As a church grows in size and scope, there often becomes a need to expand leadership positions beyond one traditional pastor into a plurality of pastors or elders. Even with the biblically-ordained position of deacon picking up the slack in terms of hospital visits and caring for the church body, churches often add an associate or assistant pastor to specialize in one or more areas that the head pastor does not have adequate time to serve fully. While the responsibilities of an associate pastor vary, even within a denomination, there are several common threads.
In many churches an associate pastor performs the head pastor's job in his absence. If a head pastor leads a revival service at another church, leaves to perform a wedding, takes a short sabbatical or vacation or is not available for another reason, the associate will typically take up his duties until he returns. This may include preaching in all worship services, keeping office hours and providing spiritual or secular leadership. He may be called to lead church business meetings, visit sick church members and assist the worship director in preparing a song schedule. In short, for many churches, the associate becomes a proxy head pastor.
Since most head pastors are present most of the time, an associate pastor often assumes a specialty pastoral role to enhance one or more aspects of a church that may be neglected as it grows. Associates are often placed in charge of the education of a single group, such as youth or seniors, or of all of the church members. Some associate pastors with the gifts of evangelism and administrative skills are placed in charge of outreach and church planting. Musically-talented associate ministers may lead the worship service.
Primary and Special Services
Associate pastors are sometimes called to perform the primary and special services in a church. Weddings and funerals, especially in a large church, can have significant overlap in dates, times and locations. Associate pastors work with head pastors to accommodate these schedules as much as possible. He may also be called to assist in pre-marital counselling as part of this wedding process. Baptisms, in some churches, are performed by an associate pastor or pastors in special services. Even the Lord's Supper, while typically delivered to congregants by deacons or similar leaders, may be lead by an associate pastor.
Being a subordinate position within church leadership, the associate performs the duties asked of him by the head pastor. He may be asked to head special projects or committees, lead mission projects, organize capital improvement projects or similar activities. Being an ordained pastor, he may also represent the church in executive counsel meetings required to maintain tax-exempt status. Similarly, he may also act as a church representative in state or national denominational meetings.