so they are the first thing you see in the morning, and on your bed post so they are the last thing you see at night. Pray them. Chant them. Set them to music and sing them. Put them on flashcards, or whatever else you need to do to remember them. Ready? Here they are: “I am not the lead pastor.”
I know you want to be. I know you could be. I know someday you may be. I know some have said you should be. But right now, you are not. You are an associate. Choose to be an associate (see an earlier post, “We’re Number 2,” for more on this). Be the best associate you can be. This is your calling… if only for now. God has placed you in this role for a reason. Don’t blow it by getting ahead of God, trying to fill an already-full role, competing with another to be the lead dog.
Imagine what would have happened if after plague six or seven, Aaron decided Moses’ methods weren’t working and it was time for him to take the lead. Or if David, had acted on his press when the women sang, “Saul has killed his thousands, / but David has killed his tens of thousands!” (1 Samuel 18:7 CEB), deciding the time had come for a coup. Or if Timothy decided he needed to come to the church Paul was serving at the time and undermine his authority with his congregation. Each knew their role, and were incredibly effective in it.
Remember those six words, “I am not the lead pastor,” and four more positive word, “I am the associate.” Know your role. Do it well. Wait your turn. If you want the opportunity to be a lead pastor, it will come. Right now, though, God has called you to be an associate. Fulfill the call well.