September 20, 2015 Leave a Comment
Find all past and future posts HERE.
I am in the process of moving all the content of AssociatePastor.org, to a tab on JoeIovino.com.
I will update this post as the process continues.
For associates and other staff ministers.
June 23, 2015 Leave a Comment
One of the lessons I have learned is about time and the limited amount of it I have available each week.
In my pastoral positions, I had a good deal of control over my schedule. There were many appointments to keep and meetings to attend, but I was the one setting most of them. For example, I could schedule the mission trip parents meeting on Wednesday night because on Tuesdays my family watched Dancing with the Stars together. Protecting family time was important and it should be.
What I failed to realize fully, was that every meeting I did schedule was cutting into someone else’s family time, which was just as important to them and should be. I confess I didn’t always treat their attendance as the valuable donation to the life of the church that it was.
When people come to a meeting, they are donating something very valuable to the church. Respect their gift with these tips.
Time is a valuable commodity because it is in very short supply for many. Be sure to respect what people give. It is a donation of great value. Following these steps will increase attendance and attention at the meetings you choose to lead, and will free up more time with your family for Dancing with the Stars.
Oh no! Was I Lumbergh?
April 4, 2015 Leave a Comment
I have been a college basketball fan since high school. I remember my heart breaking that night in 1982 when Georgetown guard Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, mistakenly passed the ball to North Carolina’s James Worthy with 7 seconds on the clock, icing the championship game for the Tarheels.
This weekend I plan to watch all three games. While I’m not a fan of any one of the four teams left in this year’s madness, I will be rooting for Michigan State and Kentucky (a) because I picked them, and (b) because one is the underdog and the other is going for history. Won’t that make for a great championship game story?
One of the things I like about college basketball is the importance placed on the assist. For those not familiar with basketball, a player receives an assist when they make a pass that leads to another player scoring. While the guy hitting the 3-point shot or making the thunderous dunk may get most of the applause and headlines, assists get noticed. They are an official stat listed alongside points and rebounds in the boxscore.
During one of the games this weekend you may notice a player who has just scored pointing as he races back to play defense. He is pointing at his teammate who made the assist. I recently heard on ESPN and see it confirmed in this article, that the pointing practice was brought to college basketball by the legendary coach of that 1982 Carolina team, Dean Smith (those darn Tarheels are everywhere).
A huge proponent of teamwork, Smith wanted his scorers to share the spotlight with those who helped make it happen. Teaching his players to recognize their teammates, drew attention to the passers, and encouraged all players to focus more on the team scoring than their individual point totals.
We all want to be the scorer. On the court, in the boardroom, and even in the church. It feels good as an associate pastor to be recognized for the sermon on the Sunday after Easter (one of two Sundays I have deemed our days), to see one of your ideas find success in the congregation, or lead a charge to make a procedural change.
But far more often, we’re not the scorer. We set things up, work behind the scenes, deal with handfuls of people. We’re making the assist. Maybe that’s why not all that long ago we were commonly called “Assistant Pastors.”
Wise lead pastors will point to their associate pastors after a big score. All good leaders ought to publicly recognize their team from time to time. But if your lead pastor is stingy with the praise, take it from me, the assists matter.
While the lead pastor may get most of the recognition, count your assists. The growth of the congregation is happening because of your work others may never see. Those new ministries took off because of your agile passing. Sunday’s Easter extravaganza of worship is able to happen because of the work you did when no one else was in the building.
As Associate Pastors, we are called to be the assist leaders of our congregations. You many never win an MVP trophy, but you and I know you are an integral part in making glorious things happen for the Kingdom of God.
January 27, 2014 Leave a Comment
We general practitioner associate pastors can become awfully adept at collecting tasks. We may have a line at the bottom of our job description that says something like, “Other duties as determined by the pastor,” and accumulated a load of those other duties. Or we may have slipped into “caulk ministry,” making sure nothing falls through the cracks, and collected several more little jobs. Some of us, and I’m looking in the mirror here, have become hoarders of those tasks, always collecting more without ever letting go of any one of them. Our workday has become so crammed full we don’t know how we get through the week. Sometimes we need to sort through our collections to decide what should stay and what has to go.
