mjYxOfuThe number of part-time pastors and bi-vocational pastors is on the rise. This week’s question is from a RevGal who is leading her congregation as they make that shift. Hear her challenges:

Dear Matriarchs,

I serve as the congregation’s first part-time pastor because — you guessed it — the congregation can no longer afford a full-time pastor. We worked out all the details in the call agreement, or so I thought. But their discontent keeps bubbling up.

We spend way too much time talking about how I am spending my time rather than planning how we can do ministry together. They are worried that this person is not getting visited or that thing is not getting done. They express fear that if someone needs a pastor in the middle of the night, I won’t be there. It’s as if their worst fears are running the show.

Their occasional comment that “there’s really no such thing as a part-time pastor” sounds more like a challenge for me to run faster/harder than a warning for all of us to be more realistic. I feel like a one person show with a grumpy audience.

How have any of you been able to help a congregation right-size to a part-time pastor? How can I re-direct this congregation away from “what have you done for us lately?” to “how can we do ministry together in this place?”

Thank you for your help!

Part-Time Rev

Our Matriarchs are up to the challenge! First, from new Matriarch, Song. Welcome!

Dear Part-Time Rev,

Most of my 12 plus years in ministry has been as a part-time pastor. It has been a difficult journey for me to understand what that means to me let alone what this dynamic should be in relation to the congregation. However, those appointments for me have always followed a part-time pastor. For a congregation that has been full-time, it is probably hard to imagine what it means for a pastor to be part-time. From what you write, it sounds like this particular congregation is not really trying to imagine what having a part-time pastor means for them. They just want things to be done the way it’s always been done. You may want to track your time spent for a couple of weeks so that you can speak specifically to the agreement. So with that, if you have the patience to stand your ground and tell them that they will need to step up in ways to serve the members of their congregation or compensate you as a full-time pastor, I pray God’s strength and blessing on you. You may want to speak to whoever your supervising authority is about mediating some kind of understanding. This relies heavily on whoever does the mediating, and hopefully they would go to bat for you. If all else fails, you do have the option of leaving the particular congregation. By the way, that statement about “no such thing as a part-time pastor” is true, but I have found that congregations who honor their pastor will not take advantage of that.

 So here is what I’ve learned over time as a part-time pastor. If I feel that there is potential for growth, and the congregation will step up to the plate and serve with me, I will go beyond the regular part-time hours expected because I anticipate the compensation to grow with the congregation. If I am in a congregation that does not seem to want to really serve and be a church, I will adhere to serving only part-time. I think of the person who will follow me when I leave my appointment, and if I am going overboard, the congregation may expect that of the next pastor. I try to make sure that I don’t create a situation where such an expectation will exist for the next pastor. This is the policy I was taught when I first started, and it’s a good policy. I hope that you can make some peaceful determinations for yourself as to what you think will work for you. 

 One last observation from the dynamic of your church, it sounds like you have a lot of older people. It sounds like this is a congregation that is afraid of declining and dying. If this is the case, I hope that God will give you the words of truth they need to hear. Maybe you were sent to help them to come to terms with who they are and where they are heading. May blessings to you, sister!

 Rev. Sung Moy
Andrews Chapel United Methodist Church
Durham, NC

And, wisdom from wise and wonderful Kelley:

Dear Part-Time Rev,

Blessings and prayers for you in this difficult time of ministry. You are not alone!

When congregants begin to micro-manage and question the hours you are working and what you are doing with your time, it is almost always a reflection of their inner fears and frustrations and not your incompetency! Clearly, you see that already and have identified their fear but that doesn’t make it any easier to listen to again and again.

I do not know which denomination you serve but if this were a PC(USA) church, I would take this concern to the ruling elders (spiritual leaders) of the church and begin a conversation with them about the fears and expectations being expressed in your congregation.  “How can we do ministry together in this place” is just the question that must lead the conversation. And the gentle reminder that God is greater than any of our fears and doubts and failings.

And I would empower the session (or leadership council) to follow the vision of ministry to which they have been called. If the leadership of the church supports you as pastor and the healthy boundaries that have been designated in your call agreement, then the spiritual leaders of the church can respond to those who are grumpy and anxious, instead of you.  

If the voices of complaint and fear are from the congregation and not the spiritual leaders of the church, then work with your spiritual leaders to find a way to hear and address the concerns and fears. Maybe set up “listening sessions” for your congregation, led by the session/council. This allows people to voice their concern and talk about their fears, and it allows the spiritual leaders of the church to reassure them that you are doing just what you were called to do.

You will be in my prayers.

Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin
PC(USA) Minister
Centerville, Ohio

Thank you, Matriarchs, for thoughtful responses full of practical strategies for those of us serving congregations part-time.

