Staffing models

So, the Head of Staff and I were talking about ideal staffing arrangements in a congregation….

Let me begin this discussion by saying that officially/denominationally I am an Associate Pastor, but the church just calls us both “pastors.” When I’m introduced by people in the congregation, I hear “This is our pastor” most often. I sometimes hear, “This is our co-pastor” or even “co-director.”

All that to say, it’s not like the HOS is wielding a great big power stick around, telling everyone that he’s the boss. We have a very collegial relationship, where my ideas and opinions are encouraged.

That said, when the HOS and I were talking about ideal staffing arrangements, the HOS repeated that he does not like the idea of Co-Pastors. At all. He listed a variety of solid reasons. Most of them were practical—i.e., when churches have tried the model in the past, it has often fallen apart. Then, they have gone back to HOS/AP models.

(It is a disconcerting trend… are many churches thinking in the CP model much any more? Is it failing? Or did it just fail in such high profile cases that it seems like a failing model?)

For me, if I had my choice, I would rather be a CP than an HOS. I’m not afraid of power, I am a natural leader, and I like being in charge of things. It’s just that I like a team leadership approach better.

And there may be more to it than that. I’ve got to say, I have seen many women become APs for life, even when they wanted to move into a different role in the church. In my years, I have seen women discriminated against over and over again in the HOS selection process.

They have tremendous abilities and gifts, but they have not been able to move into HOS positions, even when their less qualified male colleagues have. After ten years, the statistics in most denominations become quite startling. Men often move up, women often do not. Then if the women stay in AP positions, they often make half of their HOS, even with comparable education and experience. After banging their heads on the stained glass ceiling, soon, women drop out of parish work, and become chaplains or something else.

Many women are not serving in the positions that I am, a collegial situation where my experience and gifts are valued. Instead, on a multi-staff congregation, many female clergy are seen as the pastors to the women and children, and therefore, they (the pastor, the women, and the children) are worth less. Maybe I just want a bit of justice for them.

We can’t force churches to accept female Heads of Staff. We can’t force congregations to have keener imaginations, and see that sometimes the best man for a job is a woman. But, maybe we can begin to re-imagine our church staffs. Instead of paying one person twice the amount for doing all of the “big jobs” (preaching on Sundays) while we pay the other person less for “little jobs” (doing pastoral care, Christian education, and caring for children and moms), we could begin paying on the basis of experience and education.

Instead of having an HOS who stays at the position for decades, getting (well deserved) pay increases every year, while the AP gets chewed up and spit out every couple of years, ensuring that the position will stay at the minimum salary, we could create congregational environments where all of the pastors are valued and appreciated. Not just the tall-steeple pastors (whose demographic make-up seems to be very homogenous). Perhaps that would create a bit more equity in our congregations and our denominations. I certainly think they would create healthier church systems.

What do you think? Would you rather be an HOS or a CP? What are the problems with the CP and HOS/AP models? What are the advantages? Is there a generational shift occurring (people under 45 tend to appreciate less hierarchical models)? A cultural shift? Is this a shift that the church should embrace? Would a flattened-out model help gender inequity? Or would it just be a bogus liberal attempt to create a false equality?

Photo by L Plater


21 thoughts on “Staffing models

  1. Carol, first, I truly appreciate the way you describe our working relationship because it is pure joy to work with you. Second, the co-pastor model may have failed because my generation’s emotional/power makeup isn’t suited to it. Maybe younger generations with an apprecation for teams can, in fact, make it work. But finding and then selecting two individuals who can work together in this kind of intimate relationship sounds like a job that is above the skill level of most Pastoral Nominating Committees! Successful co-pastorates are rooted in very intangible qualities that are very difficult to guage in a search process. That being said, if you all can pull it off, great. Conceptually, for all the reasons you list, it is much more consistent with an eqalitarian church.

    I definitely don’t think the CP option solves the lack of female HOS tragedy. We all know that some of our best pastors are female. But despite their skills, they really, really struggle to be called to HOS positions. Nonetheless, it is happening albeit very slowly. In this Presbytery there is a church that, I am told, was deadset against hiring a female pastor. After three years, they recently hired a female pastor. Reality set in. A woman was the best person for the job.
    This is a drip-drip process of change. But dripping water will demolish a piece of stone. Maybe it would happen more quickly if our presbytery execs got some courage and told pastoral nominating committees the truth: it will be far easier for you to find a talented woman than a talented man. Most of the execs have abdicated their historical role of helping congregations find the right person. They need to reassert themselves and we need to help them to do so.
    This is a battle that will be won. It is being won. But the slow pace is totally unacceptable.

  2. I am frustrated with the rampant discrimination against women in the PCUSA. I have seen over and over again gifted women passed over and not only less talented men but men with significant problems chosen instead. I have worked outside the church and I never faced the level of discrimination I have faced in finding a call. Part of problem is that our PNCs do not have sufficient training or backgrounds in the search process. We leave to amateurs what in other organizations is done by professionals. It is the rare member of a congregation who understands the tasks that pastors do and the time commitment involved. They are easily swayed by emotional considerations and don’t ask hard questions or sometimes even check references.

  3. I’d rather be the HOS, for the sole reason that the acronym sounds like the nickname you’d give a big ol’ cowboy. Does John ever wear chaps and a ten gallon hat in worship? Honestly, it’d be a good look for him.

    I think the challenge in both a HOS and a CP relationship is ego. A HOS who develops lay leadership and is supportive and collegial to her staff will thrive. A HOS who uses their position as a means to consolidate power will engender a deeply unhealthy church environment.

    Similarly, CP arrangements in which there was any potential for conflict or power struggles would be disastrous for a congregation.

  4. One of my good friends just accepted a call to HOS in Mechanicsburg, PA. Still some logistics to go through but it looks like a done deal. It is a more progressive kind of environment and one that is will to eschew traditions that do not work in favor of creating new ones that serve the community and the church family better.

    As Gen X gets older, those who assume that males should be HOS, those wonderful golden agers and early boomers who still give sooo much to the church, will not be around and new assumptions will take over. Same gender love and the equality of women go hand in hand here and the those who have been in the ministry in those AP and CP positions like yourself for a few years will be the only ones to move into those HOS positions. At least that is what I am only predicting.

    Change is inevitable. I just hope that the emerging (not “emergent”) next generation of leaders will direct that change constructively where gender isn’t even a variable in the selection process.

  5. We don’t call Wimberly HOS, but sometimes we call him Poobah. (That’s my daughter’s name for him.)

    Yeah, I think that so many of our cultural transitions will come in time as a new generation populates the landscape… I was reminded this morning of what my colleague, Carl Rush says, “Often the only solution is dilution.”

    But as I look at the broad picture of our denomination, it seems like the HOS/AP relationship can be quite dysfunctional (of course, not always). The fact that women are often in the AP positions exacerbates gender issues, but the issue is not limited to gender.

    Most of our positions in the PCUSA are Solo Pastor and AP positions. There will be very few people who move to HOS positions (male or female). So, it seems that one of the major obstacles we will need to face as a denomination is, how can we make our solo and AP positions solid, viable positions where a pastor can emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually thrive long-term?

    If we continue to see the dichotomy between HOS/AP and SPs in such stark terms, if we continue to allow huge disparity in salary and status in our positions, I’m not sure that we are creating a healthy environment for most pastors.

    As I said, we can’t force committees–made up by laypeople–to hire women. But pastors can begin looking at our system and rethinking it. Are we compensating all pastors for experience and education? Do we allow subtly abusive HOS/AP relationships to fester in our presbyteries? Is the salary structure in our particular churches fair? These are questions we can begin to ask more. The CP model won’t solve these… but it could be a step in thinking differently.

  6. I’m coming from one half of a clergy couple who are soon to be co-pastors for the first time. Currently we serve as Associates in the same church splitting what was envisioned as one position.

    That last time I looked at the CLC website for PC(USA) positions, all of the co-pastor openings listed were churches trying to find someone for the existing head pastor to groom into his position. Which, in my opinion, is pretty sketchy and these churches should be “counseled.”

    So as a member of a clergy couple I would love to see more genuine co-pastor opportunities. My wife and I realized that most likely we would have to sell ourselves as a clergy couple to a church only looking for one person (check out our main marketing tool at login: search, password: committee).

    But I’m not sure how well a co-pastor model works with two people who haven’t previously worked together or known each other. My wife and I know each other well, know our gifts and strength, differences and similarities, and individual working styles – and still we think it is going to be pretty daunting to figure out this co-pastor thing.

    Honest communication, understanding, vulnerability and truth-telling would be the lynchpin of a co-pastor relationship and I wonder how that happens effectively enough between two people who are getting to know each other.

    I’m sure it has worked for some people and church, but I think it would be an incredible challenge to find the right match of two pastors and a church.

  7. A little background to my response
    I am a 32 year old female Associate Pastor. I’m in my first call and I’ve been here for 5 1/2 years. My 2 main areas of responsibility are young adults (20s and 30s) and our Nine O’clock worship service (don’t call it “alternative”).

    This congregation is 1700+, diverse politically/theologically if not in many other ways, very loving and healthy. We have strong budget and commit 25% to mission outside our walls. The staff is collegial in the best sense of the word. The HoS on paper looks like your typical tall steeple pastor- 50s white male, but I think he is anything but typical. One of our APs is a woman who has been here 17 years and is happy to stay in the AP role because of what she feels called to specifically. She is responsible for pastoral care and fellowship (perhaps those are considered more female areas of ministry). The other AP was here for over 10 years and recently retired. He was responsible for Outreach/mission and belonging/membership. We also have full time DCE and Dir of Youth Ministry.

    I think my context must be atypical from all the things I hear out there about how bad HoSes are. My HoS has just the right amount of ego. He uses his pastoral authority/capital appropriately. He is a team leader and I really feel like we are colleagues. I wish I got paid as much as he does, but not if it means doing what he does. Most congregation members refer to all 4 of us as their pastors. And our HoS is clear about using the HoS language instead of “Senior Pastor”.

    At this time in my life I don’t feel called to be a solo or HoS. I am happy to be an AP, focusing on areas that I love and that are challenging, as well as sharing in general pastoral duties. The only thing I’d change, if I could, is to preach 2 or 3 more times a year. But that’s not much to complain about.

    I am not as familiar with CP models that aren’t clergy couples. I do think there are times when it is really important to have an HoS type to have the last word or take the lead. I wonder if sometimes the problem with CPs is a that an unintentional leadership void happens. I spoke recently with a friend who had been a CP and is now solo. She says she has felt freed and empowered now in a way she never knew was even missing.

    I’m a young gen-Xer but I function pretty well in a boomer+ world. Maybe its the father-daughter piece that has more to do with my fondness for the HoS/AP model. I’ll admit that.

    I wonder if the future of the church is not the CP model, but a revised or re-imagined HoS/AP model. Something that is less heirarchical, but still well-defined. I guess I’m biased because I am in a good HoS/AP place, but that may be the exception.

    This doesn’t really answer the gender or pay issues- which I hear and feel.

    My hope is that as we younger pastors continue in our ministry the way we do it will change, but I don’t think it needs to be a radical over-throwing of the system, just a shift. And maybe the real difference will not be seen as gen X “rises in the ranks”, but as the children in our churches now and in the years to come grow and are called to all forms ministry.

  8. Hhhmmmm…. I’m glad I wrote about it. Maybe it’s just me who would rather work as a CP….

    Shawn, such a sweet site. What a cute family. No wonder you guys got a great job. Good luck to you!

    Camille, thanks for the thoughtful response! It sounds like a wonderful position. And you’re right, less pay does allow an AP to say “no” much more easily.

  9. I’m coming from a completely different tradition (we don’t have women clergy), but the HOS/AP/CP stuff comes up all the time even without women. I’ve seen exceptions, but that is what I think they are. Most congregations have “The Pastor” and the rest of the staff. I’m Treading on different traditions views of the ministry, but theologically it comes down to who holds the Office of Public Ministry. Who is the person the congregation has called and entrusted the keys to in that location? The exception congregations tend to be melded congregations where there are really multiple sole pastors under one roof. Without that situation, the person who holds the keys has been given the authority and the other staff positions derive their authority from that person’s. CP is just inherently unstable or it takes so much work from the natural head it eventually collapses. Having HOSs that are willing to stick their neck out for good APs is probably the better way and might be more tenable in the future.

    Theologically it goes back to the idea of headship. Even if my tradition accepted women ministers (and I’ll be the first to admit that the talent pool among women is much deeper and most congregations might be better served looking for a woman if they could), that headship is still the issue. Someone in the church is the representative of Christ. There is a theological truth that argues against the CP.

  10. Mark,

    Thanks for your insight. I would have to disagree though. There’s overwhelming biblical evidence of co-ministry.

    You can see in the book of Mark (6:7) that Jesus called the 12 disciples, and then sent them out two by two. There is no sense that one was in charge over the other.

    The author of Romans describes Timothy as his “co-worker” (Romans 16:21).

    In Acts 13:2: “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’”

    In chapter 15, when Paul and Barnabas got in a dispute, they split up. There’s no sense that one was the head of the other. When Paul was no longer with him, Barnabas went with Mark.

    Then there’s the spouse ministry model, Aquila and Priscilla.

    As I read the New Testament, it seems that there are usually two disciples traveling together. So, I can’t agree that there’s a theological truth that argues against the CP. In fact, it seems like the most biblical model to me.

  11. Shawn said, “That last time I looked at the CLC website for PC(USA) positions, all of the co-pastor openings listed were churches trying to find someone for the existing head pastor to groom into his position. Which, in my opinion, is pretty sketchy and these churches should be ‘counseled.’”

    That goes to the heart of another issue… these transitions are a killer for churches. The process is terribly long and drawn-out. Sometimes a church can lose 25% of their attendance and giving while the PNC is jumping through another hoop.

    I wonder what the solid stats are… but it seems like a lot of churches are taking 2+ years to fill a job where the pastor only stays for 3 years!

  12. My apologies if continuing this trend is taking us off-topic, but I’m actually curious to hear more about why Shawn thinks having a head pastor “groom a co-pastor into his position” is something that churches should be “counseled” for.

    I might not disagree, but looking at that statement, all I can glean is the possibility that Shawn considers this in violation of the spirit of the rule that says that an Associate Pastor cannot succeed a Head Pastor as Head Pastor should the Head Pastor leave. I think there are indeed good reasons for that rule, but have also been in churches where it seemed to me that the rule was an impediment to a smooth transition when the Head Pastor left for utterly non-contentious reasons.

    If nothing else, I would certainly like to hear some discussion of the issues involved in leadership transition in the PC(USA).

  13. Check out “Gifted to Lead, the Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church,”
    by Nancy Beach.

    She is a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, as well as a “champion for the power of the arts and artists in the local church. She is the “executive vice president for the arts at the Willow Creek Association, a not-for-profit organization serving over 12,000 member churches and others, representing over ninety denominations in thirty-five countries.”

    A conference for woman who are church leaders, co-led by Nancy Beach and Nancy Ortberg was held last October, and another is being planned for next year.

    Be well and Merry Christmas

  14. Mark: I served a church in Houston back in the days when associate pastors were eligible to become the head of staff. In that congregation, the founding pastor retired after a very successful ministry. They called the associate who was loved by about 60% of the people and really disliked by about 40% of the people. As a result, they lost many of the 40%, disabling that congregation’s ministry for a number of years.
    The associate was a good person, those who supported and didn’t support him were good people. But the dynamics of moving from associate to head of staff doomed all of them to a fight that didn’t need to happen.
    He quickly moved on to another congregation and had a good ministry there. The church in Houston, however, floundered for quite a while as it sorted through the wreckage of that disagreement. When I got there five years later, it was still all they could talk about.
    I think the possibility of those negative dynamics are intensified when the current head of staff is involved in selecting a co-pastor. No matter what the HOS says or does to the contrary, it will seem as though the new pastor is the choice of the existing head of staff. That usually is the kiss of death.
    So while there are some benefits to an existing HOS position being changed to two co-pastors, the dangers are worse than the benefits. If a congregation wants to go to a co-pastorate, they should wait until the HOS leaves and then make the decision.

  15. Anecdotally, this argument makes sense, but I still can’t help but wonder if many perfectly healthy congregations that don’t have these near-equal “like/dislike” camps are being denied a potentially much smoother transition because of problems that could happen in other congregations.

  16. Pastor Merritt

    Thanks for the reply. I’m just reading those stories differently on most of your examples.

    1) Calling Timothy a co-worker of Paul and imagining an equal relationship is really a stretch. Paul is sending Timothy all around(Thessalonica) and is clearly the mentor in the relationship in the Pastorals. I can’t read Timothy as an example of a co-pastorate. At least not as you are presenting it.

    2) Reading Barnabus (son of encouragement) as a co-pastor is equally a stretch. Barnabus picks their first destination, but Paul receives the visions after that. Also, like you mention, they eventually split over a squabble over John Mark. Not a great example of co-pastor decision making. The story from that point stays with Paul.

