My first ministry position was working with children, and I learned that connecting to kids became all about what captured their attention. If I was going to effectively engage with them, I needed to know all about the hottest toy, tv show, or silly song going around. Once I had children of my own, it became a little easier to keep my finger on the pulse of relevant topics for conversation. It took more time (and rightly so) to help translate principles in everyday life into spiritual lessons that children could understand, apply, and remember.
I have been surprised how much this skill has been essential as an associate pastor and staff member. Throughout the entire Bible, we see the importance of the man in the middle. In the Old Testament, both the priest and the prophet served as intermediators between God and man. The priest would speak to God for the people and the prophet would speak to the people for God. In the New Testament, we believers have the incredible miracle of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to hear from God and the very Son of God speaking to God on our behalf (Heb. 7:24-28).
British/American author of the books Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek, discussing the importance of leading from a middle position said, “most things break in the middle”. He illustrated this thought with a reality we can probably all relate to at one time in our life or another. In any normal business environment, the top level leaders have dreams, goals, and a relatively positive outlook on their company’s direction and future; while most entry level employees have the feeling that the company is a horrible dead-end job. So, where is the disconnect?
The disconnect is generally the failure of the middle leadership not translating the vision and passion to the team, and a failure to translate the lower-level team’s feedback in a helpful and condensed way to the company’s leadership, hence, “most things break in the middle”. In the same manner, the middle role of the associate pastor can be either a great help or hurt in serving both the Pastor and the church with the art of translation. One of the major roles of any associate pastor is the role of translator. As a translator, you translate the organizational vision into achievable steps and systems that accomplish the desired result. In the setting of church, you help communicate the vision of the church’s great commission practice to the people in your church to win souls and make disciples in the areas God has placed you over.
The art of translation works in two different directions.
One direction is the translation of the vision to the people serving in the ministries God has placed you over. I currently assist in our children and youth ministries and on a weekly basis have influence over 45+ volunteers, each with their own thoughts, spiritual giftings, and opportunities for growth. As a church, our desired vision is to build pathways for people to engage with the mission to reach, teach, and send out to minister. In each of these ministry areas, I weekly get the opportunity to translate that vision into achievable steps and systems that will both train our leaders and the next generation to see themselves as Great Commission workers. This isn’t just a one-time strategy meeting, but a weekly goal of helping our volunteers see themselves, their ministry areas, and each task as part of one of those three areas.
Another direction of translation is translating the feedback from our ministry volunteers back to the man of God chosen to shepherd our church. While sometimes challenging, I believe this can be a great blessing to our ministry when done right. One of the best gifts you can offer your Pastor as an associate is honesty. In general, most people don’t communicate their thoughts and feedback with the Pastor honestly. If you have ever sat in a room as a leader and felt like you were the last one to know something, you understand my point. The translation of honest feedback can help inform your Pastor of the spiritual temperature, potential problems, and potential opportunities of those working in your areas and may also have the added effect of bolstering your church where it is weak. For example, we recently put into place a new kids check in area for our children’s ministry events. As you may know, asking people to do something new can come with all sorts of questions and confusion, especially if it has never been done before. While there are always those who question and complain (seemingly because they just want to) it was a great blessing for us to hear all the wonderful feedback from parents and guests of how appreciative they were that we took the safety and security of their children so seriously. Being able to have this feedback and translating it back to our Pastor was a great blessing to help him continue to shepherd our young families. Successful translation and communication in both directions is an important art to help the continued alignment of the church ministries and volunteers as they seek to fulfill the Great Commission.
Your role as translator has the incredible potential to help both your Pastor and church unify as you serve the Lord together.