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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ask the Matriarch: The Catty Retiree

Recently I went to see a retired pastor. She has retired to a local church of which she was once (a long time ago) the pastor, because ordained pastors in the UMC are rotated around the conference.

Her congregation does not have a paid pastor at the moment—the designated pastor in charge drives through once a month to give communion and to attend the board meeting. Instead, her church employs two part-time workers, both in their 20s, one of whom will be made a local pastor in due course. Even together, they are not paid a full salary: One is paid 50% and the other 25% of a church worker’s income (which is less than a pastor’s).

IMHO, they are doing a brilliant job. In an era where other UMC churches here are stagnating or diminishing, theirs is growing and they have managed to attract a lot of young people both to the youth work and the Sunday morning services. They have also worked hard with other groups, including older people; only the junior church (i.e. Sunday School) is floundering because there is no teacher, and kids have stopped attending.

The former pastor is critical of them because they don't work 24/7. To put this in perspective, the one who is employed 50% works for 3 full days (20-24 hours) a week, excluding Sunday services, has one official day off a week, and uses two days for studies. The other person works fewer hours, but still probably two full days a week plus Sunday services. Both also tithe of their free time and work to build up the national youth work (including one full weekend a month and additional time for behind the scenes stuff).

My question to AtM is: What is a reasonable amount of time for a pastor / church worker to spend 'on the job' ... and what is the best way to deal with veiled criticism like this partcularly when the pastor in question is an active member of the congregation?

Not casting stones

Quoth the matriarchs:
Jan says:
We often see:
• abused clergy
• congregations who don’t give their staff a day off/raises/Christmas presents
• members who are bullies (and pastors who are bullies too for that matter)

My mantra often starts this way: In a healthy congregation . . .

In a healthy congregation . . .
The staff models Sabbath-taking so that the congregation remembers that only God is God and the world does not spin based on our or our church staff’s efforts.

In a healthy congregation . . .
Pastors are paid fairly, thanked generously, and respected faithfully.

In a healthy congregation . . .
We recognize that we don’t own the church; it belongs to God.

And of course, we want a healthy congregation.

And Abi says:
I concur with Jan with what she says about the healthy church. It should become a mantra for us, for our people, and for the higher ups. We should print out what she has written and post it on the wall.

Then when any one starts the whining, complaining thing? Just point them to that. Keep a copy ready to hand to the whiner, and say now go home and repeat this seven times then come back and talk to me. :)

But seriously:
First, the retired minister: She may be feeling “set out to pasture,” since there is a retirement age in force in the UMC. But just because she is retired does not mean she has to quit: She could consider offering herself to preach, or pastor a little church or in a big church to do pastoral care, lead small groups, or lead worship. Perhaps she needs to ask around. Her complaints tell us that there is some other feeling, problem beneath the surface—and it may just be that she wants to participate more herself, or it may be that she sees them as having less of a workload than she did (not realizing or caring that they have other vocational pursuits such as mission work and education, to say nothing of their scaled-down compensation). Ultimately, though, we can guess, but we cannot know what.

Second, salaries for ordained ministers on the whole are on the rise, but that is more due to healthcare costs, insurance, the number of retired pastors, etc. An individual pastor may not see it in her take-home pay. Your conference has a set minimum salary for pastors, and the churches can work from that minimum up. (I personally think the minimum is too low.)

Third (for all of us, including the put-upon part-timers), set your boundaries and stand by them. It is very important to be clear with yourself as well as the congregation members how many hours you will work—and be firm about it. Now certainly there are crises, deaths, etc, but even then one needs to rest to be able to do the work again. Even Jesus did that: He worked hard and then took time away. A Seminary Professor of mine. Dr. McSwain taught me that, and encouraged me to use Jesus as our model of work and rest. And so I do my best to do that.

Ask for help
For veiled criticism, you can use the system and the leaders to work for you—to support you in taking care of yourself to be the pastor you need to be. If it happens to me, I can send that person to the Parish-Pastor Relations Committee chair, ADMIN chair, or the district superintendent to support me—I don't have to do it all by myself. But if you don't have them or whatever your hierarchy offers as higher-ups on board with you, or they don't agree or understand, then they can work against you when veiled criticism comes. This is a little long, but I hope it helps.

In the previous appointment, one thing I learned is that it is not the number of hours I work or how busy I look, it is how efficient I am within the time I work. When I am not working efficiently, I need to step back and look at what is going on with myself. Usually it is that I have not taken time away, have not had Sabbath time or time with friends; or I am not utilizing all the people in the church to do their ministry as well.

And a quick footnote: Ask the Matriarch is taking a breather for Thanksgiving next week, but we’ll have something fun for you to do while you’re lapsing into your Turkey Comas. Advent is right around the corner: Be sure to send your holiday-season themed AtM questions to — and we’ll be back 11/30!


  1. Where to even seems in my denomination that the congregation wants you to work to time (9 to 5; all emergencies, evening meetings...well you all know this road too well). And we pastors need (also?) to work to "task"-- two funerals a week (which is not out of the question-- can take me 20 or more hours-- pastoral care, writing bulletin and homily, actual funeral, etc). But I'm preaching to the choir. I agree that the retiree probably feels left out-- and many of my "collaegue" brag about their 80 or 90 hour weeks---which only leads the congregation to think we can do everything 24/7 (and often we are at fault here). don't know how to deal with this. As to salary, our denomination has adequate salary schedules, and most people around here get a good salary (I live in a very expensive part of California) But I know many of my friends from seminary are getting little more than minimum wage who are working in the mid west. Constant problem. Other ideas????? Gail

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  3. I'm wondering why she returned to a church she previously served. In our conference, retired clergy are "encouraged" not to return. Too many boundary issues.

  4. In our conference (UMC), the Board of the Ordained Ministry has set a pastor's weekly working hours at 40-50 with a minimum of one Sabbath day off per week. There are other standards they've set too, from parsonages to working conditions. Our District Sups and the Bishop make sure that each Staff/Pastor-Parish Relations Committee Chair has a copy and shares it with the others on the committee, who in turn share them with the congregation. Every pastor in our conference should be on a equal playing field.

    Working (and bragging) about workweeks over 60 hours is sick (Trust me, I have the experience and the T-shirt). That just leads to burn-out, ulcers, depression, bitterness, boundary issues AND no family life! I don't think God ever intended us to sacrifice our health and our families for the sake of the Gospel.

    And our retired pastors do not get asked to serve in places where they were formerly appointed.


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