Sunday, September 10, 2006

What to do?

I am a part-time local pastor and certified candidate for ordained ministry and have been serving small, rural congregations since '99. Most of these churches I've been privileged to serve are out in the boonies, not close to anything, and not sitting on any beaten path. They are, for the most part, remnants of communities that once were though the people who continue to serve and worship in these churches have had a tremendous impact on my life and my faith. These have been experiences I would not trade for anything.

The problem that is beginning to manifest itself is my wife and our youngest daughter. These are two persons who have always been actively involved in the life of a church and who are both used to having lots of things going on. My youngest, unfortunately, has missed out on being in church with kids her own age, and it has been trying for her. My wife has tried to become more actively involved in these churches, but the life she is seeking is simply not there. No one is at fault; it simply is what it is.

My current charge has early worship service, so it has been pretty easy to have that time with them and then go to worship at a larger church near our home. My wife and daughter have each grown very fond of this larger church and are both excited at the ministry prospects.

As a local pastor, I am a member of the Conference. My family does not have this distinction, and it has really bothered them both that they are not "members" of an active, vibrant ministry. As a compromise of sorts, I agreed that my wife and daughter should make their membership in the larger church official and come share in worship at my little church from time to time. Up until tonight, that matter was settled.

We attended a brief meeting with other seekers and the pastor and an associate pastor of the larger church who answered questions for those considering membership in this church. As a brief intro I offered my status, but I left out the details of my wife's and my compromise. During the course of this meeting, the associate pastor made a comment that just got me all upside down. In essence, it was implied that when I was finished "playing" church I could then come to "real" church.

The thing is I had already visited with the senior pastor some time back, so he was aware of our situation. I was not seeking membership, and he knew it. The comment that was made by the associate may not have been intended to come out like it did, but it did very much so. Now it is that I am beginning to wonder where my place really is and how serious the UMC is about part-time pastors.

I've struggled with my ministry for some time now, having a difficult time trying to go full-time and essentially being told "no" for various reasons. Now it is that I wonder if my family would just prefer that I relinquish my license and go back to being a lay speaker. I don't fault my wife for wanting more than rural churches can provide. Indeed, the rural church life is not for everyone, and not every pastor is cut out for that particular ministry. By the same token, not all pastors are gifted for a full-time pastorate at larger churches.

My greatest fear is that there may be future conflicts. For instance, how effective can I be as the pastor of a church that my family does not care to be a part of? How does the congregation look at me or my family if anyone gets the impression that my wife may think herself to be "too good" to worship in such a setting, which is NOT the case. How will my family respond if come next appointment season I am actually tapped for a full-time charge? It is a given that if such an appointment comes, it will not be the caliber of church they are now seeking to join.

What upsets me most in all this is the asinine comment made by the associate who is also a licensed pastor. Unfortunately, there have been DS's who have made similar remarks in my past. Is this how it really is with local pastors? Are we really seen by some as "play like"? Are our ministries and the churches we serve not taken seriously? Are we really only good enough for the churches that elders can't/won't serve? Is the United Methodist Church serious about the mission and ministry of the local pastor?

I would love some feedback on this from any pastor or layperson but especially from part-timers who may have faced similar circumstances.


Dana said...

I grew up in a teeny church that was part of a three-church ... circuit, I guess. I *think* that the pastors we had were elders. On the other hand, my experience with a local pastor was as an assistant at a larger church.

So from my admittedly VERY limited personal experience, no, local pastors aren't limited to rural churches.

My heart goes out to you with your family situation, though. It's hard to know what the "best decision" would be. I'll pray for you.

Michael said...

Thank you, Dana. It's a tough balance to maintain and I used to think it was probably harder on my wife and daughter, but now I'm not so sure.

TN Rambler said...

I'm a full time local pastor serving a struggling smaller (somewhat) suburban church with partial salary support from the conference. We have few children and no youth. I live with my wife and teen daughter in our own home 10 minutes from the church where I am appointed...and 2 blocks from the large urban church where I served on staff as a lay person prior to this appointment. My wife and daughter maintain their membership at the church in our neighborhood. My wife serves as the children's choir director and my daughter is actively involved in the youth group. They join me at my church as often as they can, but that is still only a couple of times a month.

When I took this appointment, we made it plain to the DS and the PPR that my wife and daughter weren't part of the package. I was called, they weren't. My wife also informed them that if they were looking for a stereotypical pastor's wife that they wouldn't find it in this lifetime from her. Believe it or not, I think that that impressed the committee.

Granted, as a local pastor, I believe that we are performing an invaluable service to the conference and the churches that we serve. I have had that belief confirmed by my DS (and other DS's that I've encountered) and my bishop. We did have an instance at local pastor school where the elder teaching one of the classes believed that we were somehow inferior to the ordained elder...but that was dealt with quickly during a break by the director of the school and we had an apology when we returned.

Face it Michael, the associate pastor was an least in this specific instance. I personally have a great deal of respect for those LP's who are part time...because there is no such thing as part time in the pastoral role.

Blessings on you, my brother.

Michael said...

Thank you, Mike. I'm pretty sure my DS told the PPR folks that my wife and daughter were actively involved in another church. Their reply: "so what else is new?"

They've gotten used to being treated as something of a "side show" for lack of a better term and getting any old pastor who was willing to come out there.

I'll reserve more comments about the associate who made those unfortunate remarks. I think, however, that we are going to continue on with this split arrangement, and I will keep my distance from this associate to avoid saying something I will surely come to regret.

Thank you for your prayers and your response. You cannot know how much they are appreciated.

cseminarian said...

Michael --

This is actually the area of ministry I'm kind of hoping to be in. Part of it is just my personal quixotic tendencies. I think that part-time would suit me best because I have a lot of other stuff I do, and since I _can_ be bivocational, there's no reason to put me in a place where the salary is as large as a full-time.

I do expect to get the "leftovers" that the elders don't want, but that's fine with me.

I'd like to encourage you with 1 Tim 4:12. Though it is being applied to "youth," I think it is relevant to all situations where someone is looking down on you for your place. What do you do? Set the example of a person walking in faith.

Michael said...


Thank you for your encouraging words. You're right: if I am comfortable with my calling, what should it matter what others think of it? I need to get better at living the life of faith I so often preach.