Before 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.
The 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.
I 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?
Years 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