The Ministry Gig Economy

baltimore GABefore the world turned on its axis I had plans to be in Baltimore about now attending the biennial General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I have to admit that GA is kind of fun as an executive presbyter. I have no real duties or obligations other than networking, observing the mood of the PCUSA, supporting our commissioners, and celebrating our connectionalism on the streets, in meetings and over good food and drink.

This year is completely different, of course. I watched the proceedings of the General Assembly from a couch, with a “beverage of choice,” and a cat trying to climb over my keyboard. One of my favorite parts of the General Assembly is the election of the moderator(s) that begins the General Assembly. I like it because the speeches, the questions to the candidates and the election itself tells us a lot about who the church is and where it is going.

street and bentleyThe real news of the evening this past Saturday was the election on the first ballot of two minority co-moderators, ruling elder, Elona Street-Stewart, and minister commissioner, the Rev. Gregory Bentley. Given the times we are in and our emphasis on holding a mirror up to our denomination with regard to race their election was a good sign that we intend to answer the call of this moment in history. We can sure hope and pray that is the case.

But this blog is actually not about this historic moment. Many others reported on that and you can read about that here.

gig economyI want to highlight something that one of the other candidates said when she was answering the question about what issues she saw our denomination dealing with in coming years. The Rev. Marie Mainard-O’Connell, clearly one of our younger commissioners, spoke for the need to put resources and infrastructure in place for what is becoming a “Ministry Gig Economy.”

This immediately caught my attention. Her point was that more and more our churches are only able to afford part-time ministers and ministers are no longer able to depend on their ministry for their livelihood. I knew that was true. I personally have experienced that. Twice I have accepted less than full-time work in ministry and three times I have moved to follow full-time ministry.

I knew this was a growing trend, but not until I actually sat down and ran the numbers did I realize that this is not a future issue to prepare for. This is an issue to attend to NOW. Of our 99 churches and new worshiping communities 47 of them are served by either part-time ministers or no minister at all.

You get the figures. That is nearly half of our churches. It tells us that we need an infrastructure that is just as supportive of those who are cobbling together two, three or four jobs as those who have been fortunate enough to have full-time calls, The young reverend was right. We need to get our heads around what it means to do ministry in a gig economy.

So here are some questions you might ask of your church if you are one of the nearly half of our congregations that is served by a part-time minister:

  • Do your expectations for your minister match her part-time status? In other words, if you are paying him for half-time do you only expect only half the work and time investment?
  • Would you be willing to yoke your church with another church having one full-time minister serving two churches?
  • Would you consider contracting with a Circuit Rider-type minister adapting your worship times to allow for a minister to move from one church to another over a three to four day period?
  • Do you have lay leadership that can run everything in the church with the exception of preaching, administering the Sacraments and moderating the Session?
  • Would you be able to contract for more pastoral leadership if you had less building?
  • Would you consider being a satellite to a larger church sharing pastoral resources?

beach houseYears ago, executive staff told me that I should expect to either have to move around the country in order to maintain full-time ministry or cobble work together in one geographical location. They were right and they were saying the same thing that the Rev. Mainard-O’Connell said when she named the “Ministry Gig Economy” as one of church’s pressing issues in her speech for co-moderator.

Data in the presbytery office confirms this. Applications for full-time ministry often come flowing in by the dozens. Applications for part-time calls dribble in often one or two at a time and sometimes not at all.

The Ministry Gig Economy is already upon us.

Full-time ministry is increasingly becoming a luxury.

  • How will your church’s expectations change in order to adjust to this new reality?
  • How will you, as a minister, reframe your ministry skills to better fit a gig economy?
  • How will we as the presbytery adapt our structure to provide support and resources to the growing ministry gig economy?

These are our questions.

This is our new life.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

8 thoughts on “The Ministry Gig Economy

  1. Brian, in our PneuMatrix work we have seen and helped to birth several of the models you mention- the successfully yoked congregations, churches that sell their buildings and find a new low-overhead home, satellite congregations, etc. Perhaps my favorite adaptive model is what I have come to call he Bi-vocational Church – instead of bi-vocational ministers, we focus on bi-vocational buildings! A favorite is where the pastor is halftime clergy, halftime community center director- by design, in the one set of facilities! The church becomes again what it used to be in the public square: the Meeting Place! With clustered social service providers, adult daycare, sliding scale counselling space (perfect for unused Sunday school rooms), a farmers’ Market, etc. The pastor is paid half by each and has a seamless full time job. Plus, the church facility become an active center to the community, teeming with ministries that meet folks where their needs are.
    – Deborah Wright


  2. Facing gig economy, as you indicate, is why churches can’t go ‘back to normal,” whatever that elusive entity was. Thanks, once again, for holding up something we should embrace and, yes, enjoy as we enter the “brave new world” of the church.
    Abundant grace, abiding peace!
    Brad Kent


  3. As one of those ministers whose 42 year (retired but still counting) career was accompanied by a 35 year career as a “tentmaker” or bi-vocational minister, I can testify as to the benefits of what you describe in your post. Churches I have served, from a 15 member congregation in Idaho to a 120 member congregation in Michigan have been able to extend their community outreach, increase their mission giving, develop stronger lay leadership with less dependency on the minister, and grow in their understanding of what “the church” can be and do. As the minister I found that I was able to be more effective in the communities where we lived because I was always part of something more than the church. The road traveled as a tentmaker has been filled with opportunities that I hope others will consider, not as a last resort, but as a useful and fulfilling pathway of ministry


    1. Steven,
      Thank you so much for your comment and sharing your experience. Your comment, “I hope others will consider, not as a last resort, but as a useful and fulfilling pathway of ministry,” is so important as we learn to listen to the experience and wisdom of our tentmakers as much as we do those fit the traditional model of ministry.
      Let’s keep talking!


  4. These are all good thoughts that I am pleased the church is finally ready to embrace. The church/community center concept brings to mind my experience at Cameron House in San Francisco, a great model of pertinent ministry.


  5. We seek an Interim. Can’t really afford a full time, but think about a full tiome Interim to help us find some kind of Called Pastor.

    Had not thought of a “Satellite” but more a “Mission” for a multiple staff congregation. We should even consider adopting some version of the supporter’s name. For example “Westminster by the Sea,” instead of “First…” where there obviously will never be “Second Presbyterian.


  6. Being one of those “gig” pastor at less than 1/2 time for the past 6 years, I have not been eligible for benefits or pensions. I think this is one of the issues that will need to be addressed better in support structure “from on high.” How might part time pastors participate – even at 12 hours a week – in the future “security” of pensions? Luckily, my spouse has a family insurance plan from her work, but it’s nothing like the PC(USA) Pensions and benefits that only “big” churches can afford.


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