All of the Fun, None of the Work?

Post Author: Julie Hoplamazian

We acknowledge that different denominations use different language to refer to the positions of senior clergy and associate clergy; for the purposes of this article, we have chosen this language to be as general as possible.

“All of the fun, none of the work.”

It’s the phrase I frequently hear from clergy when I tell them that I’m an Associate Rector. It’s the “truth-in-jest” description of associate clergy. You don’t have the highest level of responsibility and the buck doesn’t stop with you, so you don’t have to deal with the majority of the “work” or “business” of the church: personnel, conflict, roof repairs, fund raising, etc. I used to make this joke myself and laugh along with it, as if to say, “I know how good I have it – my job is the easy one!” I played along with the jab that being an associate pastor is like riding a bike with training wheels, a learning position where one prepares oneself to be able to handle the real responsibility of the “grown-up world” of ministry.

But you know what? This joke represents a highly problematic and diseased vision of church leadership, and I both resent and reject it. The claim that being an associate is “all of the fun, none of the work,” implies that a senior clergyperson does all of the work (and, perhaps, has none of the fun). It is “work” that one is supposed to aspire to do as one grows into positions of greater responsibility and scope  – and this “work” is generally non-pastoral. That is to say, it has little to do with the spiritual formation, nurture, and empowerment of the flock of Christians in one’s care. It’s all the stuff you “didn’t learn in seminary”- hiring and firing personnel, budgetary decisions, fund raising, reviewing proposals for roof repairs, approving the layout of the annual giving brochure. In contrast, associate clergy tend to have responsibilities that lean toward pastoral care, worship, outreach, advocacy, and Christian education – in other words, areas clergy are trained for in seminary. The unfortunate and unspoken belief this reveals begs a disturbing question: Does that mean that, deep down, churches (and the clergy who lead them) don’t view pastoral work as real work?

Many would immediately argue that “all of the fun, none of the work” simply means that associate clergy don’t bear the burden of the responsibility that falls on senior clergy, and this is mostly due to the hierarchical nature of the senior/associate clergy relationship. Indeed, many associate clergy would report that the majority of weddings, funerals, baptisms, and preaching falls on the senior clergy. Yet most associate clergy would probably also report being responsible for many areas that senior clergy don’t touch at all: youth ministry, Christian education, family ministry, outreach and advocacy.

This brings to light two major problems:

1)  Education, youth, advocacy, outreach, and pastoral care are often treated as too unimportant for the senior clergyperson to handle. Whenever “all of the fun, none of the work” means ministry to youth, families, the sick and homebound, the bereft, and those on the margins, it speaks volumes about how little the church values those people.

2) It falsely links specific skill sets with levels of importance in church leadership and administration. Overseeing Sunday School and Christian Education? The associate clergy, or a layperson with some sort of seminary or religious training, can do that. Clerical matters, like sacramental and pastoral ministry (weddings, funerals, baptisms, hospital visits, etc.)? Associates can do some of that. But when it comes to the real heavy lifting? Balancing budgets, hiring personnel, and running the business – well, that’s for the grown-ups. That’s for the senior clergy.

What the church has done is turn the senior clergyperson into someone who isn’t really a pastor at all, but a person running a business who happens to also be a religious professional. Since people seek ordination because they feel called to the work of ministry, of course the duties of the senior clergyperson are going to seem like “all the work, none of the fun.” The church has failed to identify the specialized ministry of the executive clergyperson, and still adheres to the outdated model of senior clergyperson. You certainly don’t hear CEOs of secular non-profits (which, essentially, is what many senior or solo clergy are) saying they “do all of the work and have none of the fun.” These professionals expect to be dealing with the very business issues that so many pastors identify as the unenjoyable parts of their ministry.

In the rest of the world, teaching, leading religious worship, and running a business are all specific skill sets that exist in completely different jobs. In no other field would one start out as a teacher and expect to rise in the ranks to have a job in development and/or human resources. The church has a diseased construct of what types of jobs reside at the bottom of the career ladder, and what types of jobs reside on top, because it identifies the more business-oriented work with the more “prestigious” or “important” job of senior clergy. Meanwhile, essential tasks of the Body of Christ such as advocacy, pastoral care, education, and care of youth might be part of a senior clergy position’s oversight, but they are often delegated to folks either lower on the ladder or outside the parish church structure.

As an associate clergyperson, I don’t have to deal with the majority of church “business” that my senior colleague does. For some people, that might sound like I get to have more “fun.” However, it would be impossible to say that I have all of the fun and do none of the work. The ministries that I oversee or assist with – Christian education, outreach, and more – all involve real (and important) work. They aren’t devoid of conflict. They still require attentiveness to budgetary and personnel issues. Most importantly, they are a critical part of the work that the Church is engaged in: building up the Body of Christ.

In the words of Scripture, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6) Not everyone called to ministry possesses the same gifts. What would the church look like if its leaders were actually equipped to do the work they were gifted in and called to? What if part of the discernment of a call to ministry included not only the call to teaching, preaching, and pastoral care, but the call to administration and management? How much lower would the burnout rate of clergy be if they were engaged in ministry that was not only meaningful, but lined up with their skills and strengths?

I believe that the church, and its clergy, would be infinitely happier and healthier if pastors had jobs – executive pastor being one of them – that correlated to the ministry they were called to. Perhaps then, all clergy would not only be doing holy work, but also having a lot of fun.

Julie Hoplamazian is an Episcopal priest serving in Brooklyn, New York. When she's not dutifully writing sermons, she can be found at the barre teaching adult beginner ballet, out in the neighborhood walking her dog, or trying to catch up with her Netflix queue.

Image by: kaboompics
Used with permission
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