Carol Howard Merritt, a bi-vocational Presbyterian minister, notes that many pastoral positions will disappear at the same time that a huge percentage of clergy will retire. The temptation will be to depend on bi-vocational ministers to fill the gaps in both staffing and decreased money to pay salaries. She warns that dependence on bi-vocational ministers may not be the cure-all we expect it to be.
So what will we do in the next ten years, if we have choked out all of the available pastors in this bottleneck and the shortage comes upon us? Even if we simply plan for 70% of our positions to go away as 70% of our pastors retire, we will still need the 30% who are left.
We will not be able to sustain our educational, internship and ordination requirements. When I went to school, most people who borrowed money were leaving with $40k of debt. That was 15 years ago. The costs have gone up while some seminaries have provided less tuition support. On top of it, we ask our students to do internships and Clinical Pastoral Education, without any consideration of the costs. Often the three-year degree takes four. How can we ask students to go through all of those requirements and expense, and then say that they are only going to get a part-time job at the end of it?
Part-time work has a different sort of commitment level. Part-time pastors love to say, “There is no such thing as a part-time pastorate!” Our calling is to serve God and serve people, and so most of us would do it, no matter what the check looked like at the end of the week. I understand the sentiment. It’s not as if we’re going to be on the phone with Margaret, listening to how she found her husband without a pulse on the bathroom floor, and interrupt her with “I would love to be there with you, but it’s time to punch the clock. My hours are up this week.”
But if you’re expected to make a living doing something else, then there should be a different commitment level with part time. Your other job will need some energy.