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It’s time to recalibrate expectations for clergy

It’s time to recalibrate expectations for clergy

Faith & Leadership’s Call and Response blog looks at the question of expectations for today’s clergy where the institutional model is full-time clergy, but the economic realities are part-time, bi-vocational, or unpaid. From Nathan Kirkpatrick’s post:

Some denominations are finding their commitment to a “learned clergy” in conflict with a missional need to serve smaller congregations and underserved communities. The question becomes how much training can a denomination reasonably expect a part-time or unpaid clergyperson to have? If not a three (or four) year master’s degree, then what? What are the non-negotiable elements of that training, and what are the elements that would be nice but are not essential? Must training precede ministerial service, or could people be trained concurrently with their service? There are no easy answers. In many denominations, no one is happy with a compromise.

Likewise, congregations have difficult decisions to make.

Imagine that a church can only afford compensation equal to quarter-time employment (which, in most cases, means that the clergyperson has to find additional paid employment to balance his personal budget). What can that congregation reasonably expect of that clergyperson, and what is the work of ministry must laity assume? This will require renewed education about the calling and ministry of the laity (a clear good in all of this!), and it will mean — and in some places, already does mean — that some ministries will no longer happen. Prioritizing the pastoral workload will be a new practice required of vestries, sessions and personnel committees.

In many settings, denominations and congregations have relied on the goodwill of part-time, bivocational and unpaid clergy and have not recalibrated their expectations about ministerial role and work. That is an unsustainable solution. Now is the time for creativity, innovation and experimentation to adjust to what is increasingly the new normal for congregations around the country.

What are you thoughts and comments?


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Ann Fontaine

Expectations of clergy who are not full time are very high. In mutual ministry settings there is supposed to be a team developed before any one is called to priest or deacon. If this step is ignored – the local priest or deacon will be expected to do all the pastoral and sacramental and teaching and preaching that a full time paid priest would do AND have a full time other job to pay the bills. Part time and bi-vocational clergy should not be called without extensive re-training of the members of the congregation.

Re: education – EfM still offers one of the best programs in the church for excellent education. The new materials have brought it up to date and they challenge participants to a deeper faith and how they will live faithfully in our post Christian context.

Leslie Scoopmire

Our parish has several services a week, and while several of them are led by laity, there are three Eucharists, two of them on Sunday. Another parish nearby which is much smaller has THREE Eucharists of Sunday. The idea that being a parish priest involves “one Eucharist and 1 or 2 sick visits” is not reflective of any reality I have seen. There is property and staff to oversee. There is music to choose and support. Yes, there are homilies and sermons to write, and that takes time and reflection. There is much more to pastoral care than “1 or 2 sick visits.” Even where there is strong and active lay leadership, there is coordination of that leadership, community outreach and involvement, teaching, listening, counseling, advocacy, and a host of other things that are driven not just by the need for people to be able to “go to church” on Sunday, but to enable and support the ministry of all baptized and to engage in the mission of the Church in the world- the state, the diocese, the town, the neighborhood, etc.

Bill Carroll

I think we need very highly educated clergy and laity throughout the Church and that local training programs, bivocational clergy, and lay formation programd are a crucial part of our mission strategy. In fact the two belong together. We do want clergy and lay leaders with some knowledge of and accountability to the tradition, spiritual formation, critical thinking skills, social analysis, worship planning, group facilitation, etc. I think that very highly educated clergy and lay leaders will be key resources in local schools for ministry, to make sure that cost containment and meeting the needs of today’s Church does not mean our local schools for ministry turn out clergy and lay ministers without the spiritual and theological depth and personal qualities we need in leadership. We don’t need a dumbing down but a shift in priorities. I think the Iona initiative, coming out of the Seminary of the Southwest and Diocese of Texas, but now used in several dioceses, incuding here in Oklahoma, strikes a good balance. But there will always be a need for University and Seminary formed leaders. I suspect that seminaries should become more monastic and praxis oriented. Im encouraged by what I hear out of General. The purpose of academic formation should never be chiefly academic, except for those called primarily to be scholars. It should serve critical thinking, missional adaptation, and practical wisdom. All of it should be centered on a vital, growing, Christ-centered faith. Parishes which can still afford full time clergy need to share resources and programs with the rest of the Church. We need several experiments in local formation and in tweaking the residential seminary model. We also need Christian scholars, lay and ordained, in every diocese.

Mary Anne Chesarek

For many jobs, the bi-vocational model would be difficult to manage. Also, if the priest has 2 part-time jobs, would he/she receive retirement and health benefits? Where there are 2 parishes reasonably near each other, a yoked-parish model makes sense. I don’t know how they would conduct a clergy search, but we frequently read ( and have experienced) that the current search process is flawed. I do feel clergy need special training, but do all need to spend 3 years at a distant site? Have seminaries looked at the relevance of their curriculum? Students who plan a carer in academia may need to know Greek, but those who plan to be parish priests may not need it. I would like to see an honest accounting of the priest’s time. In my own profession, (registered nurse) I have had to participate in time studies, in which I was followed throughout the day and every activity was recorded, as was the time taken to do it. Even non-physical activities were timed, such as planning staffing and composing a care plan. Does it really take 40 hours per week to do one Sunday service and 1 or 2 sick calls? I know there are vestry meetings, planning programs, diocesan committees, as well as time taken to research and write a sermon, but it still seems that one priest could serve 2 parishes in many cases.

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