Clergy Articles


MESA / CARD Articles

An Overview of UCC Authorized Ministers

Rev. Dr. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi
Director, Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD)

The United Church of Christ is comprised of over 5,000 congregations and nearly one million members. For these congregations and members, there are roughly 5,800 leaders serving within local churches. These ministerial leaders are authorized as holding ordained, licensed, dual, or ordained ministerial partner standing. In addition, members in discernment (those in the authorization process) and individuals with no UCC standing who are laypersons or who may be ordained by other traditions also serve as pastors of UCC congregations.

Interestingly, over 80% of all UCC authorized ministers are classified as ordained ministers in full standing. Including retired ministers and Pastor Emeriti, there are presently over 10,000 ordained ministers in the UCC. About 5,000 of these ordained ministers are currently employed and serve within ministry-related settings, including local churches but also hospitals, colleges and universities, global mission areas, militaries, prisons, conferences, associations, and denominational offices.

On the whole, authorized ministers in the UCC reflect an increasingly aging population. When all active authorized ministers were considered, over half were age 60 and above and nearly one-third were 50-59, making 83% of all active ministers age 50 and above. When measuring changes over time, the number of pastors and co-pastors under 60 has decreased significantly in the last decade.

What authorization does your pastor hold? What other settings might they have served prior to being called to your church? Within which approximate age range do they fit? Think about the individuals who have previously served as pastors of your congregation and their authorizations, previous calls, and age demographics when beginning and ending their ministries with your church. Do you notice any patterns? Are they similar to these larger statistical trends?

Demographics help us to track trends over time, and they provide us with the bigger picture. They can also be helpful when thinking about the particular needs and challenges of the local church, especially as the picture of authorized ministry changes over time.

Clergy Health

Rev. Dr. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi
Director, Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD)

How healthy is your pastor? According to the latest Annual Clergy Health Survey from the United Methodist Church, clergy have higher rates of several physical conditions when compared with the general U.S. population.

While clergy’s overall health improved slightly in the last few years, the incidence of high cholesterol, borderline hypertension, asthma, borderline diabetes, and obesity were significantly higher than other U.S. adults, including demographically comparable adults. In addition, 5% of clergy suffered from depression, a significantly higher percentage than demographically comparable U.S. adults; and 26% of all clergy had at least some functional difficulty resulting from depressive symptoms.

On the positive side, more clergy are beginning to pay increased attention to their health and well-being, as most percentages decreased from the previous year’s survey. UMC clergy responded that they are “doing well” when it came to healthy behaviors such as increased levels of physical activity when compared to demographically similar adults. However, with these percentages still well above the average population, it is clear that both clergy themselves and the people they serve must begin to take a more serious look at how health and wellness can be intentionally nurtured and concretely supported, because I suspect that UCC clergy possess similar statistics around health and well-being.

In actuality, however, a minister’s health is a private matter; and pastors can choose to share certain things with the congregation but are not obligated to do so. In addition, a minister’s physical appearance should never be a topic of conversation, particularly as it relates to one’s health. With that being said, it is important to reflect on these overarching questions: How does your congregation support the health and well-being of your pastor? What role does your congregation play in being a key stressor for your pastor (and lay leaders)?

Ministers and Gender

Rev. Dr. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi
Director, Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD)

The United Church of Christ has made great gains in the number of female authorized ministers in recent years. In figures taken from the latest UCC Statistical Profile, approximately 47.0% of active, non-retired authorized ministers are female. This figure increased significantly over the last decade, rising from 33.4% in 2004 to 47.7% in 2014.

While gains in gender equality have been made in local churches over the last decade, there are still some significant disparities. A little over one-third (37.5%) of all local church solo and senior pastors are female, compared with over one-fourth (28.7%) ten years ago. This means that the majority of local church senior and solo pastor positions continue to be held by males, though this is slowly changing.

Inversely, over two-thirds of associate and assistant pastor (68.0%) and interim and supply pastor (68.3%) positions are held by females. These positions tend to be less stable structurally and financially since half of all associate, assistant, and interim positions are part-time.

What trends have you noticed within your own Association or Conference around gender and pastoral leadership roles? How does this compare with overall UCC trends? Do the gains we see in recent years give you hope for future trends? Do you think the dynamic of female ministers occupying a majority of assistant, associate, interim and supply pastor positions will change over time? I am hopeful that the voices and gifts of women will one day be more equally reflected in the senior and solo pastoral leadership of our local churches.

Ministers and Financial Health

Rev. Dr. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi
Director, Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD)

According to recent research from Auburn Seminary, the average amount of debt for seminary graduates increased from $11,043 in 1991 to $38,704 in 2011. In addition, more graduates are taking on greater amounts of debt in order to complete their ministerial preparation and training. In 2001, 20% of graduates borrowed $30,000 or more; this grew to 35% in 2011. Combine this with possible debt from undergraduate degrees, mortgage costs, family expenses (especially for younger clergy who have children), and it’s apparent that the financial burdens on ministers today have reached a critical level.

In the UCC, the average full-time pastor’s salary is slightly above $38K (not including housing allowance). In many places around the country, this salary would not sustain an individual much less a family. Ministers must make tough choices and create strict budgets for their households, especially if they do not have a second income from a partner or spouse.

In addition, stressors regarding financial health can affect an individual’s physical and mental well-being. The Church Systems Task Force of the United Methodist Church identified 13 factors that influence clergy health. Not surprisingly, factors around personal finances—high debt, low income, few assets, and little to no personal savings—were shown to greatly influence the health of pastors and their congregations.

With that being said, a minister’s personal finances should never be fodder for discussion among members of the congregation. However, there might be ways that your pastor relations committee can approach this topic with your pastor in confidence.  In general, it is appropriate to ask of ourselves and others: How might we most appropriately support the overall health and well-being of our pastor?

Covenants of Mutual Accountability

Rev. Holly MillerShank
Team Leader, Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA)

We are people of the covenant; of God’s covenant sign of the rainbow with Noah, of the cup of the new covenant shared at Christ’s table. As people of the covenant we commit to walk with each other in ways that mutually support and admonish so that the whole can flourish. This is evident in the four forms of oversight established for Authorized Ministers in the United Church of Christ. With each of these forms of oversight described below the church is accountable to provide support for its ministers, just as ministers are accountable to the church for their ministry.

Information Reviews: Annually the Association / Conference requires an update on basic contact information for Authorized Ministers, this ensures accurate record keeping so that pastors or specialized ministers are not “lost” and communications can flow easily.

Periodic Support Consultations: Roughly every three years all authorized ministers are invited to sit down with Committee on Ministry members of their Association to talk about the joys and concerns of their ministry. This is an opportunity to build relationships, offer counsel, and encourage continuing education.

Situational Support Consultations: Committees on Ministry in each association are trained to offer Situational Support Consultations when there is a fraying of the covenant between a pastor and their calling body. The COMs can provide an objective listening ear to hear about the divisions and tensions within a congregation and offer advice on how to move forward in a healthy manner.

Fitness Reviews: Fitness Reviews happen when a person raises questions about a pastor’s fitness for ministry in and on behalf of the United Church of Christ. These questions are based off of the Minister’s Code of Ethics found in the Manual on Ministry. Questions of ministerial fitness are taken seriously and Association / Conference members are trained on how to appropriately gather information and make decisions on a minister’s fitness for service in the UCC.

The Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA) Ministry Team provides to written policies and procedures on ministerial oversight and offers trainings on these topics across the denomination.

Three and Four-Way Covenants

Rev. Holly MillerShank
Team Leader, Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA)

UCC understands that the basic life of the church is the local church and that all ministers are to be a part of covenants of mutual accountability including support and oversight from the association where their ministerial standing is held. All authorized ministers in the United Church of Christ are asked to hold formal covenantal relationships with their Local Church, and Association, whether that be in the form of a Three-Way Covenant for settled local church pastors or in a Four-Way Covenant for ministers serving in specialized ministry settings.

A Three-Way Covenant between the church (1), the minister (2) and the association / conference (3) where the pastor holds standing as a minister in the United Church of Christ.

A Four-Way Covenant includes:
1. The UCC Local Church
2. The UCC Authorized Minister who holds membership in that church
3. The Association / Conference where the minister holds their UCC standing and
4. The Calling Body which provides oversight and accountability for that person’s ministry.

By virtue of holding Four-Way Covenants with local congregations the ministry of the United Church of Christ extends into the wider community and the world. Examples of types of ministers with Four-Way Covenants are military chaplains, college chaplains, hospital chaplains, missionaries, institutional leaders including seminary faculty, and social justice advocates including directors of faith-based non-profits and social service agencies.

Pastors have boundaries, congregations should too!

Rev. Holly MillerShank
Team Leader, Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA)

One of the requirements of all authorized ministers in the United Church of Christ is to attend regular boundary awareness trainings. At these events ministers learn about current trends in professional ethics including but not limited to sex, money and power. All Ordained, Licensed and Commissioned Ministers in the UCC are required to abide by the denominational Codes of Ethics.

But ministers are not alone in this requirement. Congregations are also asked to abide by the congregational code of ethics found in the first section of the UCC Manual on Ministry. This document is called: A Local Church in Relation to Its Pastor and is often presented to congregations by the association or conference during an installation service.

Congregations are asked to maintain appropriate boundaries regarding working collegially & cooperatively with their minister, allowing the minister time for sabbath & sabbaticals, for not asking other clergy (including former ministers) to engage in ministerial capacities without permission of the current pastor, for encouraging their pastors to work for the wider church, and for ensuring that the governance of the congregation is well established and maintained.

Pastors are expected to keep current on boundary trainings and to maintain appropriate boundaries in ministry. Their task is greatly enhanced when congregations equally commit to learning about and practicing healthy boundaries as well.

Retired Ministers' Standing

Rev. Holly MillerShank
Team Leader, Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA)

Retired ministers play an important part in the life of the United Church of Christ. Retired ministers bring a wealth of experience and love for the church. Retired ministers can be instrumental in supporting the ministry of a local church, association or conference.

When a pastor retires from congregational ministry they are asked to take an extended leave from the congregation they had been serving. This separation allows for the congregation to move fully into the transitional tasks necessary to call and connect with a new pastor. This time also allows the retired minister to discern their new status and to experience what it is like to be back in the pews after many years in the pulpit.

Often retired ministers move and join a new UCC congregation that they have not served as a pastor; this allows the minister to build new relationships and understandings within that congregation and with that congregation’s current pastor. Occasionally, after a one to three year hiatus, a retired minister will remain in the community and will return to the church they served. This should always be done with a covenant of understanding with the congregation and current pastor so that boundaries and responsibilities are clear for the whole congregation.

How does your minister spend her time?

Rev. Elizabeth Dilley
Minister for Minister’s in Local Congregations, MESA

Nearly every minister has heard the joke that a minister only works an hour a week, and tried to suppress an eyeroll. A full-time pastor typically works 40-50 hours a week. Here’s one estimate of where that time goes:

Worship Preparation: 30-40% (scripture study; sermon preparation; crafting liturgy; choosing music with a music director; worship planning; funerals, special services and revivals)

Leadership and Ministry Development: 15-20% (leadership training; identifying emerging leaders; growing the gifts of leaders; meeting preparation; praying for church leaders; helping individuals discover their gifts and connect with others).

Community Engagement: 15-20% (community coffee; public witness; meeting with community leaders and organizations; community events and denominational leadership)

Pastoral Care: 10% (visitation; coordinating and training lay visitors; phone calls, text messages, Facebook messages and emails offering care; help people access community resources; weddings and funerals)

Vitality and Evangelism: 5% (inviting others to church; empowering the congregation to share the Good News; social media; website; one-on-one meetings with new guests and members; planning new member classes)

Administration and Management: 10% (staff supervision; building projects; work with contractors; budgeting; creating reports; website; technology management; phone calls; mail; email; filing)

Faith Formation: 5% (Bible study preparation and leadership; organizing and coaching teachers; youth and children’s events; confirmation classes)

Included in ALL of this time is time for your pastor to pray, dream, vision, and plan.

Every week will be a little different – and some weeks may require more than 50 hours, some fewer than 40. However, if your pastor routinely works more than 50 hours a week, that’s a key sign of potential burnout. Are the church’s expectations realistic? Are the pastor’s? How can you work together to reset expectations to a sustainable level?

Why does my minister work in the wider community?

Rev. Elizabeth Dilley
Minister for Minister’s in Local Congregations, MESA

When a church calls a minister, that minister serves the local congregation. But the minister is called not just to a local church, but to the whole church and to the world. How your minister lives out this call will vary, depending on your minister’s gifts, interests, and time. But it is reasonable to expect that your pastor will spend 15-20% of his or her time doing work beyond your congregation. This might include: serving on an association or conference board or committee (such as a Committee on Ministry or board or directors); partnering with local service agencies; serving on a statewide or national commission or board; being part of a conference or national setting search committee; volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter; or something else. Time spent at association and conference annual meetings, as well as the UCC’s General Synod, also fall into this category.

Rather than see this time taken “away from the local church,” consider this an opportunity for your minister to bring your local church to a different setting. Your minister represents your community in these other places, and they are bringing the good news to people who might not have ever known about your church. They are also doing this to faithfully follow God’s call on their own lives and grow in their discipleship of Jesus. Your pastor needs your support to do this work – just as your pastor hopes to be able to support you as you live out your faith through service in the local and wider church and community. So encourage this sort of service to be part of their call agreement, and voice your appreciation for the ways your pastor embodies a lived Christian faith.

Why does my minister need to connect with other ministers?

Rev. Elizabeth Dilley
Minister for Minister’s in Local Congregations, MESA

Most congregations understand that ministers need to connect with other ministers. The reasons for such connections vary, but here are four:

1.    Community and Ecumenism – When ministers of several denominations serve in the same community, opportunities for connection abound! Additionally, sharing fellowship with ministers of other denominations is one way that we can work towards the visible unity of all of Christ’s followers that is a goal of our united and uniting denomination. Occasionally, longstanding local relationships among churches and their leaders may open the possibility for shared ministry among struggling congregations.

2.    Support and learning – Clergy coming together to support one another is a critical factor in preventing burnout. At the same time, ministers continually need to refine skills and develop new skills for leadership. Clergy communities of practice are covenant groups of ministers who intentionally gather regularly to worship, support, and study together. Other support and learning opportunities include continuing education events and denominational gatherings. Encourage your pastor’s participation in these opportunities.

3.    Prevent “Lone-Rangerism” – Ministry is a lonely profession. Ministers bear witness to some of the most intimate moments in people’s lives, and that can be joyous. But it can also be difficult, even isolating. When ministers connect regularly with other ministers, they remember they aren’t alone, and they have a place to share their own pain and joy in ways they can’t with a congregation.

4.    Continued Discipleship – God has placed in your minister’s heart justice and pastoral concerns that extends beyond their local ministry. In order to deepen their own faith, they need to connect with other religious leaders who share those values and justice commitments.

The next time your minister talks about his or her clergy group, give thanks for your minister’s participation in self-care, community justice, and continued growth!

What does "Commissioned" or "Licensed" ministry mean?

Rev. Elizabeth Dilley
Minister for Minister’s in Local Congregations, MESA

Do you have a Commissioned Minister in your congregation? Are you being served by a Licensed Minister? Do you ever wonder how these ministries may or may not be different than Ordained Ministry?

Commissioned Ministry recognizes ministry to a particular church-related field that does not require ordination or licensure, meaning they are not understood to be ministries of Word and Sacrament. Parish nurses, ministers of music, and Christian educators are all examples of ministries that further the mission of the Church and for which a person might be commissioned. The commission lasts as long as the minister is engaged in that church-related ministry. Commissioning, like ordination, is transferable across associations; however, if an individual no longer serves in that church-related ministry, the person must resign their commission.