In recent weeks, I’d been feeling overwhelmed with all I needed to do. At first I thought it was the post-Christmas funk, but a staff meeting reminded me of two new leadership tasks coming my way soon. It was time to begin sorting through responsibilities, finding good homes for some of the things I do.
I decided to let go of two tasks for different reasons. You may find these helpful to consider.
The first was simple to spot. I have been the builder of our worship service slides for years. This is a fairly straightforward administrative task which needs to be completed each week. I like it, and I’m good at it, but I don’t need to be the one doing it.
I approached the person who has built the slides when I have been on vacation to see if it was something she would be willing to do each week. I was surprised and thrilled when she immediately said she would. When I spoke to her recently, fearful she was a bit overwhelmed, she told me she was loving the work, even getting lost in it. What a blessing that turned out to be for both of us.
Many of us perform administrative tasks which we could easily train someone else to do. Maybe it is attendance, or keeping track of participant accounts, or maybe it is making sure there is a snack at every meeting. Not only will letting it go help you, the person(s) who then take it on for you will be given the opportunity to use their gifts in service to Christ and the church.
The second was a bit more difficult to spot. Over the past several years I have been blessed with young adults helping with our youth ministry. Several of these young adults are trained to work with youth as educators and in social service fields. Slowly I had been giving them more responsibility, to the point where my primary role was providing them with curriculum to use each Sunday night, which they would then carry out. In addition, they are leading high school small groups, taking youth out to lunch, attending their plays and sporting events, and doing all the work of an exceptional youth leader. So I met with a couple of them and asked if they would be willing to take take the next step, planning the youth meetings.
This was a hard one for me. Youth ministry is something I have felt called to for almost 20 years. So this was not something I didn’t think I needed to do. But God has placed these exceptional people in my life and in the congregation, and they were not being used to the fullness of their ability. By enlarging their sphere of responsibility, I am helping them grow in their discipleship. My role now is equipping them to be the best youth leaders they can be by sharing my experience.
Many of us have gifted people around us to whom we could give more responsibility. Expanding the role of these exceptional young people has not only freed me up to work in other areas, it is also giving them opportunities to grow as servants of Jesus Christ who are giving of themselves to the youth of the congregation. And it is already improving the youth ministry.
When sharing these shifts in my responsibilities with our children’s minister, I joked, “I’m working myself right out of a job!” She replied, “Isn’t that the point?” I guess it is. We build a ministry, then equip others to carry it on while we go build something else. To do this, we cannot be afraid to let go. When we stop hoarding tasks we allow others to use their gifts in service to Christ and the church, and we are freed to pursue other areas of ministry.
January 23, 2014 Leave a Comment
We associate pastors talk… a lot. We teach, preach, present, counsel, visit, and chat. Sometimes, we might say something of which we are not proud – a mistake, a terse answer, or an obviously frustrated response to a question the person in front of us has asked for the first time but you are hearing for the 15th time this week. We make mistakes, show emotion, and are simply sometimes off our game.
Recently, after a sermon, a member of our congregation came to correct me on a minor point I had made in a sermon illustration that was just completely wrong. I mean, it wasn’t even close. It was about a holiday in her home country and my research pointed me in a very wrong direction. She was gracious in correcting me, and I’m glad she did, but boy was I embarrassed.
Maybe that’s why when I watched Richard Sherman’s interview with Erin Andrews after the Seattle Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers for the privilege of playing in the Super Bowl, my first thought was compassion. I felt bad for him. As I watched the video (on YouTube here and embedded below), I could almost see the adrenaline coursing through his veins. He had just made THE play that sent his team to play in the biggest game in sports. In the heat of the moment, Erin Andrews did what sideline reporters do. She stuck a mic in front of the hero and asked him a question, and well… he said something stupid. Since then, the video has gone viral, and the interview has been the focus of much of the early Super Bowl talk. I’m so thankful my faux pas only happen in front of a handful of people at a time, and not millions on national television.
So, here are a couple of thoughts about saying things we wish we could take back.
August 18, 2013 Leave a Comment
A good leader is sometimes called upon to lead others where they do not necessarily want to go. We Associate Pastors know this. We upset the apple cart when we start a new program, tweak a worship service, change the night our youth group meets, buy a different curriculum for our Sunday School classes, or something else. No matter how good or wonderful the change might be, we feel many digging in because they do not wish to follow us to these new pastures. When we feel the tension, it is easy to abandon the new path. That will ease the tension, but at what price? On a good staff, each team member may take a turn being the one ready to give up, but together we “lead on!”
Recently, I co-led a couple of breakout sessions of the School of Congregational Development of the United Methodist Church, with the lead pastor with whom I serve, Bob Kaylor. We were sharing our discipleship program – how it works, and how it was implemented – with other United Methodist pastors and clergy. It would have been easy to present all rainbows and unicorns. We met our three-year goal for participation in less than a year. Our discipleship program has quickly become part of the DNA of the congregation, and it would be hard to imagine going forward without it. But it would have been unfair to our colleagues not to include how we almost gave up on it in the first several months, because of the resistance we felt. So we talked about it, but only briefly as an aside.
When the time came for questions, this was the predominant question. I heard my colleagues saying, “I know this is important, and would like to implement it in my congregation, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be well received.”
One of the keys for us as a staff was the support we gave one another. There were times in the implementation of our discipleship program where I lost my nerve and was ready to advocate for going back to the way things were. Bob would say something like, “I think we are on the right track here. We need to keep going.” At other times he would check in with me, pretty sure we needed to pull the plug because of the resistance, when I would hold him up often pointing to positives I had seen. Other times there were leaders within the congregation who would encourage both of us.
Leadership can be tiring. There are times when we are not sure we have the strength to keep going, and want to find an easier path. At those times, we as associate pastors have a responsibility to encourage others on our staffs to keep leading, even when the going gets rough. We also need to use the staff to do the same for us.
June 10, 2013 Leave a Comment
‘Tis the season for the preaching of associate pastors. During the summer months, when lead pastors take vacation time, they often hand us, their associates and other staff members, the role of preaching, leading worship, and generally covering for them while they are gone. Some of us are excited to get this role, others terrified. Either way, preaching as an associate brings a unique set of challenges.
Recently, while having dinner with a friend who serves as “the other teaching pastor” (his words, not mine) of a congregation in town, the conversation turned to the challenges of preaching as associates. I laughed when he told me how difficult it can be to refer to “my last talk” when it happened several months ago, and we shared humorous stories about teasing our lead pastors for giving us “difficult topics” to preach on, like sex and money, while they are out of town. It is always fun to swap stories with another associate.
He told me he sometimes opens sermons by apologizing to the congregation that they are getting “the B-Team today.” I told him how I have sometimes referred to myself the junior varsity. The conversation reminded me of a guest preacher subbing for Rob Bell at Mars Hill Bible Church one Sunday who opened his sermon by comparing coming to Mars Hill and getting a guest preacher, to driving to Wally World and finding it closed – an homage to the 1983 film National Lampoon’s Vacation. All of this is great fun with the congregation, and a technique to lower the tension by naming the elephant in the room – you are not the preacher some were expecting and are familiar with.
But don’t dwell there. It is wise to name their disappointment, but be sure they know you do not believe it. You are not the B-Team, the junior varsity, or the equivalent of Wally World being closed. You have been entrusted with this Sunday’s message, this opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those seated before you.
I know you will receive messages to the contrary. Attendance may be a fraction of what it was the week before when the lead pastor was in town. Expectations for your preaching may be low. You may get compliments about giving a “nice” sermon, the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head. You may even be asked between services when the pastor is coming back, causing you to wonder if people are sizing up whether to come back next Sunday. These are all discouraging messages which may cause you to wonder if it is worth the effort of top-notch preparation.
Through years of preaching as an associate, I have learned not to think of the congregation as a unit, but as individuals. The Sunday you preach is an important day for someone in the congregation who needs to hear a word of grace. It matters to another who needs to hear God loves them. Another has come who needs to be strengthened for the week ahead by a word from God delivered through you. You have a sacred responsibility, entrusted to you by God through the lead pastor. Don’t squander it.
Preaching in the summer as an associate may feel like a call to simply pass the time. It is not. You do not have the luxury of phoning it in as the B-Team. You have been entrusted to deliver the word of the Lord to someone. Don’t shirk that responsibility.
May 13, 2013 Leave a Comment
A new article I wrote was posted to Asbury Theological Seminary’s Seedbed Blog today.
