Some Truth About “Part-Time” Ministry

You’re hiring or calling a minister for the next year, starting July 1. Say your congregation really can’t afford a full-time minister with all the benefits. That’s okay. You have to be honest and realistic about the congregation’s finances and viability: that’s part of good and faithful stewardship.

But here are some things that clergy won’t tell you, because they are wishful thinkers by nature, they need a job, and they have inherited a tradition that embraces poverty and silent suffering as a mark of holiness. Bad combination when you’re trying to pay the bills and survive in America!

So I’m going to tell you what your potential pastor is only discussing with their spouse, colleagues and maybe best friends.

Not only do they believe you if you are telling them that this position has the potential to grow into a full time situation with benefits, they are already tasting that raise they hope will come in a year or two. Their ego wants to imagine them being wildly succesful in ministry with your community, even though they are acquainted with reality and trends in ministry. They may also have been in enticing conversations with people in the church who whispered reassurances about rosy futures to them. Maybe that bequest will come in. Maybe the partnership with the arts organization or the day care will materialize and generate income.

Friends, please help the clergy to hold reasonable expectations with you about the possibility of job security or growth. It is important to be hopeful but just as important to be honest.

If you are hiring a minister to serve you half or three-quarter time, understand that parish ministry is not an hourly position. The moment you get a minister in place, they represent the institution in the wider community (ie, they are never not off the clock in their role), and they are ultimately going to be held responsible for all programs, the functioning of staff , and the health of the congregation.

You maybe offering a 30-hour a week position, but know that when a priest, rabbi or minister assumes the title of Spiritual Leader of [Your Congregation’s Name Here,] they take on the psychic burden of holding the institution, its concerns and its people in their awareness at all times. They respond to crisis at all times. Emails, text messages, phone calls come in at all times. For all the focus on “healthy boundaries in ministry” these days, there remains a big emotional and often unconscious expectation that the minister is omnipresent. Whether they are actually physically present, part-time clergy are assuredly thinking about their ministry setting far beyond the official hours they are getting paid for.

Resentment takes hold when there is not open, honest and frequent communication between clergy and laity. If you do it often enough, it doesn’t have to be stressful and formal. Have an iced tea together. Remember that you have a shared love and commitment. Remember that it can be scary and difficult for everyone to talk about money, contracts, and professional expectations. Remember that this is extremely weird work, that it is not work we should discuss or evaluate in corporate terms, but it is someone’s job.

I wish you the best in having honest, appreciative conversations.

PeaceBang is an independent on-line ministry of the Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein.