Thinking about the solo pastor


My body’s punishing me for my time in South Carolina. I miss so many things about the Deep South: the grand architecture, the Spanish moss, and the rich food. When I go to Charleston, my diet basically consists of comfort food. Which, for me, is fried okra, fried chicken, grits, lard biscuits, and barbecue. Now my stomach has been revolting to the concentrated deep-fat consumption, asking over and over again, “What have you done to me?”

It’s time for a little self-care, which includes getting back to normal food. But, before I do, I have one more Southern culinary tradition I must indulge in–I have to have black-eyed peas and greens. In the New Year, we eat black-eyed peas for good luck and greens for money. (There’s only one problem. Today I have to find some of that pepper vinegar. We had some, but it’s always so full of peppers, that we use up all the vinegar in no time. Then, I forget to refill it, and we don’t use it as much. I eventually throw it out, and then I forget where we bought it the last time….)

I’ve been eating black-eyed peas and greens on New Years as long as I can remember. And it works. I’ve been very lucky. I have a whole lot of gratitude in this New Year.

I’m thankful for my voice. I know I’ve written about this before… but as an introvert and the third child in a loud family, I found it was easier to be quiet most of the time. I was also the peacemaker among my siblings, which gave me some wonderful pastoral skills. I can read faces easily, I can negotiate, I can compromise. But all of those things rarely allowed me to form and express my own opinions.

The discipline of standing in a pulpit week after week did allow me a space to form my own viewpoints. Knowing that I needed to say something every single Sunday, and that most Sundays I needed to say something interesting, was both a huge responsibility and a wonderful gift for me.

Although, it’s exhausting–especially at this time of year. I used to get myself through it with the mantra, “Advent will be over soon.” But just as Mary and Joseph hardly have any time to bask in the glow of the manger before they’re running away from Herod, there’s hardly any time for pastors to breath before Lent planning begins.

I don’t think a lot of people in the pews understand this completely. As the only pastor on a church staff, those Sundays can hit like relentless waves–week after week. Sometimes you surf them. But other times, it just feels like you’re gasping.

So, in the spirit of self-care, what about this idea? What if Solo pastors had it in their contract that they could hire pulpit supply twelve Sundays out of the year–just six more times on top of their vacation/continuing education time. That way, they can have roughly the same preaching schedule as a Head of Staff has. Or, at the least, what if the minister could hire someone to preach on the fifth Sunday of the month?

The HOS and Solo have challenging jobs, each in their own way. But as many churches move from multiple staffs to single pastors, we can become aware of those particular challenges that a single pastor faces. And, we might be able to keep Solos engaged in their jobs longer that way.

I assume that many pastors wouldn’t always go for the option. But, wouldn’t it be great if a Solo pastor could get two full consecutive days off in one week, at least once in a month? Think about those weeks when you have a wedding scheduled and three people in ICU, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to call someone in to preach?


11 thoughts on “Thinking about the solo pastor

  1. There was an article in the Outlook a couple months ago that suggested pastors should get every fifth Sunday off to worship elsewhere. This sounds like a fabulous idea to me. It would be a chance to experience other churches in your community, go to church without being “the pastor”, and to get diversity in the pulpit (especially needed win churches with no female preacher).

    At the moment, I am an Associate Pastor and so my dilemma is different. The time needed to write a sermon isn’t built in my regular week, and neither am I “in the groove” of writing a sermon each week. In addition, some weeks when I preach the Head of Staff is gone so not only do I have to find time to write a sermon, but also to cover the meetings and pastoral care he would normally do.

  2. Fifth Sunday off sounds good to me too. Do you think sessions would go for it? Most of the churches I served as a solo thought I had excessive time off as it was… unfortunately…

    Yes, the AP can be a strange position. It’s a juggling act, for sure.

  3. TC,

    Thanks for stopping by… though when I got the e-mail, I had no idea who you were because it had your real name. But “tribal church” I knew…. you’re on my Google reader. =)

    I also appreciate this post on solo pastors. I am one and just took two Sundays in a row off to work on my D.Min. project… and am visiting friends’ churches on the two Sundays. Doing that was so refreshing and renewing!

    I also related to your comments about eating in SC… I, too, am from SC and went there for Thanksgiving… and I’m still recovering! đŸ™‚

  4. “when I got the e-mail, I had no idea who you were because it had your real name.”

    Hahaha! The blogosphere is a crazy place. Let me introduce myself. Robert, my name is Carol.

    Happy New Year!

  5. What about having people from the congregation preach the fifth Sunday?

    It bothers me the demands that congregations have of pastors. The pastor is one component of the congregation. Worship needs to be understood as a collective enterprise.

    I would love it that instead of hiring pulpit supple in this circumstance that the congregation provides a member that shall preach. The pastor can help them or a class on exegesis can be offered in the CE.

  6. Ryan,

    Great idea. We’ve been having more and more lay participation in worship–testimony time for stewardship, Advent candle lighting, and midweek services. I’m always blown away by all of the amazing stories sitting in the pews.

    Did you get your music back?

  7. Great Idea, one of our frustrations as a dual pastor couple at different churches is that we never get to share in worship at each others churches…or together at other churches…or that we are always working most of the weekend to get ready for sunday…this would help us be able to have some free weekends and for us perhaps attend worship together elsewhere.

  8. I take two full days per week, except in exceptional weeks. Friday is my regular day off, and I also clear out Saturday. My coach (who is also a priest) says, “That’s why God created weekends — people need two consecutive days off per week.” This doesn’t always work out, but as a rule, I take the two consecutive days. This was helped much by a relatively new practice of finishing my sermon by the close of the work day on Thursday, so it’s not hanging over my head. I realize this isn’t the norm for clergy, but I also believe it’s a self-care requirement.

  9. Carol I did get the music back. I am in Vancouver listening to Andrew Bird (great BTW) and typing this note.

    from Ryan in the airport

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