“When an Associate Needs to Serve as Priest to the Lead Pastor” is about a very difficult time in the life of any associate – when we feel led to step out and speak to our lead pastor. Drawing from the wisdom of Samuel’s discussion with Saul and Nathan’s with David, I share some lessons to be learned, and hopefully give those who need it the courage to follow God’s lead.
Please follow the link and give it a read. Let me know what you think.
May 4, 2013 1 Comment
I don’t always admit this, but I have been a fan of The Simpsons since it first appeared on the Tracy Ullman Show as shorts, some 25 years ago. One of the things consistently drawing me to the show, besides my juvenile sense of humor, has been their satire of the church. I mean, how many other shows have the whole cast in church every Sunday, and have the recurring character of a pastor as well-developed as Reverend Timothy Lovejoy (and 7th Heaven doesn’t count)? Over the years while making me laugh, they have also helped me teach some youth lessons, and I have even dared to show clips during several sermons.
On Sunday, April 28, in an episode titled “Pulpit Friction,” The Simpsons continued their clever and always funny jabbing at the church with the introduction of The First Church of Springfield’s first associate pastor. With the appearance of “the right, reverend Elijah Hooper” we associate pastors have become culturally relevant, even if it is with yellow skin and a huge overbite.
The entire town of Springfield gathers at the church for help and solace during a bedbug epidemic. While Reverend Lovejoy is trying to calm the mob by appealing to The Epistle of Jeremy and Tobit from the Apocrypha (he’s not great under pressure), the easy going Parson arrives in a golf cart and cardigan to return Lovejoy’s six-iron. Standing before the congregation the Parson introduces Reverend Hooper (voiced by Edward Norton) as “the number two man from Shelbyville,” who “introduced angle parking.” “We got in six more cars,” the Parson gloats (what we associates do is so important). When Lovejoy pushes back, saying he doesn’t need an associate, the Parson appoints Hooper anyway. Sounds like The First Church of Springfield may be a United Methodist congregation.
Everyone is enamored with the smooth-talking new associate, prompting Lovejoy call the day “the worst 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time ever.” In contrast to Lovejoy’s choice of apocryphal books to address the crisis, Hooper draws his illustrations from cultural references. For example, in his first sermon we hear him conclude, “So you see, what Jesus is saying really can be explained by an episode of Californication.”
The satirical gems keep coming in this episode, like Ned Flanders, the Simpson family’s Christian neighbor, muttering to himself while knitting, “Church songs with clapping. I don’t think this is what Martin Presby Luther had in mind when he founded our religion by sticking his three suggestions under the Pope’s windshield wiper” (OK, so maybe they aren’t Methodist). There is also Bart and Homer’s exchange:
Bart: Dad, you always hated church.
Homer: Now for the record, I hated the building, the people in it, and the spirit it represented, but I never hated the church itself.
Someone on the writing staff of The Simpsons knows something about the church.
In spite of this episode poking fun at us for doing such things, I found a lesson here. There is something to be learned about how not to be an associate from Rev. Elijah Hooper.
Hooper makes some huge mistakes – he springs things onto the lead pastor during worship, builds a following of his own rather than disciples of Jesus, and shows poor judgment selecting Homer to be a new deacon. But the most critical error that leads to him being run out of Springfield, is his lack of theology.
When crisis visits the church again, this time it’s frogs instead of bedbugs, the people gather at the church asking Hooper to minister to them this time. Unfortunately, his “easy-going offshoot of Protestantism,” as he describes his faith to Moe the bartender, has nothing to offer. He tries to appeal to “The Blindside with Sandy Bullock,” as he call it, but the crisis escalates. Finally, in the stress all he can mutter is, “Um… video games. Uh… Twitter. How to Train Your Dragon,” and as the congregants descend upon him, “Fight Club!” He’s smooth-talking, but he’s got nothing of substance to say.
Lovejoy arrives dramatically quoting Psalm 23, which somehow soothes (Homer says “bores”) the frogs to sleep so they can be swept up and removed. Reverend Tim Lovejoy has saved the day, prompting his congregants to give him a Gatorade bath with the water from the baptismal.
I guess theology wins every time. Even in Springfield.