How about you, dear reader? Are you serving a congregation part-time? What makes your ministry work well? Add your ideas in the comments below.

Is your congregation making a big leap of faith that has unearthed new challenges? Send your scenario to the Matriarchs at askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com for their support and ideas.

Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor serving in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

8 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Grumbling about the Part-Time Pastor

  1. This is my first Pastorate, at age 62. It is part time to an older congregation. I track my hours and how spent on an Excel spreadsheet. Office work 9-11 2.0, sermon prep 3:00-6:00 3.0 etc. I print them off and bring them to every board meeting and Pastoral Relations Committee meeting. My call agreement is for 20-24 hours a week. I average 28. I cannot seem to find time to read/study in that 28 hours but all other needed items are getting done. I discuss my time regularly with the PRC- is it enough, what is not getting done? I let them help me decide what I must do and what they want me to do. I also report to the congregation every six months in a town hall type meeting, average hours worked, typical (ha she said) week tasks etc. So far, eight months in, they are happy with what I do. When there is a medical emergency that becomes my priority- hospital sitting with families during surgery goes a long way toward how they perceive my level of care. They know if it is them on the table, I will be there, before, during and after. For an elder congregation I think Pastoral Care takes precedent over Bible study (although we do one every few months). They also were told up front that 10 hours a week ,1/2 my time, is worship and sermon prep. I ask constantly, how do you want me to spend the other half of my time? I am not saying I have no guilt or struggles over the hundred other things I could be doing, I just have learned (from 35 years in the manufacturing world) to set good boundaries. You may have to have a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting with your governing board, PRC, congregation on backing up to set those healthy boundaries. Blessings as you wrestle with this issue.


  2. As you know, when a congregation can no longer afford a FT pastor, there are really only three options:
    1) The congregation disbands.
    2) Some tasks that the former pastor performed just don’t get accomplished.
    3) The congregation steps up.

    I don’t like casting congregational actions in the context of failure, but that can be a wakeup call. If they believe certain ministries, like visitation, are important to continue, they must be the ones to perform them. If it’s important but doesn’t happen, that’s a congregational failure, a decision by default. They have to fund it, do it, or drop it, and as faithful people, they need to do that consciously. They have to own that decision.

    I, too, have run headlong into their belief that there are no part-time pastorates, and in my setting, the solution had two parts. Although my other income-producing activities are freelance so I appear to have a lot of “free time,” I made clear to them that I wasn’t going to “volunteer” beyond a certain point, and I committed my volunteer time to another organization. I emphasize repeatedly that my agenda is creating something sustainable. Generally, that works, except for dying congregants and their funerals. I’ve never found a way to make that fit into my employed hours. I just try to take unofficial comp time during our slow winter months.


  3. I am serving a part-time interim assignment following a full-time pastor. As we negotiated the arrangement, I was able to lay out typical hours per week for various activities, such as preparing for Sunday’s and leading worship, administrative tasks, visitation, and specific interim activities. Based on those estimates, which were made in conjunction with the church Council, we agreed that I would spend one day a week primarily in the office, one day a week doing visitation and public Ministry, and approximately 10 hours per week preparing and leaving Sunday worship. It’s early in our time together, but so far this Arrangement has seemed to hold expectations at a proper level and to allow me to get the most important of the work done. In our planning, we talked about the fact that there will be some activities that will need greater involvement from the congregation in order to get them done.

    It sounds like your congregation reached such an agreement with you, but is now backing out on it. You are in my prayers as you talk with them to try to regain a mutual understanding of the work that is needed and the resources available to do it


  4. I have done both full-time and part-time/bi-vocational congregational ministry. One of the best pieces of language to use came from a friend in the non-profit world, whose position was downsized from full to 3/4 time: “Which 25% do you expect me to no longer do? Which tasks will you pick up?”


  5. I am just starting a very part time ministry (6 hours/week). I am trying manage expectations by doing only one “project” a week, besides worship planning. In my experience, complaints about visiting are almost never solved by more visiting. You and your leaders need to work out a plan within your hours, and point to it every time the whining starts.


  6. my first placement was 80%, and followed a full time placement. during the conversations, we discussed what i wouldn’t be doing. It was their choice to look after the majority of pastoral care. having been vacant for a few months meant they already had a system in place. 80% also meant i did not preach every Sunday, Presbytery [regional body] insisted in that one, and it worked well in that place – they did have wonderful lay people who led worship well.
    As you have an agreement about how part-time will work in your context, i hope you can work with the leaders of the congregation to find ways for the congregation to keep their part of the deal.
    i suspect it is much harder to move from full-time to part-time within the same congregation, and more difficult for the congregation to make the change with the same Minister.


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