In order to become an associate pastor, you must generally complete seminary and have at least some experience leading a church group or congregation. Most of the time, an associate pastor is a junior-level member of the clergy in any of a variety of Christian churches. You must usually select your denomination early on and tailor your training and education to the teachings of that particular church. Focusing your schooling on specific areas of ministry, particularly children’s education, retreat leadership, or evangelization, can help make you a more competitive candidate, as well.
There is no single defined path to become an associate pastor. Seminary, or formal pastor education, is usually required, but past that much depends on he needs of each specific church. You can usually bolster your candidacy by doing some research into the sorts of jobs you want to have and talking with more senior pastors on an informational basis about what they are looking for in associates.
A lot of the journey to become an associate pastor depends on personality. Churches often hire young priests and ministers based not only on training, but also on how well the individual candidate meshes or interfaces with the congregation. Most of the time, an associate or assistant pastor will advance during his or her service and will eventually be promoted to a more senior leadership position. The jobs are usually meant to be permanent, in other words, or at least semi-permanent. This makes finding a good match more important than simply landing a job.
Churches frequently look for associate pastors to fill certain defined roles, usually in accordance with congregational needs or weaknesses. It is not uncommon to see listings for associate pastors dedicated to running children’s programming, for instance, or coordinating adult education. In most cases, these designations are intended to help self-select someone who would be a good fit for the position.
It is usually a good idea to look for jobs that match your own personal interests rather than trying to cultivate your interests based on what churches want. This may mean that you need to broaden your search to include multiple geographic areas, or that you need to be flexible when considering congregation size and statistics. It is natural to have an ideal setting in mind when first starting out, but a big part of the journey to become an associate pastor is being flexible and patient when waiting for the job that is best for both you and the searching church.
The career center or placement office at your seminary is usually the best place to start when looking for potential matches. You should prepare packets for all jobs that seem like good fits. Packets include your basic credentials, as well as directed written statements about your beliefs, your interests, and how you think you are well-suited to become an associate pastor in a given church, among other things. Some tailoring to the church is important, but you should be careful to keep your focus on representing yourself accurately.
Interviews are usually coordinated by a church’s governing board, vestry, or elders committee. Here you will get a good sense of what the church is about and what it needs. In order to really get a feel for the parish’s nature, though, you may need to spend a bit of time observing it from the outside. Attend a few services, if you can, and watch how the people participate and interact.
Before you commit to become an associate pastor at a certain church, it is wise to make sure that you feel comfortable there. Being a good fit on paper is not usually enough to make the job worthwhile or enjoyable. You have to want the church as much as the church wants you in order for the relationship to be productive.