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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Ask the Matriarch — Part time, half-time, shared time, sometime

Hello, dear friends! I have given up caffeine for Lent, and among other things, I'm now going to bed at a sane hour. But I lost several days to headaches and snow, and find the new schedule of waking up (naturally) at 6 and going to bed no later than 10 just bizarre! So I apologize for my completely erratic and topsy-turvy schedule getting in the way of your beloved Thursday feature.

But here it is! We have two questions this week, and the second one didn't fall within our matriarchs' arena of expertise, so we're tossing it out to the wider ring to see if anyone else has experience with it. The first, however, did strike a chord with a couple of the matriarchs.

Hi, I'm considering accepting a "half-time" call at a church nearby. I was wondering if any of the matriarchs had any experience with part-time calls--how to manage one's time, how to keep it part-time, where are the
hidden dangers, anything else I should consider.

Peripatetic Polar Bear has a "half-time" call right now, to a college church, which she is doing on top of a full-time job. In some ways, she notes, it's easier to gate-keep because there are only so many hours in a week. Here are some tips she offers.
  • You are going to work more hours than you are paid for. "That's a given. (Find me a full-time pastor who works 40 hours a week every week!) It's up to you how much over is reasonable, and how much is too much. Hold the line on that one."
  • Remind people of your time limits. "They will quickly forget. I've found a simple, 'Yes, I can fit that in my schedule, but it puts me over 30 hours this week. I could make it up by working only 10 next week, if you think this is important enough to merit it,' works."
  • Let them help you problem-solve time crunches. "If you can't be flexible in the week to week, then you can't and just be honest about it. 'If I lead the deacon's retreat this weekend, I'll have to work overtime at my full time job next week. Bill, can you find someone else to lead Bible study, then?' Your part time status is not your problem to solve, it's the church's."
  • You should be compensated with a proportionate amount of study leave and money. "Don't be afraid to ask. I get half of regular study leave and they pay for half of a class. They didn't offer. I asked."
Karen worked part-time for six and half years at a church where there had been half-time pastors for the previous 10 years, so they had a good understanding of what that meant. "At the time I had very small kids, so it worked pretty well for me and my family. I've had colleagues who served churches that were just making the shift from full- to part-time pastoral leadership, and those situations seemed to me to be much rockier as everyone involved adjusted to that reality."

Her main caution is to "be sure your family is ready to take the financial hit if you've been working full-time up to this point. We made the mistake of not really factoring that in to some other decisions we made at the same time, and we are still recovering from that."

The second question this week has a very specific focus that none of our matriarchs had insight to, and we're hoping that one of our fellow RevGalBlogPals might be able to help us out.

My husband and I are both second career seminarians, and are hoping to co-pastor together somewhere. However, while this seemed to be viable about 10-15 years ago, we don't see many models for it existing nowadays. Know any that are working? Have any wisdom about a couple taking yoked churches?

Okay, and there ya have it! Send your questions our way via email at and send your comments to us below! We always love hearing from you.


  1. Perfect timing! The half-time question was mine, and I am, as I type, sitting here crunching numbers. Thanks very much for all of the wisdom.

    Regarding the co-pastor question, there are two couples in my presbytery who are co-pastors. Each couple has two congregations. They are *very* organized. One person preaches every other week (at both places), the other teaches Sunday School and assists in worship. There are different worship times to facilitate this. They have found that it doesn't work to assign responsibility for one church to one half of the couple. Everyone forgets they are co-pastors when that happens.

    Hope that helps.

  2. I am part time (at first 1/2 time and now 3/4 time) and have found that block scheduling works best for keeping the balance going. For example, the morning is one block, the afternoon a second block, and the evening a third block. Most full time pastors would put in approximately 12 blocks per week (Sundays count two). I shoot for around 9. Also, it has helped me to keep in mind that when I overwork I am robbing laity of the opportunity to serve with their gifts and am setting the church up for unreasonable expectations for my successor.

    Regarding the co-pastoring, I know of several married clergy couples but only a few of them co-pastor. When they do, they typically divide up the workload by areas of responsibility based on their strengths and weaknesses. They also try to cover for each other in terms of child care, pastoral care, meetings, etc. The trickiest part is setting up a consistent day off - together.

  3. ppb said: "Your part time status is not your problem to solve, it's the church's."

    Wise, wise words...

  4. I'm a "Matriach" to ask, but am the guilty party who didn't send her answer in time to Gallycat.

    My husband and I were co-pastors (sharing one position) for 7 years. He loved it. I didn't so much.

    The plan:
    One of us would work at church while the other would parent our little ones at home, and then we'd switch.

    One would be the "go to" person for half the ministries of the church and the other would be the "go to" person for the other half.

    One would preach Christmas Eve and the other would preach Easter.

    Etc. etc. etc.

    The reality:
    We both worked FT. It was all-church/all the time. We tried to have "church free zones" -- like the bedroom and the dining room, but found ourselves lying in bed at night saying not-so-romantic things like:
    "Did you remember to send a report to the clerk?"

    My handsome husband loved having this much contact -- he is an off the charts extrovert. I love my HH and yet need lots of alone time as a Myers-Briggs introvert. I needed him to come home and talk about things/people/ponderings that were new to me.

    We are still happily married, but I know of several couples who divorced after serving together. Power issues, intimacy, too much church -- it was all there.

    I would basically say, "Be careful."

    Questions to ask:
    How will it be if the church dramatically prefers the preaching of one of you over the other?

    How will your husband react if someone wants him to officiate at their public event simply because he is "the male" and "looks more like a pastor." (My husband heroically refused to participate the minute he caught a sniff of this.)

    How will you balance church time versus family time?

    How will you make friends who have absolutely no connection to your church/es?

    Good luck and many blessings!

  5. I just want to ditto what Jan said. And we only co-pastored for 2 years. It was tough; we survived with our marriage intact (stronger, actually), but I can see how it could end in disaster.

  6. such interesting questions - and answers. I so enjoy this spot. Thanks to all :)

  7. I tried to comment yesterday but Blogger wouldn't give me a word verification word. Weird. I totally agree with above comments about the challenges and pitfalls - the power issues (and issues of perceived power) can be particularly crazy-making and destructive. Still, I think copastoring can be a good and healthy thing. This is what I wrote yesterday but couldn't post:

    My husband and I have been co-pastoring for 6 years now. In addition to sharing the pastorate of our church, we also share the (part-time) position of campus minister (our denomination's campus ministry at the University of Michigan is housed in our church). We are each considered to be 3/4 time. I think it is a wonderful and viable way to do ministry, and one that I believe more churches are considering. Here are some of the ways we make it work.

    Flexibility. It took us awhile to get the balance right, in terms of how we scheduled our time. After a year or so, we changed our initial way of dividing office hours. Then we changed it again after our twins were born almost 3 years ago.

    Division of Labor. It's important to be clear with each other and the church about who does what. We communicated this during the call process. Some married co-pastors have a very clear division of labor, with one doing all the preaching and pastoral care and the other doing all the Christian Ed and administration, for example. Because both of us had been senior/solo pastors previously, and b/c we both considered ourselves generalists instead of specialists, we essentially divided up all the main pastoral duties evenly. We take turns preaching, leading worship, leading staff meeting, making pastoral visits, etc. Over time, we have sorted out certain board meetings b/t the two of us but every now and then we will shake that up a bit as well.

    Communication. Obviously essential in any marriage, it becomes even more imperative in a copastorate situation, where balls get dropped all over the place if there isn't clarity in communication. We have learned this the hard way. More than once!

    I've written a book already, but I still have much more to say! Co-pastoring is very challenging in some ways but it can also be such a healthy way of leading and serving - it has certainly helped us each avoid the 70-80 hr. work weeks of some of our colleagues, and it helps with balancing family and church as well. I have a document we wrote for the church laying sound groundwork (we are their first copastors) - I'd be happy to pass it on to anyone considering this way of serving. email - stacey AT fbca2 DOT org

  8. Esperanza,
    I'm happy to talk AT LENGTH about working part time, if you email at rev dot brownell at gmail dot com.

    I've been working part time for two and a half years, and first of all, I would want to affirm that it is really a wonderful way to do ministry! It allows for lots of flexibility and freedom.

    As cautions, I would say:

    PPB is so right that your status as part time is the church's issue. The problem is, they will always forget and you will ahve to keep reminding them. I know one 3/4 time pastor who is not in church one Sunday every month, so that the congregation can really symbolically understand what 3/4 time actually means.

    I work 1/3 time as an associate, and I work in blocks like jennifer. I figure two afternoons, one Sunday and one night meeting (or night of phone calls or emails) per month. The reality is, I work much more.

    For example, on weeks when I preach, I think about my sermon ALOT even when I'm not in front of my books or computer. And I do not count the great ephiphany I have on a walk as part of my work hours. :)

    Be sure to be clear about what counts as your job, and what counts as extra things that you do as service or for extra money. For example, I have some wider denonminational responsibilities and workshops, etc, that, if I were working full time, I would "count" as part of my working hours, but they just don't seem to fit in my part time job.

    Also, it is the policy at my church that, because we get an honorarium for weddings and memorials, they do not count as part of our regular hours, so premarital counseling, rehearsals and weddings fall on top of my regular hours.

    Email me if you want more. And blessings in your discernment!

  9. Co-pastoring can work and I've seen good ones...and not so good ones.

    Sometimes they pastor in the same Presbytery, but not the same church. It will depend on how you team in your shared ministry. You know, roles, etc. And what is needed in the place you go.

    They will over-lap at bit, but they'll need to be clearly stated. For yourselves, but also for congregation(s)... both roles and hours. Pastors always need to recognize they'll have off hours in emergent situations.

    Plan for times off together too!

    Communication will be the main glue...besides God and your love, of course.

    Having a 'team' or a group with whom to work out glitches as they come up will lessen the load too.

    All the best!

  10. Free Flying Spirit,

    Serving in the same Presbytery in two churches that do not have a formal co-pastor relationship is being a clergy couple not co-pastors. This is a different situation because the two different ministries do not have any official relationship. My husband and I have served as co-pastors in the past; now we serve as a clergy couple. The scenarios have been quite different. In the Presbyterian tradition, 'co-pastor' is a specific role, like associate or stated supply.

    I actually think serving as a clergy couple in two non-related ministries can be harder because the different congregations are not covenanted to work together. It can also be easier because you are not expected to pastor your spouse's congregation, as well as your own.



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