As the church added a second pastor, that person often received the title Associate or Assistant Pastor. In 2000, Martin Hawkins, Assistant Pastor at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, completed a doctoral study on the role of the Associate and Assistant Pastor.

He sought to present a profile of the typical Associate Pastor. Hawkins defines the role of the Assistant Pastor:

The assistant pastor’s position is a supportive leadership position. The individual in this position has the primary responsibility to assist the senior pastor in creation, implementation, and management of specific functions designed to bring about the unity and maturity of the body of Christ. This will involve working closely with the ruling board as well as the congregation.

Hawkins key term for the Assistant’s role is specific functions. While the Senior Pastor has responsibility for all ministries in the church, the Assistant oversees only a limited number of ministry areas. As to the duties of the Assistant, Hawkins notes:

Often, this position’s duties will entail general responsibilities delegated by the senior pastor or ruling board, or both. In other instances, this position is responsible for specific areas of ministry such as Education, Outreach, Youth or Worship. Sometimes the assistant pastor will function as an executive pastor who oversees all internal administration.

Hawkins points the way from the Assistant Pastor to a beginning definition of the Executive Pastor, pointing to something beyond the limited scope of the Assistant Pastor.

There are problems related to the Assistant Pastor position. The role of the Assistant Pastor is often overlooked, as Hawkins says “the Congregation is highly unaware of the intricate working of the Assistant and Associate Pastors.” Further, he notes that “many associate pastors struggle in their positions to find fulfillment and significance in their roles.” In 1997, Greg Ogden pointed out that there is transience in the role: “On the average, associate pastors change positions every three to four years. This turnover indicates an underlying dissatisfaction in the role of associate. Two primary reasons for this are: (1) in the church culture, it is assumed that associates worth their salt will move toward a senior position, and (2) within some church staffs, there is considerable dissension between associate and senior pastors.”

For a period of time the Assistant helped the Senior Pastor. It seems that as the church grew that the Assistant role did not have the required scope to enable the Senior Pastor to focus on preaching. Schaller comments that, “The larger the congregation and the longer it has been in existence, the more complex the requirements of the staff. This factor is one reason why many large churches are replacing the full-time associate minister ”

Many churches continue to use the position of Associate or Assistant Pastor. This may be due to the history of the church, polity, or the need to make changes on a timely basis. Assistant Pastor Hawkins and Senior Pastor Dr. Anthony Evans have said that Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship of Dallas, Texas, will move toward the Executive Pastor role in the foreseeable future. An organizational chart of a church with an Associate Pastor can be constructed. There are many variations of church structure with an Associate Pastor.

The above organizational chart illustrated the difficulty of the Assistant or Associate Pastor roles. The Senior Pastor has at least six people in a reporting relationship. There will be others who will need to meet with the Senior Pastor on a regular basis, such as the person who oversees the worship services. The Senior Pastor has personnel to handle the tasks of ministry but oversight is still with the Senior Pastor. This scenario puts a tremendous management burden on the Senior Pastor, without even addressing preaching responsibilities.

The Senior Pastor has one individual in a reporting relationship, only the Executive Pastor. The Executive Pastor has a direct reporting relationship with the Core Ministry Team. This model is scalable as the Core Ministry Team in a smaller church could be all volunteers or mixed of paid staff. The Core Ministry Team in a larger church could be four to six pastoral staff with ten to forty, or more, ministers under them. Whether in a smaller or larger church, the Senior Pastor is free from management duties so as to focus on the pastoral disciplines.


View the footnotes and read the entire dissertation in PDF format:  Dissertation