    3) Jesus sending the 12 or the 70(72) out in twos would be closer, but there are two parts of the narative that hurt that. The disciples in those cases, especially Mark, are clearly in training and before Pentecost. It would be the equivalent of sending out a couple of seminarians on a short term mission trip. We also don’t know who went with who. Did Peter go with James, or was it much more a Peter with a minor disciple. it could just as easily have been a senior and junior disciple sent out two by two. That is what we do on evangelism canvassing – an experienced and older member with a younger one.

    4) The spousal pair might be the best example, but that heads right into headship question.

    I think you are right that there are usually two, it is just usually a senior and a junior or a fairly clear authority relationship. Even within the 12 there are always Peter, James and John. Matthew clearly wants us to see Peter as the prime among them if not in a Roman way.

    A clear senior/junior partnership just seems to work better in most cases. Not that it can’t go wrong as the other comments in this chain clearly point out, especially when the senior wants a clone and not a fellow worker in Christ.

  17. I come from the Lutheran tradition — which is perhaps a little less bureaucratic in structure than the PCUSA, but we too have a diminishing number of co-pastorates. I think the bottom line is that it takes a very good chemistry to make such a model work, and that chemistry is hard to assess in the dance that is a pastoral search.

    I’m currently in a co-pastorate-in-name-only. My colleague and I work together very well, and he is not at all power-hungry in the traditional sense — but he is symbolically the senior pastor. He’s male, he’s older than I, and he’s been in the congregation twelve years longer. There is no way symbolically that I can compete with that in terms of how the congregation treats me.

    I’m personally OK with this (though I do find myself correcting outsiders constantly when people assume I am an associate pastor). In fact, I would be very hesitant to ever take on a co-pastor call again, because I now have six plus years experience with all the pitfalls of the model, even when it works well.

    Working “together” can be energizing and wonderful, but it can also be too comfortable, especially for pastor-types who tend to avoid conflict. There are times when I long for clearer accountability, which our current structure doesn’t really provide.

    The jury is also still out as to whether any future congregation would truly consider my current role for what it is. Even though I do as much or more administration than my colleague, and half the worship and preaching leadership, I’m not sure a future congregation would look at my experience and say “look, she’s been HOS.”

  18. Mark said, “The spousal pair might be the best example, but that heads right into headship question.”

    I thought that might be where this is going! Brian and I are equals in our marriage too. We just are. We always have been.

    I see the passages as Christ is the head of the church, and we are members of it. In our reformed tradition, pastors are seen as teaching elders, rather than the mouthpiece of Christ. There is a little difference in our theology. So, a co-pastor would not be a stretch theologically for us.

    We can definitely see the passages both ways. I don’t see them as senior and junior (except Timothy, that was clearly a father/son deal).

    But I applaud that you seem open to women pastors. I grew up in a tradition where women were not to be pastors. It was hard to shake that thinking.

  19. Pam,

    Thank you so much for the insight from the inside!

    I’ve had to eat my words with the HOS here. I told him that people in my generation would rather have a co-pastor. Looking at business models and sociological research, everything suggests that we would rather work in a network rather than a pyramid. I know that I would. But… I guess the church is different.

  20. Carol
    Thanks for your thoughtful words and for the responses. I have been a PCUSA pastor for 10 years and have served in several positions.
    First as an AP for Christian Education for 2 years.
    Second as a Designated Co-Pastor with two other colleagues that I did not know prior to accepting my call. Talk about going out on a limb to trust in God and in the denomination and the six churches that were calling us to serve.
    Now I am a solo pastor in a small congregation.

    I understand your curiousity about the CP position. When I first interviewed with the presbytery and the churches for my designated position, it was originally to be for an AP position with one of the other pastors (the man of course) to be the HOS. As we talked there was a sense among the three pastors that it would hurt the identity of all of the pastors and the congregations to have a HOS. There was a real sense of teamwork that was needed to make this happen. I think it is possible to do it, but unfortunately most churches only want a co-pastor when they want to groom the new person to fill the shoes of the retiring pastor.

    As the times change, I think there will be more opportunities for CP’s. Honestly there are days that I would love a colleague to bounce ideas off of. When I finally decide to move on to a new call (definitely not yet) I will once again explore the co-pastor model as I miss having someone to talk theologically with just across the hall. But depending on what is out there, I may go the AP route instead.

  21. I know this conversation is done, but I think it has been a good one. I really struggle with the senior/junior aspect of the HoS/AP structure, but also have some misgivings about being a CO. I find the church very sexist and it is very difficult to get churches to think of women in HoS or even in solo positions where I am serving. It’s particularly difficult because I think the community thinks it is progressive.

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