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Archive for Saturday, June 23, 2007

Part-time pastors juggle jobs, ministry to fill churches’ needs

June 23, 2007

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The Rev. Danny Fleming preaches at Big Isaac United Methodist Church in Big Isaac, W.Va. Fleming, a part-time pastor, holds a full-time job with the U.S. Army in Clarksburg, W.Va., while he ministers to two churches some Sundays and three churches on other Sundays. He spends 20 hours preparing sermons and logs 100 miles on his truck each week.

The Rev. Danny Fleming preaches at Big Isaac United Methodist Church in Big Isaac, W.Va. Fleming, a part-time pastor, holds a full-time job with the U.S. Army in Clarksburg, W.Va., while he ministers to two churches some Sundays and three churches on other Sundays. He spends 20 hours preparing sermons and logs 100 miles on his truck each week.

— For Danny Fleming, Sunday is no day of rest.

It starts before dawn, when the United Methodist pastor rises from slumber and gets ready for services. Some Sundays, he travels to two churches. On others, it's three. Every week, he spends 20 hours preparing his sermons and logs nearly 100 miles on his truck traveling to services.

And that's all before Monday morning, when he gets up for his full-time job with the U.S. Army in Clarksburg, where he supervises the maintenance and repairs of Army Reserve vehicles and equipment in northern West Virginia.

"I decided a long time ago you get out of it what you put into it," says the soft-spoken 58-year-old, after leading a small rural congregation in worship on a recent Sunday.

For many of the millions of Americans who depend on their pastors, ministers and spiritual leaders, a full-time minister is becoming an out-of-reach luxury. To keep small churches open - and to provide individual care at big churches - religious groups are increasingly relying on part-time, or bivocational, pastors.

Worship is just one of the many expectations being placed on these part-timers. There are church council meetings, Bible studies, suppers and other gatherings, and - most important - being there for believers.

"A bivocational minister can be a lot of things, but he can't be lazy," says Ray Gilder, national coordinator of the Southern Baptist Bivocational Ministers Association.

When such a hectic schedule is added to the demands of work and family, the results can tax even the hardiest person.

"Sometimes it means I don't sleep," laughs the Rev. Alton Dillard, "but I make myself available."

Dillard, the married father of two teenagers, is the pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church's Allen Chapel in Charleston's east side. He also works 12-hour shifts at Columbia Gas Works, sometimes sandwiching Sunday worship and a brief nap in between. On top of that, he presides over Wednesday night Bible classes and always has his cell phone in case his congregants need him.

"It's not easy, but it works about 90 percent of the time," Dillard says.

One expert says about a third of the pastors serving large Protestant denominations are part-time, with some - such as the Southern Baptist Convention - nearing 40 percent.

"It's a growing form of ministry, and I believe it's going to grow even faster and larger," says the Rev. Dennis Bickers, a former part-time pastor and now an area minister for the American Baptist Church in Indiana and Kentucky.

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