How Much Should We Expect from Our Minister?

Q. Our small fellowship has moved from employing a minister half time to two-thirds time for next year. a) Does a minister, whether part-time or full-time, get the same amount of money for professional expenses like books, etc.? Does the expense allowance go up as his salary goes up?  b) Also, how often should we expect her to preach if she is two-thirds time? Some of us had assumed three times a month. Or should we just figure out how many Sundays we meet each year and ask him to preach for two-thirds of that number?

A. "The terms of a minister's responsibilities and how the compensation is allocated are negotiated at the time of settlement and annually thereafter," says Rev. Ralph Mero, the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA) Church Staff Finances Director. Most congregations allow some latitude in how the funds are allocated to best serve the total ministry of the congregation, as well as the minister's financial well-being.

The amount of total compensation that a minister will wish to allocate to professional expenses varies considerably. It is typical for newer ministers to need more in their professional expense account for books, journals, conferences, continuing education, etc. More seasoned ministers may wish to allocate less to professional expenses and more to retirement contributions.

It is also typical for full-time parish ministers to be relieved of preaching one Sunday a month. If a congregation has forty-four Sunday services a year, a minister engaged three-quarter time might be responsible for preaching on twenty-seven to thirty of those Sundays, but this should be negotiated between the minister and the congregation. There is no hard and fast rule, and when we start counting hours, that is usually a symptom of some other matters that need attention.

UUA compensation guidelines consider twelve units of service a week as full-time ministry, with a unit consisting of a morning, afternoon, or evening devoted to parish duties. Some units are light while some are long and exhausting.

John Weston, the UUA's Transitions Office Director, adds the following: “Congregations often find it tempting to ask a part-time minister to preach full-time and perform the other ministerial functions part-time. Such expectations rarely work out well."

“Consider this. In a full-time ministry, the tasks of composing and delivering sermons and planning and participating in services probably consume one-third of a minister's time. If a minister is half-time, the expectation that the minister carry a full-time preaching load means that two-thirds of the minister's time is devoted to sermons and services. Very little time is left over for pastoral care, outreach to new and potential members, leadership and leadership development, work with committees, and the myriad of additional arts and tasks a minister is called upon to exercise. Thus it is wise to expect a part-time minister to perform every minsterial function less than full-time.”

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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