All of the Fun, None of the Work?

by

This originally appeared at the Young Clergywomen Project

by Julie Hoplamazian

 

“All of the fun, none of the work.”

 

It’s the phrase I frequently hear from clergy when I tell them that I’m an Associate Rector. It’s the “truth-in-jest” description of associate clergy. You don’t have the highest level of responsibility and the buck doesn’t stop with you, so you don’t have to deal with the majority of the “work” or “business” of the church: personnel, conflict, roof repairs, fund raising, etc. I used to make this joke myself and laugh along with it, as if to say, “I know how good I have it – my job is the easy one!” I played along with the jab that being an associate pastor is like riding a bike with training wheels, a learning position where one prepares oneself to be able to handle the real responsibility of the “grown-up world” of ministry.

 

But you know what? This joke represents a highly problematic and diseased vision of church leadership, and I both resent and reject it. The claim that being an associate is “all of the fun, none of the work,” implies that a senior clergyperson does all of the work (and, perhaps, has none of the fun). It is “work” that one is supposed to aspire to do as one grows into positions of greater responsibility and scope  – and this “work” is generally non-pastoral. That is to say, it has little to do with the spiritual formation, nurture, and empowerment of the flock of Christians in one’s care. It’s all the stuff you “didn’t learn in seminary”- hiring and firing personnel, budgetary decisions, fund raising, reviewing proposals for roof repairs, approving the layout of the annual giving brochure. In contrast, associate clergy tend to have responsibilities that lean toward pastoral care, worship, outreach, advocacy, and Christian education – in other words, areas clergy are trained for in seminary. The unfortunate and unspoken belief this reveals begs a disturbing question: Does that mean that, deep down, churches (and the clergy who lead them) don’t view pastoral work as real work?

 

Many would immediately argue that “all of the fun, none of the work” simply means that associate clergy don’t bear the burden of the responsibility that falls on senior clergy, and this is mostly due to the hierarchical nature of the senior/associate clergy relationship. Indeed, many associate clergy would report that the majority of weddings, funerals, baptisms, and preaching falls on the senior clergy. Yet most associate clergy would probably also report being responsible for many areas that senior clergy don’t touch at all: youth ministry, Christian education, family ministry, outreach and advocacy.

 

This brings to light two major problems:

1)  Education, youth, advocacy, outreach, and pastoral care are often treated as too unimportant for the senior clergyperson to handle. Whenever “all of the fun, none of the work” means ministry to youth, families, the sick and homebound, the bereft, and those on the margins, it speaks volumes about how little the church values those people.

2) It falsely links specific skill sets with levels of importance in church leadership and administration. Overseeing Sunday School and Christian Education? The associate clergy, or a layperson with some sort of seminary or religious training, can do that. Clerical matters, like sacramental and pastoral ministry (weddings, funerals, baptisms, hospital visits, etc.)? Associates can do some of that. But when it comes to the real heavy lifting? Balancing budgets, hiring personnel, and running the business – well, that’s for the grown-ups. That’s for the senior clergy.

 

What the church has done is turn the senior clergyperson into someone who isn’t really a pastor at all, but a person running a business who happens to also be a religious professional. Since people seek ordination because they feel called to the work of ministry, of course the duties of the senior clergyperson are going to seem like “all the work, none of the fun.” The church has failed to identify the specialized ministry of the executive clergyperson, and still adheres to the outdated model of senior clergyperson. You certainly don’t hear CEOs of secular non-profits (which, essentially, is what many senior or solo clergy are) saying they “do all of the work and have none of the fun.” These professionals expect to be dealing with the very business issues that so many pastors identify as the unenjoyable parts of their ministry.

 

In the rest of the world, teaching, leading religious worship, and running a business are all specific skill sets that exist in completely different jobs. In no other field would one start out as a teacher and expect to rise in the ranks to have a job in development and/or human resources. The church has a diseased construct of what types of jobs reside at the bottom of the career ladder, and what types of jobs reside on top, because it identifies the more business-oriented work with the more “prestigious” or “important” job of senior clergy. Meanwhile, essential tasks of the Body of Christ such as advocacy, pastoral care, education, and care of youth might be part of a senior clergy position’s oversight, but they are often delegated to folks either lower on the ladder or outside the parish church structure.

