Dr. Robert LaRochelle: Reinterpreting Roles Within the "Part-Time Church"


What is the relationship between the full time work of the local church and the actual job description of its pastor? This fundamental question is based on something even more basic: Do we REALLY embrace the concept of the priesthood of all believers? In my book, [Part Time Pastor, Full Time Church](https://secure3.convio.net/ucc/site/Ecommerce/1664073496?VIEWPRODUCT=true&productid=37742&storeid=1401)_ (Pilgrim Press 2010), I contend that local churches considering or experiencing a part time pastorate need to explore this question in considerable honesty and depth. It is a question that leads to other questions which I cite in my book:

  • If the church sees certain needs in the community as essential, does it necessarily follow that the pastor is the only one who can provide for those needs?
  • In raising expectations for the pastor's ministerial obligations, have we unwittingly abdicated our theological heritage and actually downplayed or perhaps even buried our commitment to the priesthood of all believers i.e. the conviction that we are ALL called to ministry, not only the church's pastor?

What we are talking about here is a church's openness to the process of reinterpretation. Is the church willing to honestly examine the assumptions under which it has been operating, perhaps for centuries? Is the local body of believers willing to engage in theological thinking  and participate in a detailed, data driven analysis of pastoral need, even to the point of attempting projections into its future and thus potential changes in its  structure?

In my view, the most important question in the local church's reinterpretive process is how to distinguish between that which an entire church must do and that which is required of its pastor. As I state in my book:

Thus a starting point for reinterpretation would seem to be that a local church must identify the absolute essentials of its overall ministry, i.e. those things that would need to get done even if its pastor were to walk off into the sunset a few minutes after concluding the Sunday service, with no plan whatsoever to return. In that intentionally absurd scenario, the church would be forced to come together and answer the questions: What needs to get done? What are our priorities?

It is here where this process of interpretation turns to the specific question: What do we need from our pastor? In other words, where does the ministry of our pastor fit in to the overall ministry of the church?  There is no universal answer to this. Each church must answer these questions for itself: 

  • The great overarching question is: What on the list of 'all that a church must do' falls within the specific expertise of the pastor? Usual responses would include the functions of preaching, planning for and presiding at worship, providing adult educational opportunities and pastoral care. In particular congregations, there may be variations. Some clergy may have specific professional training and experience in Christian education, youth ministry, pastoral counseling or church administration.
  • What might be the unique skills of our current pastor or the skills we are seeking in the new pastor whom we are looking to call which will best meet our overall needs at this point in our congregation's history and into our future, as best as we are able to project?
  • What tasks which we have traditionally yielded to the pastor can we identify as more in keeping with the common goal of the overall church community? Usual answers in this area tend to focus on welcoming new residents, visiting the sick, staying in touch with the homebound, following up on the bereaved, etc.
  • In what ways can we be creative about the ways in which we go about doing ministry? Is it necessary to be married to doing things a certain way simply because 'we always have.?'
  • What does the church expect of its pastor while he or she is in the office physically?
  • Is the current church 'office hours' configuration in the best interest of those who seek the services of the church? This can be an incredible obstacle for many established church folk to overcome. If they are used to the pastor being in the office four days a week at 10 in the morning, a change can be very unsettling.
  • In a technological age, does the pastor need to be in person to communicate information to an administrative assistant, a webmaster or people in key roles on boards and committees? Do we need to insure that our pastor is conversant in and comfortable with new technological modalities? Should we expect that our pastor have a certain comfort level with the modern realities of text messaging, emailing, the use of networking sites such as FACEBOOK or TWITTER and the like?
  • Are we clinging to an old model of structuring in an age which offers and might even require new possibilities and approaches? In my book, my first chapter deals head on with what I call ' Changing Pastoral Realities.' As I work with congregations, I am more convinced than ever that difficulty in accepting these changes impedes congregations from embracing the possibilities of part time ministry.

It is not enough to talk about obstacles, impediments or what could or should be. In my final article in this series, I will get really specific about how congregations, denominations and seminaries can help prepare churches and individual clergypersons for effective part time, often bivocational ministry.  Once again, I encourage your comments and /or questions. Please feel free to email me at rpbksl@cox.net

Bob LaRochelle