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What I Wish I Knew About Moving From an Associate Pastor to a Lead Pastor

As a person in the second chair, it was almost as if I could do no wrong (or at least that’s how it felt).

Before planting a church, I remember reading some church planting materials and thinking, “I will be the exception—I will not go through the same heartache when planting an urban church. After all, people love me now. They’ll love me when I’m a lead pastor too.”

Little did I know the rude awakening I was in for.

Being a lead pastor (as well as a church planter) has opened me up to more criticism and more awareness of my weaknesses and sinful tendencies than I ever experienced as an associate pastor.

2. As a Lead Pastor, I Am Forced to Be More Responsible Than I Ever Have Before

I’d like to think that I’m a responsible person—that I work hard and that I’m reliable when working on a team. Then I became a church planter/lead pastor, and I experienced a sense of responsibility that I never quite had before, even though I came from the staff of a large church.

As a lead pastor, if something is done/said/unsaid/written/unwritten/etc., I ultimately carry the responsibility. Meetings cannot start if I’m not there to lead them, and I never realized how different it feels to be late for a meeting when I’m the lead person, as opposed to an associate.

As an associate, I could have an “off” day without disrupting things too much. As a lead pastor, when I have an “off” day, everyone feels it a bit more. As an associate, it was so much easier to point out the faults of the lead person. When I became the lead person, it became hard to receive comments about my faults when I kept thinking, “But I’m working so hard!” And I’m working so hard because I feel so responsible.

Ultimately, as a lead pastor, I have the greatest influence on our church’s culture by what I say and do (or don’t say and don’t do)—for good or bad—than any other person in the church.

Helpful Next Steps if You’re Moving From an Associate to a Church Planter/Lead Pastor Position

As you can see from the above, personal integrity and emotional health become much more paramount as a lead pastor.

One of the best books I’ve read on the topic is Emotionally Healthy Leader by Pete Scazzero. Scazzero writes earnestly of the need for pastors to develop an inner life that can sustain the pressures of ministry, and these pressures only intensify in church planting and senior leadership.

My prayer is that new church planters will examine their inner lives and emotional health before the intense pressures of church planting/senior leadership come upon them.