Licensed Ministry is ministry to a particular context for a particular length of time, generally under the supervision of an ordained minister. This ministry is limited both in scope and length in ways that ordination is not. The most common situation for a licensed minister is to serve as a pastor in a congregational setting. A license is typically good for one year, and is renewable. A license is not transferable, although it is possible for an individual who has been licensed in one setting to receive a new license for a new setting.

All forms of authorization in the UCC are rooted in the needs of the Church, and discerning how those needs can be met by authorized ministers and the laity. All forms of authorized ministry are a privilege, not a right afforded to an individual, and all ministry is a sacred trust from God.

When a Pastor Leaves

Rev. Malcolm Himschoot
Minister for Ministerial Transition, MESA

When a pastor leaves, the congregation must say good-bye.

A good good-bye actually becomes a gift toward the success of the next chapter of ministry. A pastor who has served well and discerned it is time to move on, can build up the trust of the congregation by cultivating faithful imagination for new leadership, by being ethical on the way out, and by returning gratitude to God for the work together.

To begin the exit process, a pastor offers a letter of closure. Lay leaders conduct an exit interview with the minister, with the association (or conference) present. A packet of welcome materials is prepared by the outgoing minister for the future minister. Often it contains the offer to be available to that future minster for assistance – but not to be available to the congregation nor to members of the congregation. The minister must observe a real boundary in service to the congregation’s relationship-building with a new minister. For at least 1-3 years, until a new minister is in place for a year, that beloved former pastor has to practice not being pastor to these people. It takes practice.

The congregation plans, then holds, a ritual of good-bye on a certain date in worship. This is a firm date. Afterward, knowing they are not to continue to contact this minister, but rather their new minister(s), the congregation observes boundaries including social media boundaries.

When a pastor leaves, the system adjusts, new perspective can be taken, and people of all ages may experience loss and grief, leading to openness and creativity. As in many non-profits, it is a time to find vision beyond one person, but also recognize the importance of a pastor in helping a congregation set vision.

The congregation has the support of the conference in finding new ministerial leadership. The conference will meet with lay leaders to make a plan, offering the resources of the United Church of Christ toward discernment, vitality, and finding a new pastor to fit the Spirit’s calling in the next chapter of ministry.

The congregation positioned with faith and a culture of good communication has a good future in store, following the path of Jesus.

Types of pastorates

Rev. Malcolm Himschoot
Minister for Ministerial Transition, MESA

Ministers come to congregations within several categories of service. The United Church of Christ has some churches that want a supply minister to meet a temporary need, some that want to work for a designated time with a pastor toward a designated purpose, some that partner with an intentional interim minister for transition toward the next pastorate, and some ready to issue a call to the next settled minister.

Within these categories are many titles and specific nuances. Conferences assisting with Search and Call, and associations holding standing, refer to these four umbrella categories across the UCC.

All ministers with eligible UCC ministerial profiles can be considered for any of these vacancies, and all vacancies are to be shared by conferences publicly on the UCC Ministry Opportunities website:

•    The goal of partnership over time is best filled by a settled minister, who can be either part-time or full-time, with whom the congregation expects to encounter seasons of both constancy and change.

•    An intentional interim or transitioning pastor can be used to help best position the congregation for a settled minister, especially in tandem with a transition team or group of leaders in the church. Sometimes a church contracts a consultant for this purpose instead.

•    A designated-term pastor can be drawn upon for more significant metamorphosis in the life of the church: staffing changes, relocation, revitalization, closure or redevelopment. Through this time, the congregation commits to the same purpose for which the pastor is called. The term is sometimes renewable, or could change to the settled call.

•    For other needs, a congregation might want to work with a supply pastor: emergency, bridge, sustaining, student, sabbatical, for example.

