Our generation has equated bigness with goodness, and an impressive church plant and attendance have been considered the marks of success. Pastors have assumed that people’s needs are being met if a lot of activity is going on in an up-to-date building.

Perhaps it is time to reorder priorities. I suggest that in the next decade the churches that will “make it” are those that emphasize staff and program more than plant, and that associate ministries (or “paraministry”) will be the main occupational growth area in the church.

Large churches will become larger. Many smaller churches will close. More and more ministry will be conducted outside the pulpit. Because of the energy shortage and skyrocketing building costs, congregations will remodel at $10 or $15 per square foot rather than build at $40 to $50 per square foot. More and more churches will offer multiple services Sunday mornings. Multi-use buildings will be busy six or seven days a week. And congregations will realize that they need one full-time worker for every thirty tithers or 100–125 attendees. A church whose attendance averages 1,000, for example, will need a staff of seven to ten.

But many pastors are not ready or willing to manage a flock of paraministers. A pastor may feel threatened by an associate, and may place frustrating limits on him. He may refuse to let his associate be credited with a new idea. He may be suspicious, believing that the associate is gathering about him a circle of loyal friends. And he may behave selfishly: by accepting a, $1,000 Christmas gift from his congregation, for example, while the director of Christian education contents himself with $25.

The fault is not all the pastors’. Associates themselves contribute to staff problems. They may leave prematurely; although momentum cannot be built up for an effective, permanent work in less than two years, many youth directors bolt after a year in the saddle. Some associates gather about them parishioners who have grievances to air concerning the pastor; this is a divisive action that hurts the church. And some paraministers are idea people who lack the conscientiousness and discipline to follow through. Their programs are initially impressive but don’t amount to much.

But as the pastor makes room for paraministry, he and his associates can move ahead. Problems can be overcome. A pastor who wants to build a team can acquire the techniques to do so.

What are some of the opportunities for paraministry? The following list is by no means complete: (1) music director, (2) visitation director, (3) stewardship director, (4) director of Christian education, (5) youth director, (6) church secretary, (7) children’s worker, (8) public relations director, (9) drama director, (10) minister to senior citizens, (11) nursery or Christian day-school administrator, and (12) camping director. All these are needed functions in the average large church today.

Pastors simply do not have time to perform all the work that needs to be done. They must make room for a team. One or more paraministers will be needed in at least 50,000 churches by 1980. It is estimated that the evangelical churches can absorb as many as 150,000 paraministers within ten years. Can churches overcome the obstacles?

First, paraministry must be considered permanent. The associate must look at his opportunity as satisfying, fulfilling, and God-glorifying. He agrees that teaching and preaching from the pulpit are of tremendous importance, but he knows that administering and organizing other activities in the church are very important too.

Second, the paraminister of the future will recognize the problems of working with the pastor and the church. He will follow a carefully worded job description. He will work to meet the expectations of the congregation.

Are evangelical educational institutions geared for the job of preparing paraministers? Many seminary graduates view paraministry positions as stepping stones to the pulpit, not life-time opportunities.

Leaders of seminaries, Christian liberal-arts colleges, and Bible colleges must move to change this attitude. These educators should build courses from the basis that paraministry is fulfilling, lifetime work.

Already some Christian colleges are restructuring the typical degrees that prepare men and women for paraministry. Many believe that the Bachelor of Theology and the Bachelor of Religious Education degrees are restrictive vestiges of a former era. The Bachelor of Arts in Ministries is a degree that colleges are beginning to offer.

Christian colleges and seminaries must orient future pastors to accept the prospect of ministry by a team. Seminaries should add additional courses in church management so that the pastor can see himself as the head of an administrative team, not a dictator but not a one-man band either.

Churches need to prepare for paraministry. A worthy goal for churches is one staff member for every 100 attendees. To reach this goal in most churches would mean adding two to twenty full-time staff members. Pastors should begin writing job descriptions for those additional positions. Trustees should take steps to provide adequate salary and housing, and to see that associates get a fair share of such benefits as Christmas gift money.

Soon the main work of evangelization, teaching, and Christian nurture in the churches will be performed outside the pulpit. This is a fact of life, and pastors should get ready for it.—DOUGLAS STAVE, dean of education, Northwestern College, Roseville, Minnesota.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.