Editor’s note: This article in the series “Transitions: Helping churches and church leaders in changing times” is provided in partnership with the Center for Healthy Churches (chchurches.org).
Pastors serving in tandem
It all began not so much as a novel idea but a fresh answer to a question that was burdening the faculty at Truett Seminary: “Why is it that so many of our recent graduates seem to leave the seminary, go to their first church, and then leave the ministry?”
One answer could be to admit that the decline of Protestant churches has exerted more and more stress on the church and its ministers. Sociologically speaking, life in the local parish has become much more difficult.
I don’t know of any of my colleagues who would say that ministry has gotten easier over the years. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Church life is growing increasingly demanding with new technologies, new theologies and new ecclesiology.
In short, ministers these days face what all ministers have faced over the years: the expectation of having gifts for every ministry and even nuance of ministry in the church — only in exponential ways.
The electronic church has not only made critics of its members but has also overwhelmed the unique voice of the pastor with blaring sounds of cultural Christianity. We’re in a time where confusion of calling runs rampant in local congregations and its ministers.
Perhaps it’s that confusion that led Griff Martin and me to respond to the seminary with the idea of a co-pastorate model, where a young minister could be paired with an older minister to work side-by-side, in tandem.
The professors were enthusiastically affirming. After all, one of the innovative strategies of Jesus was to send out his disciples in pairs. He seemed to realize that having a comrade in the faith would bolster each disciple’s confidence and courage.
The early church picked up on that philosophy: When they sent out missionaries, they did so in pairs (or more), and a good deal of the early missionaries’ success came from the fact that the disciples had a distinct synergy in working in twosomes. Individual gifts appeared to complement each other (e.g., Paul and Barnabas, Simon Peter and John Mark, Priscilla and Aquila), expanding perspectives and ministries.
Therefore, it is a bit ironic that such a model of ministry has not been employed more often in the 21st-century church. And that is a shame, because the concept of a co-pastorate has myriad advantages, especially if the two pastors are different ages.
For instance, pulpit committees deal with a dilemma that may have always been an issue but is most acute in our time: that is the question of opting for someone young who can attract young families versus an older leader who has the wisdom garnered by experience. In the co-pastorate, this question is dealt with in ways that address both needs.
In addition, this model bears fruit that benefits pastors and congregation alike. Better sermons, lessons and lectures are possible, because more time is afforded for preparation. Better pastoral care and spiritual direction can be carried out, because the personal time necessary for quality ministry is available.
What’s more, administration and communication benefit from the proverbial two heads being better than one. In short, a co-pastorate allows more creativity, more energy, more enthusiasm, and a wider variety of ideas and insights.
This model naturally increases giftedness, while at the same time decreasing the loneliness and stress that plague the ministries of so many pastors. In addition, the co-pastorate fosters the spiritual discipline of humility. It calls for placing ego aside by genuinely praying for one another and celebrating the successes of one’s colleague.
I became aware of the advantages of such a ministry when I observed Hardy Clemons and John Claypool as co-pastors of Second Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas. Here were two incredibly gifted ministers, both effective communicators and leaders.
In working together they were able to give Second Baptist diverse opportunities for spiritual growth and discipleship. Their collegiality encouraged one another and inspired so many ministers who watched them.
In our own context Griff Martin and I have been serving together for more than four years. Griff is one of the brightest ministers I know. He is intelligent, enthusiastic and deeply committed to Christian community. I have so much enjoyed his theological inquisitiveness and engaging personality.
What’s more, he is a voracious reader, always sharing new thoughts and new reads. The result is that I have broadened my reading discipline to discover all kinds of new worlds. Hopefully, I have returned the favor. (Of course, both of our libraries have expanded to the point of spousal concern at home and the office!)
Sharing ministry with Griff has made me a better minister. He has made me more attentive to the world around me as well as to the still small voice that beckons me.
To share in such a calling makes ministry all the more meaningful. My sense is that the co-pastorate not only encourages longevity in a pastorate but also a living model of how the Gospel works its way out in our day and time. BT
—Mike Massar is co-pastor of University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La.