by C. Jeff Woods

The traditional pastoral model is built upon a set of very expensive assumptions that include three years of post-bachelor education, a building owned by the congregants, and a full-time compensation package supplied by a single source of income. Increasingly, congregations are unable to afford this model, but still desire excellent pastoral ministry. 

The pastoral models described below offer alternatives to the traditional pastoral model, primarily by expanding the sources of income for the pastoral minister. Each of the models detailed seeks to provide a full-time compensation package for a sufficiently trained pastor through multiple sources of income. Virtually all of these models have been around for quite some time, although some may seem somewhat new conceptually and others simply re-named for clarity.

The models originated several years ago out of a group that I resource called the “Professional Ministries Team” that includes staff whose primary portfolios relate to pastoral ministry in the American Baptist Churches, USA. Since then, I have revised the models somewhat based upon feedback from workshops and sessions where I have promoted these alternatives.

These models are offered as an adventurous alternative to congregations somehow thinking that they are “less than” if they cannot afford to fund a full-time pastor with their congregation as the sole source of income. Clearly, this self-esteem issue appears to be the greatest hurdle to the exploration of new models. Many congregations carry the perception that they have somehow gone backward if they cannot afford their own pastor. Yet, many of the models below are probably more rooted in New Testament congregational life than the traditional model that we lift up as normative today.

In my mind, the greater concern is that continuing to pursue the pathway of a full-time pastor when circumstances call for alternative models can be a very poor stewardship of resources. Although cases can be cited where a part-time pastorate returned to full-time, such instances are rare. Congregations that spend the principals of substantial dollars given by previous generations for missions and ministry should ask themselves whether their current needs are greater than those of their ancestors or grandchildren. Congregations that strategically seek outside funding or designate a portion of their endowment for such purposes should develop an intentional plan for rebuilding the congregation and carefully monitor the results of their efforts to ensure that such resources are not depleted prior to achieving the goal of returning to full time ministry.

Perhaps the more fruitful approach would be to approach pastoral ministry in a new way. Changing times call for alternative models, not just increased effort. The models below offer creative, enriching, life-giving solutions to a vast majority of struggling congregations. As you catch a vision for some of these alternatives, grab onto the possibilities of synergy rather than subtraction, of “greater than” rather than “less than.” None of these models claim to return a congregation to the golden era and congregations seeking that era are probably not quite ready to move forward into one of these models. But, for the adventurous, here are a few alternatives worth exploring.

Bi-Vocational Model:
Sharing a pastor with a business or company

It is estimated that about one-quarter to one-half of all clergy in the United States are bivocational, serving a local church, but also drawing from another source of income. In the traditional bivocational model, the primary responsibility to work out the details of the time spent in each location is up to the person serving in the two places. Sometimes, the “other” setting is somewhat invisible to the congregation, but such invisibility can lead to added pressure and unrealistic expectations for the pastor if not discussed openly with the congregational leadership. Ideally, the two organizations will welcome the dual identity of this person serving in two settings.

More and more seminaries are encouraging their graduates to prepare themselves for bivocational or bi-professional ministry and many regions are encouraging their candidates for ministry to prepare for this option. Many bivocational clergy consider themselves to be working full-time in the congregation with at least 30 hours of service. Thus, clarifying expectations for compensation and hours worked is critically important in bivocational settings.

One of the advantages of bivocational ministry is that benefits are sometimes available through the secular employer. Congregations should still supplement the purchase of such benefits such as health care, but the price of the benefits may be more affordable if obtained from the secular employer. A local employer can also provide a very stable source of additional income leading to a long and healthy pastorate.

Bi-Ministry Model:
Sharing a pastor with
another ministry setting

Another option in calling a pastor with an additional source of income is to call a pastor who is also serving in another ministry setting such as serving as a chaplain or as a minister in a community service agency.

Many endorsed chaplains from the American Baptist Church also serve as full or part time pastors who have negotiated with the churches time for this additional ministry as associated home missionaries. The risk the church (and pastor) takes if military chaplaincy is the supplementing source of income is that there could be a deployment or other interruption to the civilian ministry. The other risk the church takes is that the pastor/chaplain may decide to go on active duty. There is less risk of interruption if the chaplain is serving as an intermittent or part time chaplain in a non-military setting such as a hospital or if the chaplain has a private practice as a pastoral counselor. The challenge is to define the hours available for both forms of service while preserving some kind of Sabbath or day off for the pastor who does this.

The bi-ministry model could become an increasing and emerging model of ministry as many seminarians are currently preparing for service in a nonprofit or community agency setting. In the past, congregations preferred sharing their pastor with General Motors rather than with another congregation or another ministry agency, but the rise in the Missional Congregation movement may shift some of these perspectives. Congregations might even see the other ministry setting as an extension of their own setting even though the two organizations would have completely separate governing and financial structures.

One of the advantages of sharing a pastor with a ministry setting is that a ministry setting might be more understanding and flexible than a business or corporate setting when a pastor needs time off to conduct a funeral mid-week.

Bi-Congregational Model: Sharing a pastor with
another congregation

Yoking congregations or circuit preaching has been around since the Christian church was established in the United States. Two or more congregations that are in close proximity might choose this option. This model continues to support a full-time pastor as the sharing of a pastor spreads the expenses out between the yoked congregations.

If there is any difficulty in this kind of arrangement it is in finding the right match of a pastor for both congregations. Because the two congregations often differ in their cultures and strengths, it is not uncommon for the pastor to appeal more to one congregation than the other. It is suggested that a common leadership team be established to appoint a common search committee and continue to serve after a call is extended to provide support and supervision for the pastor and to discuss any other concerns. Addressing such differences in a single group can help one congregation better appreciate the strengths of the pastor and work toward solutions before they escalate into unsolvable problems. Additionally, but not unrelated, over time one congregation may increase or decrease what it is able to contribute toward the pastor’s compensation. Renegotiating the package annually allows for these differences.

Congregational Mergers: Merging with another congregation

Two nearby congregations of similar or even differing denominations might choose to pool their resources and assets permanently and become a single congregation, eliminating the need to maintain more than one building, leadership system, nomination process, etc. This option is often pursued by two weaker congregations hoping to create one strong and healthy congregation from the resulting merger. This result may or may not occur based upon the health of the congregations prior to the merger and the process used to merge the congregations.

The natural tendency for two merging organizations is for the culture of the larger organization to dominate the culture of the smaller organization. What happens in many mergers is that one congregation is simply subsumed by the other. The worship, the activities, the processes, and the ministries of the newly created congregation tend to reflect the dominant culture of the stronger congregation.

With care, however, a new identity can emerge that is separate from the two original congregations. Joining members without prior knowledge of the pre-existing separate identities of the former congregations also reinforces this new identity. To create this type of merger, it is suggested that a common task force be formed to create new systems and activities that are different from either of the merging congregations. The congregations should take the time to understand one another’s strengths and preferences in order to create a new and stronger congregation than any of the previous congregations.

If the congregations work to create something new, this option can result in a stronger congregation for the long term. If they do not, the merger will be no stronger than the dominant congregation and if it struggled before, it will struggle again in a very short time down the road.

Cross Congregational Staff Team: Calling a single staff team for multiple congregations

This model is similar to sharing your pastor with another congregation, except that congregations involved share more than one staff member. For instance, two congregations might seek to call a clergy couple or two part-time staff members with complementary skills. In an area where several congregations are in close proximity, three or four congregations might pool their resources to call a worship specialist, a missional specialist, and a family life specialist, some of whom may be part-time.

This model seeks to pool the resources of congregations in order to call a more specialized leadership team. Obviously, it will be important for each congregation from the outset to determine the percentage of pastoral compensation that they can contribute to the team. An assessment of ministry needs must also be conducted. Then, a representative team from all of the congregations involved can begin to put together a pastoral team from the resources available and needs identified. Increasingly, congregations are discovering that calling a pastoral “generalist” can place unrealistic expectations on the pastor called. This model recognizes that one person will not possess all of the leadership skills needed and seeks to call people with complementary or specialized skills to advance similar ministries in each congregation.

Some ministries today, such as contemporary worship and community ministry, seem to cry out for specialization. This model allows for certain congregations to afford specialization that might not have been possible otherwise. Additionally, many seminary graduates are looking for nontraditional settings in which to work. This model might be one that could attract the brightest and most creative new graduates.

This model involves much more change than some of the other models and thus may lead to conflict. Congregations not ready for extensive change will have difficulty reaping the benefits of such a system. The resources that were formerly poured into the preaching and pastoral care ministries may go elsewhere, meaning that more traditional ministries will also need to be done in a new way. Members who expect to see the same face performing the same ministry every week will be disappointed by this model.

The congregations involved must take significant time to envision their futures and then decide what specific leadership skills are needed to achieve those visions. Separate search committees should be formed for each position desired, but a common personnel committee should relate to all staff. If one senior staff member does not oversee the other staff, the most difficult aspect of this model will be making the team concept work without a senior leader. While this model will require a lot of work, if the changes occur, each congregation could ultimately be stronger than before.

Congregational Mentoring Model: Asking another congregation to mentor your congregation

This model uses the resources previously earmarked for pastoral compensation to contract with a stronger congregation to mentor your congregation toward renewed health. Typically, the mentoring congregation will provide the preaching, worship leadership, pastoral care, and other leadership responsibilities while assessing, training, and making recommendations for the future.

