This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

On Not Doing Time in the Church.

The church tends to lose its orientation.  Instead of following Jesus Christ in everything, other influences weasel their way into our life.  We start doing things according to what people are used to, especially at work.  Thus the church gets infected with all kinds of nonsense imported from the business and corporate world.  As if ministers punch time-clocks and sit in cubicles 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
One of these is the practice of measuring pastors’ “hours”.  This is becoming more and more prevalent now that we are seeing an increase in “part-time” ministry.  What normally happens is that we reflexively assume that full-time is 35-40 hours a week (which is idiotic in itself), which must logically mean that a part-time pastor serves like 20 hours a week.
This is so ridiculous as to be no more than a unfair and meaningless metaphor.  It simply opens pastors up to unjust criticism by people motivated (usually by malice) to count their hours.  Is this the best we can do?
Counting hours is foolish mainly because time is flexible in the church.  Some days, weeks, and seasons are simply more labor intensive than others.  A week can include a lot of hospital calls, or not.  Holy Week is going to demand more time than the second week of July.  Even particular functions are not time specific.  How long is a session meeting?  How long is a counseling appointment?  How long does it take to prepare a sermon?  Some responsibilities in the church can last from a few minutes to several hours.  Is someone supposed to simply stop working when they reach the 20 hour point, even if the sermon isn’t done and the hymns not chosen for the coming Sunday?  Are they supposed to find busy-work to do if that mark has not been reached in a week?
Then there is the question of what exactly is “work.”  Everything relates to ministry.  Does time reading a novel or the newsfeed, or watching a movie, count as work, when they could be sources of sermonic material?  Am I working when I am “on call,” which is most of the time?  Am I working when I mow the lawn or shovel snow or repair the toilet of the house I live in, which is owned by the church?  What about going to a party and getting into a theological conversation with a stranger?  Is that considered working?  Do I count those hours?  
The counting hours thing has an even more pernicious side, which is that a church may arbitrarily peg a pastor’s hours at 19, to avoid having to pay benefits which kick in at 20 hours.  Many ministers know that a reduction from “full-time” to “three-quarter” time is just a cynical fiction designed to save the church money, while the minister is expected to do just as much work as before.
Then the Board of Pensions maintains this increasingly irrelevant distinction between Installed and non-Installed pastors, allowing some churches to get away with not giving benefits to the latter.  (How many churches that “can’t afford” minimum salaries and benefits for their pastors, also manage to shell out ridiculous amounts of money on buildings too large for them?  But I digress.)
And so on. 
In a time when many churches are moving to part-time, commuter pastors, they need to realize that they are not going to get the level of service they once received from a full-time, resident, Installed pastor.  But instead of measuring this in hours, it would make much more sense to to look at functions and responsibilities.  
Instead of defining a ministry in terms of “10 hours” or “three-quarter time,” what if we had ministers and sessions/PNC’s negotiate what they need and can expect from a pastor at the level of compensation they are offering.  
The core of pastoral ministry is based on the traditional “means of grace:” the Word, the Sacraments, and prayer.  If circumstances require that some other roles and functions of a pastor be relinquished, these three will always remain the core of pastoral responsibility.  
This also means that more responsibilities have to be taken over by the members of the church, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Indeed, it may energize a congregation.  Congregations need to be made aware of the responsibilities of members listed in G-1.0304.  Fobbing these off on the paid professional is no longer an option for many churches; it was probably not a good idea to begin with.
One of the titles of a pastor is “teaching elder.”  The teaching function is even more important now as members need to be instructed and enlightened about how to takeover areas of ministry that the pastor used to do.    
I have found that what we call 1/2 time often gets a church the following: a weekly worship service with a sermon, session moderation, hospital visitation, and a Bible Study or other adult class.  What they don’t usually get is attendance (let alone leadership) at every meeting of every board, non-crisis home visits, attendance at every church (or even church family) function.  There will simply be a lot of stuff the pastor has nothing to do with except offering prayers and encouragement.  A pastor has to determine whether she needs to attend specific committee meetings.  
But the members of the church are going to have to get used to handling things like fellowship, facility maintenance, stewardship, the Deacons and a lot of pastoral care, Christian education, and perhaps even the Nominating Committee, with a minimum of pastoral input or feedback.
This all needs to be spelled out in a covenant of agreement.  And flexibility is necessary as situations and needs change.
My point is that it is not about hours.  Ministry is about functions and tasks.  That’s what we need to be looking at when establishing pastoral relationships.