Considering a Part-time Pastor?

More and more congregations are now considering moving to part-time calls for their pastor.  This usually happens because the congregation has hit a financial wall.  The non-negotiables (mortgage, building maintenance, utilities, etc.) are increasing and revenue is decreasing.  So, the congregation offers a part-time position.  If the position is not a “called and installed” pastor, then the congregation might even “save” the costs of benefits.  It’s important to consider all the implications of a part-time pastor … the advantages and disadvantages … reasonable expectations and unreasonable expectations.

First of all, there needs to be clarity around the job description.  After all, the time commitment is decreasing, and, therefore, the work should also decrease.  Every session considering a part-time position needs to ask themselves, “what do we expect the pastor NOT to do?” or better yet “what pastoral roles are we ready and willing to take on ourselves now that we’re only employing a pastor part-time?”  I know part-time pastors who write sermons and liturgy, choose the hymns, play the piano or guitar for Sunday worship, print the bulletin including all the announcements, send a weekly email newsletter, fix the copy machine when it breaks, call the plumber when the toilet overflows in the church, lock and unlock the buildings, shovel snow, visit shut-ins, take communion to shut-ins, moderate session meetings, attend worship committee meetings, attend CE committee meetings, teach a Bible Study class, visit the women’s circle meeting, make hospital visits, call on visitors, represent the church in community events and organizations, and participate in the larger church.  NO ONE can do all of this!  Especially, if the pastor has another part-time call or is bi-vocational.

The congregation, then, needs to step up in its own participation in the ministry of the congregation.  Elders and deacons can do the pastoral visits to shut-ins and to the hospital, and call the pastor only when there are issues that are “life and death” or more than they can handle.  Then, make the next visit with the pastor, or consult with the pastor before the next visit.  Elders could take responsibility for preaching half the time.  This would enable the part-time pastor to have time for community engagement or for “growing the church.”  Teaching/coaching the elder preachers would be great way to do Bible study and leadership development.  At the least, the congregation should step up to help with liturgy and music and taking care of the building and the printing of the bulletin.  The job description needs to be specific … and think about the number of hours you anticipate the pastor will be spending on specific tasks.  Preaching, worship and its preparation take at least 10-12 hours per week.

Decide what your expectations are for the future.  Do you expect the part-time pastor to help “turn the church around?”  Then, the members will need to challenge themselves and be open to have the pastor spend more time in mentoring and teaching you to preach/teach/visit/etc. than in actually doing the ministry themselves.  If, on the other hand, you need a pastor to do the ministry themselves, then you must realize that you are calling a “chaplain” for the congregation.

Secondly, the congregation needs to have clarity around the unwritten expectations of a part-time pastor.  Part-time pastors have other “calls” in their lives which are just as important as the work with the congregation.  Whether the other calls are family and children, another career (like an EMT or massage therapist), or another congregation, the boundaries of the position need to be respected.  The pastor may not always be available immediately by phone or text.  She or he will probably not be able to attend every 50th anniversary party or 80th birthday party.  You will need to check availability before scheduling weddings or funerals (you should do that with full-time pastors too, of course) and you’ll need to identify a plan “B” if the pastor is unavailable.

Go ahead and begin a Monday night Bible study, but you will probably need to find a leader from the congregation, or re-negotiate the hours of your part-time pastor.  Have a fellowship committee meeting, but don’t expect the pastor to be there, unless it was part of the job description.  Sure, the men’s breakfast can still meet, but the pastor will probably not be there to open with prayer.  Good communication with the congregation, too, about the expectations and the reality of part-time ministry is important.  If Pastor Jane  isn’t at the hospital the day you have your gall bladder out, doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about you … it means that we are working with a part-time pastor.

The danger, of course, is that we overwork the part-time pastor.  This may seem like a “faithful” response of the pastor … they, after all, aren’t in ministry for the pay check.  It’s a “call” from God.  But it’s not faithful to God or respectful of the pastor.  The pastor needs to be able to support their family; they need to be compensated fairly for their work; they need to be respected for the experience and education and spirituality they bring to their work.  If a congregation takes advantage of a pastor’s time by asking for or expecting more than what is articulated in the initial call, then a resentment could begin eroding the relationship of pastor and congregation.  Stress and overwork can take huge tolls on a pastor’s physical health, spiritual well-being, emotional health.  Family life can suffer, marriages can be irrevocably damaged, children can build resentment toward “the church.”  Other employment could be in jeopardy.  Depression and burnout are common.

For your pastor to be the best spiritual leader for you and your congregation, the pastor needs to be well balanced in life, work, faith, leisure, friendships, etc.  One of the best ways a pastor leads a congregation into spiritual health and vitality is to model faithful living.  Part-time pastors can be a blessing to a congregation not only because of the financial advantage of a part-time call package, but precisely because the congregation members will be asked to step up into ministry.  Being mentored and deployed in the work of ministry is, in my opinion, the best way for members themselves to grow in faith, love and spirituality.

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