My recent book, Part-Time Pastor, Full-Time Church (Pilgrim Press, 2010), is based upon the reality that, due to a variety of factors, a growing number of mainline churches in our country are moving to 'part-time' pastors. These factors include rather blunt economic realities as well as the changing demographics of the communities in which these congregations are located. At the same time, mainline churches are also exploring options for new church starts, oftentimes in places where their particular denomination has not traditionally had a strong presence. Oftentimes, these new communities of faith would only be able to afford a pastor who is not on a full time salary.
My conviction, the conviction around which I center my book, is that, even if a church calls and employs a part time pastor, the church itself is ALWAYS A FULL-TIME REALITY. This fact must be front and center among those who are deciding to 'downsize' the salary and the time commitment of the pastor as well as those who have been without a full-time pastoral arrangement for a while. My point is simple: EACH CHURCH HAS FULL-TIME NEEDS. One might then legitimately ask the question: What exactly does this mean?
My contention is that, regardless of size or setting, most churches need to do the following:
1. Make provision for good, meaningful worship, education and preaching, offering services that would inspire people to want to come to worship on Sundays and on other important occasions.
2. Provide worthwhile and meaningful programming for children and youth. This includes both an active youth ministry and Christian Education program for children.
3. Make arrangements for visiting those homebound, in nursing homes, and hospitals on a consistent, ongoing basis. This may include bringing Communion or offering rites of healing, depending upon one's liturgical tradition.
4. Insure that pastoral care is provided to those seeking the assistance of the church, including the necessary emergency response of th e local church when a tragedy might strike.
5. Have an ongoing process of providing information and appropriaate programming to inquirers, newcomers and those seeking Baptism or Confirmation, Communion or considering marriage within the Christian community.
6. Have a systematic approach to reaching out to newcomers in the community.
7. Take care of the 'business expenses' of the church and provide well for the physical plant. This includes doing its best to insure that the plant will last well into the future.
8. Plan realistically for the church's future.
9. Maintain connection and communication with its denomination and with other local churches of different faith traditions.
10. Provide adequate 'mission money' and provide advocacy for those identified as being in need both locally and in those places in which the needs are quite glaring and timely.
For many churches, the movement from full- to part- time pastoral leadership is an occasion for profound sadness. Members of the congregation see it as a major loss. This perception can be hard to break through. For other churches, who are already in a 'downsized state', a certain inertia has set in with a recognition that 'we just can't be like those other churches'. In my view, the antidote to this is to SHIFT ATTENTION TO THE REALITY THAT THE CHURCH IS A FULL TIME ENTITY. In other words, a church may decide, for financial reasons, that it cannot employ a full-time pastor. This need not mean that the needs of the people in the congregation will not be met NOR that the church will cease to be an effective missional force within its community.
In my forthcoming articles in this brief series, I will address this issue in specific, pragmatic detail as well as offer suggestions for denominational officials, seminaries, local churches and clergy in addressing this growing reality in the church. Yet, first I wish to offer a disclaimer:
It remains my firm conviction that in the ideal ecclesiastical world, all churches would be served by full-time pastors. The reality is simple: THIS IS NOT CURRENT CHURCH REALITY. Nor shall it be future reality either. The question for mainline churches is: How do we do part-time pastoral leadership well? In other words, how might this approach to leadership best serve the kinds of churches I would contend our society really needs, i.e., churches that might be small, but are deeply progressive and very much alive?
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