Many growing and healthy congregations love to share their ideas with others. Too often, such ideas are shared in one-day seminars, leaving the participants to implement the principles with little or no further contact. Individuals mentoring individuals has proven to be a very strong model of leadership growth. Opening up the entire congregational system for reflection and improvement is a more holistic approach to improvement than changing or training a few of the congregation’s leaders.

There will be a temptation on the part of both congregations for one congregation to simply emulate the practices of the other, which seldom works. The key will be to adapt what is working in one setting to a completely different setting. This model will also require a great deal of change, and thus readiness for change, on the part of the mentored congregation.

It takes a great deal of humility to ask for help. Humility will be a key in moving forward. This will require an extreme openness to having one’s ministries critiqued, challenged, and changed. Be clear about the desired goals of the contract and build in check-in points for evaluating results along the way.

If successful, the mentored congregation should become more like the congregation doing the mentoring and the mentoring congregation should also become stronger by reflecting upon its principles and practices. The mentored congregation may eventually choose to become a satellite center for the mentoring congregation, or it may retain its individual identity.

Pastoral Consultant: Calling someone to train the congregational leaders

This model involves the complete transformation of a congregation from a pastoral-led model to a laity-led model. Resources previously utilized for pastoral leadership are now used for training the laity to carry out ministerial tasks.

In New Testament times, laity were much more involved in ministry tasks than many are today. One of the strongest ways to transfer the ministry to the people is to remove the pastor from the local congregational setting. Congregations already differ a great deal according to what ministries are performed by paid staff and what ministries are performed by volunteer staff. This model seeks to turn all of the ministries over to the laity, using whatever pastoral compensation remains to train the laity to do the ministry, contracting with a pastoral trainer or by placing a pastoral consultant on retainer.

This model is completely dependent upon leaders willing to learn new skills, but studies have shown that leaders develop best through experience. Learning new skills also generates energy and enthusiasm for the existing ministries.

Either a single congregation or multiple congregations may implement this model together. If a single congregation adopts this model, they would use the remaining resources allotted for pastoral leadership to call a part-time trainer (rather than a traditional pastor) to train the laity to carry out the tasks of preaching, pastoral care, visitation, youth ministry, etc. Multiple congregations may also work together in this model by jointly identifying the ministries in which they would like to be trained. In this case, volunteer teams should be formed across congregations.

In addition to the benefit of cross-fertilization of leadership training, a second advantage to working with multiple congregations is that the congregations could pool their resources to call a permanent on-site pastoral consultant rather than a part-time trainer.

Certainly, some congregations may not be ready to assume all of the pastoral duties. Even those that say they are willing in the beginning may find it difficult to follow through with commitments.

The congregation should go through an assessment phase to discover what ministries need to be done in the future. The assessment phase should be conducted prior to committing to this model. Teams should then be formed of people willing to be trained to perform those tasks. Although not recommended, a single individual may volunteer to take on one of the ministries alone rather than a team.

Once the ministries have been named and the people recruited, the search committee can be formed to call a pastoral consultant with the ability to train others in the areas designated. The key to this model is forming the teams prior to calling the consultant in order to demonstrate commitment to the model.

For a single congregation adopting this model, the pool of candidates may include retired or interim pastors, while multiple congregations may be able to call a permanent full-time pastoral consultant. While at first glance, one might wonder who would apply, the applicant pool for such a position might be quite large. Many pastors with many years of experience are looking for a new challenge.

Once a congregation gets past the willingness stage, calling a pastoral consultant could indeed result in a long-term solution for the viability of the congregation involved.

Differences of Pastoral Leadership Models


Pastoral Leadership

How pastoral resources are used

Key to implementation

Degree of change required

Bi-Vocational Model



Part-time Pastor



Pastoral compensation



Involving new people in ministry






Bi-Ministry Model



Full-time Pastor
in two settings



Pastoral compensation



Balancing the two ministerial roles






Bi-Congregational Model



Full-time Pastor
in two settings



Pastoral compensation



Working cooperatively with the other congregation






Merger of congregations



Solo Pastor



Pastoral compensation



Forming a new congregation different from the previous






staff team



Pastoral staff team



Pastoral compensation



Identifying specialized staff needs






Congregational mentoring model
or multi-site



Leadership from
another congregation



Contract for services



Finding the right mentoring congregation






Pastoral Consultant Model



Pastoral Trainer



Consultant compensation



Forming ministry teams willing to be trained





Discussion Questions  


  • Which alternative model described is most appealing to you?  
  • Which of these alternative models already exist within your faith tradition?  
  • What would it take for your congregation to consider an alternative form of pastoral ministry?  
  • What would be the greatest hurdle for your congregation to overcome in order to consider an alternative form of pastoral ministry?  
  • What signs might God be revealing to your congregation that would cause you to consider an alternative form of pastoral ministry?  



Congregations Magazine, 2013-01-09
2012 Issue 4