Cultivating a Culture of Call in Your Congregation

Rev. Kathy Clark
Minister for Members in Discernment, MESA

When you were a child, did anyone ever ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up?  Do you remember how you answered?  I wanted to be an actress, a teacher, and a priest ...   probably because these were the adult roles I knew best.  Church, school, and television occupied most of my attention and helped shape my understanding of the world.  In addition to my family, I looked up to TV stars, my teachers, and my religious leaders and I wanted to be like them.  These folks, either wittingly or not, were my role models.

When was the last time you asked someone – either a child or an adult – what they want to be when they *grow up*?  Have you ever helped someone in your congregation see the world more widely than through the lenses of their own experiences?  Have you mentioned to another member the gifts and the possibilities that you see for them, and offer to listen as they explore their own sense of call? Have you stood with others as they dealt with the “yes” or “no” of some of their deepest dreams for themselves?

All of us are given gifts for the service of others.  All of us are called to ministry by virtue of our baptism. All of us have the opportunity – perhaps even the responsibility – of helping each other discern our gifts and to seek to understand how God is calling us to use them in the church and in the world.  

In congregations that are intentional about developing a culture of call, members pay attention to one other.  They ask the question, “What do you think God wants you to do and to be?”  They recognize and are intentional about being role models and mentors for one another.  They pray together to be discerning about God’s call to the congregation as a whole. They notice, name, and nurture the gifts that they see in members of all ages.  In so doing, they help to build up the Body of Christ into its fullness.

Along life’s journey, I became many things: friend, student, spouse, parent, community leader, administrator, caregiver, grandparent, and, yes, an educator and an ordained minister (but not an actress, at least not yet).  I call myself blessed for being part of communities of faith who care about my vocational commitments and encourage me to be all that God wants me to be.  I am as grateful for that at the age of 60 as I was at the age of 6, and I will continue to be grateful as I continue to discern God’s call throughout my life.

Go ahead, ask the question – of yourself, of others, and of your congregation.  Make a commitment together to being that kind of community that seeks to know and respond to what God wants you and each member to do and to be – in the church and in the world, and all along life’s journey.

Practicing Discernment in the Local Church

Rev. Kathy Clark
Minister for Members in Discernment, MESA

In 2005, recognizing the changing landscape of the church and affirming our commitment to cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ passed the Ministry Issues Pronouncement.  This Pronouncement summoned all of us in the UCC to re-examine how we identify, call, prepare and remain in covenant with pastoral leaders for the future of God’s church.  As we began re-exploring our understanding of authorized ministry, we came to realize that the practices of identifying, calling forth, nurturing, and authorizing gifts for ministry are really parts of an on-going process of discernment.  This process begins at Baptism and continues throughout one’s life and happens best within the context of community.

Since 2005, as part of the implementation of the Ministry Issues Pronouncement, local churches and Association Committees on Ministry have begun using terms such as “Member in Discernment” and “Covenant of Discernment.”  Members in Discernment refer to those individuals who, with the affirmation of their local churches, believe they may be called to authorized ministry in and on behalf of the UCC and seek to explore this call in the context of ecclesial relationships.  The covenantal partners in this process include the member, the local congregation, the wider church through the Association Committee on Ministry, and God, whose Spirit flows in and through each of these sets of relationships.  

The local church plays an integral role within the process of discernment.  It is within the local church that gifts for ministry are often first noticed, named, and nurtured.  It is the local church who recommends to the Association Committee on Ministry that one of its own be accepted as a Member in Discernment toward authorized ministry in the UCC.  It is equally true that the local church may say to a member, “We recognize that you are gifted by God, but we do not discern a call that requires authorization for ministry.”  To be truly discerning means being as open to “yes” as to “no” in faithfulness to what God is revealing.  Members of the congregation must have the kind of relationship with the individual that allows them to pray together, share stories of God’s movement in their lives, provide them with opportunities to test and hone their gifts for ministry, and to listen faithfully and openly for God’s deepest desires to be made known.  

More than just a shift in language, the use of words like “discern,” “discerning,” and “discernment” are helping to shape our understanding of ourselves as church.  Through the practices of discernment, together we are listening to the movement of the Spirit among us as we faithfully respond to God’s call to be the Body of Christ in this day and age.