Warren Seibert. 2016. The Calling of a Part-Time Pastor: A Guidebook for Small Church Leaders. Bloomington: Westbow Press.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
It is interesting how the watering down of religious commitment has affected our notions of a healthy church. In the rabbinic tradition, a rabbi could hold worship with no less than a minyan (10 adult males) which meant that, if the congregants kept the tithe (a tenth of their income), the rabbi could maintain a living standard consistent with his minyan. In the U.S. today, where average giving is more like 1 percent of income, a church needs about 100 members to support a pastor. Because already about 2/3 of the Protestants churches in North America have less than 100 members (xiii) and about 30 percent of the pastors already part-time (xvi), the loss of millennial and builder generation members can only increase the financial pressure to call part-time pastors (11).
In his book, The Call of a Part-Time Pastor, Warren Seibert writes:
“The only thing that is really ‘part-time’ or partial about my ministry position is that amount of financial compensation that my church is able to provide at this time. This is why I prefer the term ‘bivocational’ to describe my life and service…Simply defined, a bivocational pastor is someone serving in a ministry setting who must rely upon an additional source of income outside their ministry in order to support themselves or their family” (xviii).
“the truth is that part-time pastors are not a new phenomenon at all…a careful study of church history demonstrates that what is actually ‘new’ in the church is full-time clergy.” (5)
What is a Tentmaker?
The Apostle Paul, for example, worked as a tentmaker; Chrysostom was a farmer; Dionysius was a physician (4-5). Seibert offers many examples in support of his thesis, which is that part-time pastors are the norm, not the exception, even today.
Warren Seibert is himself a bivocational pastor ordained by the Reformed Church in America, who also works as a registered nurse. He divides his book into three parts:
- The World of Part-Time Ministry,
- The World of the Part-Time Church, and
- A Partnership in Full-Time Ministry (xi).
Let me address each in turn.
The World of Part-Time Ministry.
Many Christians and many pastors have negative attitudes about small churches and part-time pastors. Why? (12) Denomination groups, for example, often perpetuate these attitudes both by setting minimum salary requirements above what small churches can pay and refusing to ordain candidates for ministry who do not have paid ministry positions, forcing them, in effect, to take volunteer positions that many cannot afford.
Seibert sees the small church as the contemporary mission field (13) where the pastor is called to full-time ministry, just like every other Christian (23).
He divides this call into three parts: a call to salvation, a call to sanctification, and a call to service (26). This last call, the call to service, distinguishes the pastor from other Christians. Each of us has a call to service, but not all of us have a call to pastoral leadership (35). In the reformed tradition, the call to service is referred to as the “priesthood of all believers” (30) and it is not simply a task delegated to the pastor. Ministry can never be delegated to the pastor because there is “simply too much work to do” (38).
The World of the Part-Time Church.
What is a church? In the New Testament Greek, the church (ekklesian; ἐκκλησίαν Matt 16:18) translatesfrom the Greek as the called out ones (43). The ones called out are called out by Jesus himself. Therefore, Seibert clarifies, saying: “The church is a gathering of people who profess that Jesus is their Lord and Savior.” (44) The many voices that we hear today that compete for the time, energy, and resources of the church, he suggests, need to be subordinated to the authority of Christ (45) who calls his church to make disciples by means of going, baptizing, and teaching (49). The four fundamental tasks in making disciples, he suggests, are: worship, discipleship, fellowship, and evangelism (51).
A Partnership in Full-Time Ministry.
Unrealistic expectations by churches and by pastors, especially unspoken and assumed expectations, hamper many part-time pastors (71). One colleague close to me, for example, received a call after the retirement of beloved pastor. He responded to an expressed desire to recruit new members only to find that the church desired new members to look like the old ones. Not meeting the unexpected desire, he found himself seeking a new position about three years later.
Expectations of the Church
Seibert offers lists of expectations that the church should have of a part-time pastor and what the part-time pastor should expect of the church. The church should expect:
A person of strong character, a call to bivocational ministry who believes and preaches the Word of God, is a person of prayer, loves the people, provides pastoral care, leadership, and training, and agrees with the duties and expectations of the ministry (73-76).
Expectations of the Pastor
The pastor should expect:
A church that prays for their pastor. It accepts their pastor’s leadership, cares for the pastor and family, holds realistic expectations, ministers alongside the pastor. It furthermore understands the limits of part-time work, and supports the ministry with attendance, giving, and salary (76-79).
Seibert observes that Gospel ministry remains hard, but not complicated (81).
Warren Seibert’s The Calling of a Part-Time Pastor is a helpful guide for small church leadership. It is short, understandable, and readable.
 The definition of a minyan is only hinted at in the Old Testament. Moses and Jethro, for example, talk about leaders of tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands. “Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.” (Exod 18:25 ESV; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minyan ). In Numbers 14, Moses refers to the 10 spies who grumbled about entering the Promised Land, as a: “wicked congregation”. The tithe is more concretely defined (e.g. Lev 27:30-32).
Seibert Clarifies The Ups and Downs of Part-Time Ministry
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