A Love Letter to Churches Seeking Part-Time Pastors

Dear Congregations Seeking a Part-Time Pastoral Leader,

First of all, please know that you deserve an excellent minister. It’s the role of the Presbytery (or other denominational entity) to give you the best options possible which means that we want your future pastor to be equipped spiritually, theologically, and ecclesiastically. My role is to offer suggestions and I will only suggest candidates who have proven leadership chops and can pass a thorough background check. You deserve healthy, gifted leadership.

There are a couple things you need to know as the Holy Spirit helps us with this:

  • You will have a limited pool of candidates- Part A. Almost no one will be willing to move to this geographic area for a part-time position. They will not uproot their families to serve in a position that will not cover their living expenses, and because this PT position is almost certainly a contracted position (as opposed to a settled pastor who is installed) there is no certainty that this position will last more than a year. It’s not financially savvy to move here for a position that is insecure and low-paying. This means you will be not be doing a national search.
  • You will have a limited pool of candidates – Part B. You will possibly need to consider candidates who are female, LGBTQ, immigrant, differently-abled and living in differently-colored skin. You might be looking at trained Commissioned Elders. You might be looking at not-yet-ordained seminarians. This could be God’s amazing way of helping your congregation stretch a little. (See: God Gets Everything God Wants.)
  • You will need to pay this pastor accordingly – Part A. The Presbytery I serve will require salaries of $23/hour (or $20/hour for rural congregations) by 2024. If you cannot afford this minimum requirement, you cannot afford even a PT pastor.
  • You will need to pay this pastor accordingly – Part B. It’s unfair and unfaithful to expect a PT pastor to work Full Time. I actually hear church folks comment out loud that they will get a FT pastor for half the price. This is not true. The average pastor in my denomination is expected to work about 50 hours/week. For 25 hours/week you get a worship leader who does emergency hospital visits plus a Bible study. You don’t get someone who attends every meeting, creates a stellar outreach program, and starts several new mission projects.
  • Your PT Pastor will most likely have an additional vocation/job. You will need to share this leader with another church, a hospice, a hospital, a school, or a Starbucks because few of us can live on a PT salary. This will help keep you honest in that your PT Pastor will not be available to work FT for you even if that’s your expectation. Also: sharing a pastor with another church is a blessing. It helps us break out of our understanding of congregations as lone rangers in closed systems.

Church, you are not alone is finding yourselves unable to call a FT leader. Both before and “after” COVID, congregations have become smaller and institutional giving has become splintered. Church tithing used to be the most popular form of charitable contributions in this country, and now the requests for our philanthropy range from school candy fundraisers to alumni organizations to political candidates to charities for everything from sick children to sick whales to this kind of thing.

Retired pastors might be exactly what best serves your congregation. Keep in mind though, as you are saving money not having to contribute to their retirement or medical benefits, that retired pastors will most likely not be on the cusp of new possibilities for your mission. Or maybe that suits you. If you are happy with the way things are going and your mission is primarily to serve your current members, a retired pastor might work very well.

We will help you find the best available leader, Church. But keep in mind that availability is the operative word.

In hope and faith, Jan

17 responses to “A Love Letter to Churches Seeking Part-Time Pastors

  1. Terrific, Jan!


  2. Clowns without Borders. I can think of a dozen organizations that I would imagine would be inclined to said “Strategic Partnership.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I worked Paart timefor 7 yrs inSouth Dakota before i retired with no real problems. I told them what i would/could do for their salary before I moved there. They did have a parsonage but paid no other benefits. I also told themi expected to go tocamp and annual meeting and it was not vacation. and I did not do “visitation” That cong. was so happy to have a pastor that almost anything I wanted to do (operative word I) worked out fine.
    Hebron and Glen Ullin and I were going
    sunday by Sunday at $100 a Sunday with their only real expectation that SWundaymorning worship would happen.
    Be specific about what you can/will do as PT and up front about it!


  4. revsuehaseltine

    No such thing as a part time ministry, Part time Pay exists. Cheating people called by God into service, you do it yourselves or open up your wallets.
    The Rev. Sue Haseltine, HR

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s a real gift from God to discover something unexpected and I have found that part-time ministry has connected me with what God is doing in my church and in my community in ways I would have never imagined when I was a full-time pastor. I think there will likely always be some pastors that serve in only one vocation, but Spirit of God is opening the door of innovation and energy to more and more of us that serve in multiple ways and it’s going to be a lot of fun to see where this journey with Jesus Christ and his church takes us. It sounds strange, but with less hours, I am more available to ministry than I have ever been. If anyone is interested in exploring this option further, I would love to share more of these gifts of God for the people of God.


  6. And what about benefits? You deserve the best, just as a church that can afford a FT pastor does. But if you hire someone at 19.5 hours/week, in my presbytery you aren’t required to pay benefits, which means no book or travel allowance, no study leave, no paid vacation. How can a pastor be in the “best” category without those things? And I didn’t even include health insurance and pension.


  7. Felecia Parsell, MCP

    Dear Jan,
    As the missional comissioned pastor for the Roanoke neighborhood, please don’t just suggest churches only consider retired pastors. I waited years for a parish, and part time is better than no time serving, and part time could lead to full time. I answered and accepted this position praying a church will ask me to stay as pastor eventually as I travel the circuit. I agree with the other points you made. I also think a small percentage of parishioners think fully ordained is “better” than a comissioned pastor. Ordained pastors do have an extra year of classes like English, history, math, science, but a cp may have already taken those courses at a prior time in life. Both fully ordained and cp’s had the same instructors, books, homework, class time, exams, and finals. Plus, most CP’s work full time while completing the 3 year course which is no small feat. I have much respect for fully ordained pastors, however we share the same call, passion, and love for God’s children. Please don’t count us out.


    • I definitely don’t suggest churches only consider retired pastors. And yet that’s what some congregations want. The hope – as I said in the post – is that all congregations deserve and receive strong leadership. It can come from many types of leaders.


  8. Marc Ian Stewart

    Thank you, Jan for a sharing how it is doing search and call. This is so true for us in the Montana – N.Wyoming Conference UCC. I am beginning to see this difficulty as an opportunity to reaffirm local church leadership for all aspects of church life, including the Sunday morning experience.


  9. Or, if you just hire someone to preach with no call or contract, you can play church for years and the Presbyery will let it slide.


  10. I am concerned that someone like myself is in a “special” category outside of a “traditional” limited pool. “Female, LGBTQ, immigrant, differently-abled and living in differently-colored skin” should not be seen as less-than. We wonder why the church attendance is declining, and churches are dying, but we continue a culture of being dismissive and non-inclusive.

    My congregation had to seek candidates in this category, but I reminded them that I expected fair and just compensation. Additionally, I told them what would happen with them cutting their traditionally full-time pastor role to part-time. They started me at half-time, but I kept a record of all my hours and tasks. What followed was my petition to be fairly compensated with the time and demands they required. We settled on 3/4 time with better compensation, including retirement, mileage, and housing allowance.


    • You are at least “equal to” if not “superior to” in that your life experience is your super power. And you deserve fair compensation. I hope your denominational mid-council is available to back you up.


  11. This is excellent. Would that every hiring body, advising body, & regional leader read and shared this.

    As a retired pastor, working PT, I saved some worship prep time to devote to other congregational needs by using my previous sermons (carefully chosen & diligently updated in language & illustrations for the current congregation). No one would find (as I have in the past) a yellowed paper copy of a 20-year old sermon delivered verbatim, left in the pulpit by a retired supply preacher!

    I did make this plan known to my hiring committee from the beginning. I still created new sermons as events warranted, and a full new sermon series, over the several years I served that congregation – and even shared several timely sermons by others, clearly identifying the origin of the sermon. There were never complaints.


  12. Mike Chamberlain

    Jan, you make excellent point concerning churches and church leadership facing the realities of today. I do want to reframe a bit the issues that you raise. We never know what zeal for mission is stored in the hearts and minds of a remote church in the mountains or in a farm community far from town, who has just been waiting for transitional leadership from the presbytery or interim pastor to facilitate the uncovering of the clarity of mission and their options that they can afford in their calling. As an interim pastor, I have been surprised many times through the years at what all of us with God’s shining God’s light on the possibilities brought forth in our midst. I have refrained in being the “decider” of what can be in the future of the particular church. Of course accountability is helped along the way by pastoral and presbytery leadership.

    Concerning retired pastors and commissioned pastors: We live in a day when the majority of us in ministry came to ministry after 5, 10, 30 years of other vocational endeavors where retirement is, many times a word and not a condition. Many of us are content to work in ministry for years beyond age 65. Yes, some of us wish to remain in ordinary ministry that is more like caretaking, but many of us, who have become interim pastors, feel compelled to assist the congregation in transition with mission studies to discern God’s call of the congregation’s future mission will continue to work to assist the church toward fuller mission and be their best encourager.

    We can reframe part time into “tentmaking” ministry in some cases. I know farmers in Kansas; a doctor in Tennessee and the husband of a family doctor in Indiana, who only want ministry that is less than full time. There are many more like them, who do not need a full time financial package.

    I hope that my thoughts can help us all to consider how we can with limited resources expand our own creative collaboration with our congregations and our listening for what God is calling us into.


  13. Pingback: The Needs of Bi-Vocational Ministry – Jeffrey A. Nelson

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