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Back to the Future: How Bivocational Ministers and Churches can Thrive

In 2017, 68 percent of the 156 congregations affiliated with the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ had no full-time clergy.  Darren Morgan, the associate conference minister said, “They recognize their reality that they can’t afford a full-time pastor, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to have a ministry. . ..  The leadership within those churches is strong. They say, ‘We’re not going to be a weak church. We’ll be a strong, small church.’”

Whether a church has always had a biprofessional minister or is shifting from full-time to part-time, members should consider some guidelines for helping to make their pastor successful so that the church can thrive under his or her leadership.

First, there should be a clear understanding about time commitment.  The church and the pastor should clearly state boundaries including when the pastor is available for calls, how much time the pastor will be “on the field,” and time off for holidays and vacations.  This is especially important when a church shifts from a full-time minister to a part-time or bivocational minister. Often, members expect the same time commitment.  Respect the pastor’s time.

Second, pastor and church must develop a fair compensation package.  Each situation is unique.  Often the bivocational has his or her own insurance which helps the church, but this is not guaranteed.  The pastor’s other income may come through self-employment or part-time hourly work where no insurance coverage is provided.  If the pastor has to travel some distance to the church, the church might consider mileage reimbursement.  At least for the present, the church might designate all or part of the pastor’s salary as a housing allowance to avoid taxes.  Tax professionals and denominational leaders can be helpful in negotiating a compensation agreement.

Third, lay leaders must understand that they have to share more of the load for administration, building supervision, and pastoral ministry.  Although the pastor will still want to visit members and do hospital visitation, trained and committed leaders can share those ministry opportunities.

Fourth, a congregation with a part-time pastor should not think of themselves as a “second-class” church.  In most cases, the church is getting a shepherd who is highly committed to ministry and willing to make sacrifices to serve the congregation.  By entering into this relationship, church members have the opportunity be innovative, flexible, and more connected to the work of God in their midst.

Clear communication and shared goals will allow both the church and its biprofessional pastor to thrive.


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