Recently we received questions about how congregations can reduce professional ministry in ways that are transparent, authentic, and accountable. Reverend Erica Baron, Congregational Field Life Staff for the New England Region writes about her personal experience serving in a congregation that reduced ministerial time:
In 2015, the congregation I served as a full-time minister faced significant financial strains, and had been for several years. It became clear that full-time ministry was not financially sustainable for the congregation. Meanwhile, I was preparing to become a parent and realized that full-time ministry might not be sustainable for me either. So, we made a mutual decision to reduce my position to three-quarter time.
It is common to imagine that the part-time minister will just do half (⅔, ¾…) of everything a full-time minister does - lead worship half as often, do half as much pastoral care … In my experience, this way of thinking makes everyone frustrated. There are things that don’t neatly divide, such as staff supervision or pastoral care, and the things that do divide this way often feel unsatisfying. These divisions lead to part-time ministries on paper that are, in fact, full-time jobs with part-time pay.
Instead, part-time ministries work better when everyone agrees that there are specific areas of ministry the minister will no longer do, as well as reasonable reductions in things that can be predictably reduced (such as ½ time ministers preach two Sundays a month and ¼ time ministers preach one Sunday a month).
Two parts are critical to this agreement:
- Clarification of Ministerial Tasks. In the congregation I served, I stopped managing the adult education program. Depending on your congregation’s needs and priorities, these might be different things. You might decide that most pastoral care becomes the purview of lay caregivers, with the minister doing only the most critical. You might decide that there are programs or committees that will not receive direct support from the minister. There are any number of areas that can be removed from the minister’s job - the important thing is that they be clearly identified. Everyone agrees. Broad buy-in on ministerial tasks from the congregation is critical. The part-time ministries with knowledge and buy-in across the congregation are successful. When there is no agreement, or knowledge among the whole congregation, challenges develop.
Reverend Sarah Schurr currently serves as the Small Congregation Specialist in the Pacific Western Region. She worked in part time ministries and has additional advice:
“Part time ministry is real ministry. This ministry can be flexible, innovative and joyful. However, it is important for congregations and clergy to be in right relationship when they do this. Congregations need to be fair employers offering fair compensation and benefits and clergy should be honest employees. In addition, part time ministry can be unfair to older clergy, new clergy, professionals of color, and those who are geographically bound.”
Sarah also notes three different models for part time ministry, including the “live away” model where the clergyperson comes to town a few days a month (5 days a month for quarter time ministry and 10 days a month for half time ministry), the “days off” model where clergy only work a few days a week and widely publicize the days they are available, and the “keep track” model where the clergyperson logs hours worked and reports them to the Board on a monthly basis.
Both Reverend Baron and Reverend Schurr agree that there is no one-size-fits-all model. Each congregation has its own mission and priorities. Each minister has tasks they enjoy more and do better. The agreement congregations and clergy make should take all these factors into account.
Finally, if your congregation is considering a reduction in ministerial time, make sure you take the time and space for this work. Frank conversations need to be had at several points along the way to encourage honesty, clarity, creativity, and innovation.