The 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:
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!
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
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
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.
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