 

As an associate clergyperson, I don’t have to deal with the majority of church “business” that my senior colleague does. For some people, that might sound like I get to have more “fun.” However, it would be impossible to say that I have all of the fun and do none of the work. The ministries that I oversee or assist with – Christian education, outreach, and more – all involve real (and important) work. They aren’t devoid of conflict. They still require attentiveness to budgetary and personnel issues. Most importantly, they are a critical part of the work that the Church is engaged in: building up the Body of Christ.

 

In the words of Scripture, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6) Not everyone called to ministry possesses the same gifts. What would the church look like if its leaders were actually equipped to do the work they were gifted in and called to? What if part of the discernment of a call to ministry included not only the call to teaching, preaching, and pastoral care, but the call to administration and management? How much lower would the burnout rate of clergy be if they were engaged in ministry that was not only meaningful, but lined up with their skills and strengths?

 

I believe that the church, and its clergy, would be infinitely happier and healthier if pastors had jobs – executive pastor being one of them – that correlated to the ministry they were called to. Perhaps then, all clergy would not only be doing holy work, but also having a lot of fun.

 

 

The Rev Julie Hoplamazian is serving in Brooklyn, New York. When she’s not dutifully writing sermons, she can be found at the barre teaching adult beginner ballet, out in the neighborhood walking her dog, or trying to catch up with her Netflix queue.

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6 Responses to "All of the Fun, None of the Work?"
  1. Julie,

    Your points are well taken, and I agree with all of them. That said, my experience goes further than yours, which is that, all too often, the associate rector, deacon, lay professionals or volunteers are the ones who do the heavy lifting and put in the long hours. Meanwhile, the rector comes and goes and always has time for a game of golf, a couple of hours running, or a quick trip to the beach. Or, as a friend of mine once blogged, "It's 10:00. Do you know where your rector is?" This sort of exploitation of "junior" clergy -- many of whom are women and receive much less compensation for the work they do in comparison to older, male rectors -- is unethical and makes a mockery of our claim to be interested in social justice.

    I would really like to see our church take a holistic look at gender pay disparity and other unjust social structures in our church. Charity starts at home!

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  2. "In no other field would one start out as a teacher and expect to rise in the ranks to have a job in development and/or human resources." Not quite true, since that is the education works. An excellent teacher who wants to "move up" and make enough money to support a family must become a principal and work in human resources and management. On the whole, though, an excellent article and one that should provoke more thought in the Church.

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    • In colleges and universities : professor --> department chair --> assistant/associate dean -->dean (and possibly onward). Faculty don't want to be "managed" by people who are not and never have been faculty. Why assume that in education OR in the church, coming up the ranks is "exploitation" rather than a legitimate learning process?

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    • Even in ministry, much depends on the context, doesn't it? I am Director for Spiritual Wellness - with chaplains in one hospital directly accountable to me, and chaplains in a number of other hospitals expected to collaborate with me - we call it "matrixed" management - not to mention the expectation of system leadership that I will "know stuff.) Indeed, years in the business are largely how I came to "know stuff," and so qualify for the position.

      That said, I think the points are well taken. When I was an Associate Rector, many long years ago now, I was blessed with a Rector who sought, as much as possible, to share responsibilities with me. While there were those responsibilities for which, as it were, his signature was required and mine wasn't sufficient, we shared preaching, celebrating, pastoral visiting, etc. He was also keen to educate me and include me in meetings, so that I had an idea what the structures were. He did the same with lay leadership; and so when he needed to take extended medical leave, we all knew how to work together and who needed to be point person for what.

      That's not to say that there weren't some, shall we say, "political" issues where he had to be the person involved. He was also good to make sure I was fully informed with background and history. That helped me appreciate why he felt he needed to "handle this one."

      It was that attitude that made him a joy to work for and work with. Perhaps that's part of what we need "senior" clergy to consider: how do we who can, actually share the work and the fun.

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  3. Stipend parity (aka "why are women clergy paid less--on average?") must be addressed. We need statistics on the numbers of women who are "associates" as compared (contrasted?) to men.

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    • That data is available, at least here in DioVA, and came up in the context of an equal pay resolution at the last convention.

      I don't remember the exact numbers, but of the 10 or so largest parishes in the parish, only two had a female rector. A similar result pertained when looking at the top parishes in terms of compensation.

      Looking at the numbers overall, a disproportionate percentage of assistants were women, while the gender pay gap was larger than for non-church jobs.

      Overall, not good!

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