Creative Staffing Options

Does your church have a pastor?  I spoke with a judicatory leader recently who told me that over 50% of the churches in his region can no longer afford full time, seminary educated clergy.

In an editorial in the United Methodist Reporter (November, 2009) Donald Haynes wrote about the membership required to finance a full time pastor:

Some bishops are using a figure as low as 100 and some as high as 150 in average attendance to support a pastor, pay apportionments and sustain a viable missional ministry. 

One option is a part time pastor, but finding one may not be easy.  Possiblities might include:

  •  Sharing a pastor with another nearby congregation; this requires a shift in mind-set for the congregation, two churches that are compatible, and a flexible pastor.
  • Tent-makers are part time pastors who also work at another job.  I’ve known tentmakers who served as hospital chaplains and farmers, for example.  Your pastor must be able to live in an area where s/he can pursue their other vocation.
  • Some pastors prefer to work part time and rely on the income of a spouse.  This requires the church to be accessible to career opportunities for the spouse.
  • Lay pastors (they go by different names in various denominations) are trained with the equivalent of about one semester of seminary coursework.  Like a tentmaker, they may serve in supply preaching or pastoral care positions while they work at another job.  In my area, some serve as part time solo pastors.  These placements can be beneficial, but also are controversial, in part because the educational level is vastly different than that of seminary trained folks.  See The Christian Century (July, 2010) for two articles laying out the pros and cons of lay pastoring.
  • Some small churches will find a retired clergy person in their area, perhaps from another denomination, who will supply the pulpit.  This also has pros and cons.
  • Some churches choose to merge, bringing two or more congregations together as one, or forming a federation (two congregations that share a building and pastor, but retain their denominational identities).

The judicatory leader I interviewed pointed out that there is a large pool of  underemployed pastors at this time.  In some places, finding a pastor who will accept part time work may not be difficult because of this current trend.  But the sad reality is that, while many churches need part time pastors, many pastors need full time work and benefits.

I have served as a part time solo pastor for 22 years, and I believe it is possible to do healthy ministry this way (see Bob Rochelle’s recent book, “Part-Time Pastor, Full-Time Church” put out by Pilgrim Press).   But I can also say from experience that it won’t work for every church or every pastor.  To me, the greatest and hardest thing about it is that the laity must learn to own their ministry while respecting the spiritual authority of the pastor.  And the pastor must learn to relinquish control over the ministry while maintaining his/her unique role as spiritual leader.

What do you think of the staffing options above?  Have you tried any of them?  Share your creative staffing story with me!

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