Part Time is Real Time
Paul went to see [Aquila and Priscilla] … and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers. – Acts 18:3 (NRSV)
When I started in ministry, my mentors said, “There is no such thing as part-time ministry.” They assumed pastors would and should work full-time in one church, back in the ancient days when phones were still attached to walls and had not yet learned how to be cameras.
How things have changed. I have seen the shift to part-time ministry speed up, as churches get smaller and so do resources. Part-time ministry is nothing new, but it feels new to many churches and clergy that are moving into it.
In the worst cases, pastors’ hours and pay are cut but church expectations stay the same. The “dispensable hours” never fall on Sundays. Pastors are still expected to show up to preach in an ever-shortening work week that assumes a serious sermon will sprout straight from the head of Zeus or, God help us, from an AI chat bot. Obviously, we can do better.
I see us doing better when I visit churches where part-time ministry has invigorated the congregation. Lay leaders step up to preach, pray at meetings, and visit the sick. Pastors set boundaries because their other job compels them to, which brings health and freedom to their ministry. People consider a vocation to pastor in which they don’t have to give up their calling in another career.
But the best examples are in the Bible. When Jesus called the first disciples to drop their nets and follow him, he didn’t tell them to stop by Human Resources on the way out for an exit interview. There’s a reason so many of Jesus’ sermons and miracles took place at sea and on boats. These people were still working their day jobs!
Was the apostle Paul a tentmaker on the side? Or was the tentmaker Paul an apostle on the side? I reject the whole question. I don’t believe the Holy Spirit does anything in our lives on the side.
Thank you, God, for being the full-time presence under every minute of every hour. Amen..
Lillian Daniel serves as Conference Minister with the Michigan Conference UCC. She is the author of Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To and When “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough.