When a decision was made to be a career associate pastor, a mentor helped me to discern the direction by helping me list the advantages and disadvantages. Here's a list based on 22 years as a staff pastor, and 3 years in extension ministry. It bears a little resemblance to the list I started with in the 1980's.
Generally a saner schedule; family time can be a higher priority
Urban areas may allow better job opportunities for spouse
Often more choice in ministry settings (churches)
Ministry roles can offer greater specialization; expertise
Closer working connection to other clergy than solo pastors
Much of depends on the quality of working relationship with supervisor(s)
The level of compensation is usually less if moving from a staff to a solo pastorate
In specializing, you will sometimes miss doing other parts of the pastoral ministry
Learning to handle triangulation, such as between parishioners and supervisors
Lack of equipping across denomination in healthy staff dynamics for associates
Most of our seminary training assumes solo pastoring, so the bias still seems to be against career associate ministry. They see themselves as serving the areas of their locality or region. For example, Duke Divinity in the 1980's served primarily the rural parish of the south. Look also at the church in which you were formed. I have tended to look favorably on the associate role because my home church was larger and had many associates in my formative years. Some became close friends and mentors. So it might be helpful to look at your faith pilgrimage and size of the church that shaped your calling.
I've observed a trend of some faster growing churches to hire more part time staff than full time clergy. In general, it takes a very long time for churches to make decisions about adding new clergy, so there's usually not much change in the market for staff associates. In at least the last 15 years, it seems that that larger churches have looked more for associates with specialties in administrative and executive skills or preaching ability. Maybe more congregations are following Lyle Shaller's advise in his book The Very Large Church. This is an excellent book for those already in or now considering career staff ministry.
Oldies but Goodies
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