Has the Associate Pastor's role changed meaningfully in the last twenty years? An observation offered by one District Superintendent was that the larger UMC's are looking for solid preachers and teachers more than talented equippers and organizers. If a Lead Pastor is looking for a gifted communicator, then the conventional wisdom is that a volunteer or lay staff is more cost effective to run the equipping ministry.
That being said, Clergy serving as staff members are a present reality moving forward. The Discipline gives Elders access to the SPRC (staff parish relations committee).* Precious little about this leadership role, leaving to the Lead Pastor and Associate to define in concrete terms, what the functional relationship between you and the SPRC actually is and will be.
The SPRC is under the direction of the Lead Pastor and your meetings with this group are under the Lead's direction and discretion. In light of this, I recommend staff clergy take some initiative in the interpretation, support, and evaluation of their work. Try to avoid the phenomenon of being left completely out of the discussion of your performance on the SPRC.
1. Request an assigned member of the SPRC to meet with you, at least 8 times over the next year. Their job is to pray for you, get to know you, and your job description, your ministry area's current goals, as well as intermediate and long-term objectives.
2. Request an 8-10 minute in-person meeting with the SPRC, every 6-8 months. This would allow for a non-threatening way to share your hopes, dreams, and current efforts. They can ask questions, etc. Have your appearance be entered in the minutes of that meeting.
3. If you come up empty with both #1 and #2, asking the Lead Pastor for an annual meeting with the SPRC is not out line, but perfectly acceptable. It's in the Discipline and further, it is good stewardship of this committee's time. If you still meet with resistance, keep a record by noting it and signing.
4. Before, you act on any of the above, there's one caveat: has trust been well-established between you and the Lead? If not, work on this important area first. If more work needs to be done, see if a mini, face-to face meeting is possible. Take the initiative. Failing an in-person meeting, communicate your updates regularly. Let them know progress toward your stated goals. Too, invite them to check and recalibrate any existing goals.
Functionally, staff clergy have extra levels of accountability: 1) Staff Supervisor 2) Lead or Senior Pastor 3) District Superintendent 4) Bishops. These forces all have their own particular stake in appointments and clergy staff positions. Not written is the hegemony of Senior Pastors. Although the word "church" is used in making appointments, in reality, it is not the church that determines whether or not an associate is invited or leaves.
Consider this an encouragement to cultivate trust and honest communication at all levels by taking the initiative now. Your efforts may prove beneficial to you in the future.
*The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (2016), Paragraphs 425-429.