I've been an associate minister for going on two years now. I love associate ministry. While I understand that it is a stepping stone for a lot of people, I feel deeply called to this role - both generally as well as specifically at the church I serve.
There were surprisingly few bumps in the transition from solo to associate ministry, in large part due to my truly wonderful colleagues. In addition to many more opportunities to work collaboratively, one of the biggest differences between solo and staff ministry is that I no longer preach every Sunday. I loved preaching every Sunday. It was this incredible crucible for me: from age twenty-five to thirty, I studied the scriptures, wrote a sermon, and delivered it to a community of faith. Every single week. (Less a handful for vacations and maternity leave and a cantata here or there.)
I also love not preaching every Sunday. I did experience a whisp of something akin to nostalgia this Easter - perhaps even grief - when it settled in a little deeper that associates very rarely preach on the big feast days. It was helpful to name this, and process it with my senior colleague. I think if I pretended it wasn't there it would be way more likely to become a source of resentment.
The first role of church leadership that really clicked for me was the role of preacher. I identified myself as a preacher before I identified as a pastor. I've had to re-imagine my identity to fit this new vocation and tradition. The language that resonates most to me now is Minister of Word and Sacrament, but Word is far from limited to preaching and Sacrament is about much more than bread and water.
I love that I get to hear colleagues preach, and that I have time for other pastoral ministries, and that I have more words leftover for other writing.
But there's this other ramification of not preaching every Sunday that is far more significant than my sense of pastoral identity. For better or for worse, sermon preparation was my primary spiritual practice. Out of necessity and habit, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about Jesus and listening to the Spirit and struggling with God. There was a sort of ongoing exchange that peaked every Sunday, between the most marvelous conversation partners: Christ and culture and community and commentaries.
I miss the intensity of that engagement. I still read the Bible, but there is a huge difference between the way one reads the Bible to preach and the way one reads the Bible to prepare for a reading in worship or even a Bible study. The preacher is desperate to find the movement of the Holy Spirit in the text, because she has to be able to dance to that rhythm by Sunday morning.
Again: I have no doubt that this is where I am called to be. The answer is definitely not to simply preach more. But I do miss Jesus. I'm actually kind of excited to name that, because this isn't the first time I've realized that I missed Jesus. Invariably, when I discern a spiritual hunger, an unimaginably wonderful feast is set and I'm delighted, once again, to taste and see the goodness of God.