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Spring 2000 · Vol. 29 No. 1 · pp. 64–67 

Ministry Compass

The Joys of 7/8 Time

Bill Braun

Some time ago I received a phone call from a friend. We first met on a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) assignment in Kentucky and then again crossed paths at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary. He is now a pastor in a rather isolated, rural church and I am a pastor in a more urban setting. We stay in touch from time to time. In this particular conversation we caught up on what it means to be a pastor, he after four years and I after seven years.

As we described to each other some of the activities in which we are involved and the way in which we are pastors within our respective congregations, I began to appreciate more fully some of the unique aspects of my current position. My contract with the church is for 7/8-time (there is another pastor working on a 1/2-time contract).

It is in the best interest of the Church to build congregations which are less dependent upon serial paid pastoral leadership and better equipped to thrive and grow across the course of the long term.

While that sounds a little strange, even as I look at it on paper, it effectively means that not all my time is purchased by the congregation. I am expected to have some life outside the congregation as do others. This life outside the congregation reminds me that the world is larger than our congregation and helps me establish perspective. I have been asked and have chosen to give my time to local and regional MCC efforts. This provides an inter-Mennonite mission focus with a strong justice component which fits very well within the congregation. {65}


While 7/8 is a precise measure for financial agreements, it is obviously a less precise standard for writing job descriptions and assigning pastoral duties. However, at a philosophical level, 7/8-time functions to inform the organizational life of the congregation. However minute the 1/8 might seem, it serves to highlight a different understanding of ourselves—and frees me of the guilt of leaving the office early from time to time. It means that others must assume some responsibility for the life of the congregation, along with the pastor. That is healthy for all of us. The responsibility does not rest on one person. No one person is indispensable. The ministry orientation of this congregation has for many years included a strong lay component. Seven-eighths reminds us that we all share in the life of the church.

This is most evident in our approach to the planning and practice of the weekly worship service. As I conversed with my friend and heard him say that he was primarily responsible for planning the worship service and for preaching forty or more Sundays per year, the contrast in our respective ministries was drawn more sharply. Most years I preach fifteen to twenty Sundays. That being said, I usually am worship leader about an equal number of times and, on Sundays when I neither preach nor lead worship, I often lead the pastoral prayer.

Some guests are invited to speak, but most often members of the congregation are ready and willing to participate on any given Sunday. The variety of roles I fill in the worship service allows an opportunity to mentor and encourage members of the congregation to do likewise. No one is excluded or included solely on the basis of position. It is a joy to worship together when the service is led by members of the congregation, not only by paid staff.

The worship commission is central in the planning and practice of worship. This commission consists of the pastors and five or so members of the congregation, one of whom is the lay leader. It has been the custom for some years now to develop annual and seasonal themes around which we celebrate the presence of God in our lives. During the past year, the concept of an annual theme has been replaced by the use of the Revised Common Lectionary. The worship commission, or others in the congregation, plays an active role in taking the texts recommended by the Lectionary and working to develop seasonal themes in accordance with the calendar of the church year. Also considered are circumstances within the life of the congregation, events in our denomination, and matters in the larger community.

For example, this approach allows us to plan for the Advent season and reminds us that Epiphany follows. Pentecost becomes connected to the Sundays which follow Easter rather than standing alone. Special days {66} such as the U.S. Mennonite Brethren Conference Peace Sunday or World Fellowship Sunday are given space as well as the annual church camp out. The variety of voices within the worship commission are allowed to speak under the umbrella of the texts recommended by the Lectionary, as we together recognize God’s work through the text, in the congregation, in our lives, and in our world.


We have found the work of Robert Webber, the quarterly publication Reformed Worship, materials from the Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries, and the Builder particularly helpful in this process. Not only are suggestions made for interpreting and presenting the texts for the day, but these are woven into the larger history and tradition of the Church. Very often the perspectives of another faith tradition awaken us to evaluate our own practices and habits. This has led to a renewed determination to fill our services with Scripture. We have also been persuaded that opportunities for confession and times of silence have often been missing from our services and should be included more frequently. We have added special morning and/or evening prayer services at certain times of the year, such as the Lenten season. For the past four years we have also held a Mourning Service at Christmas for those who find that season of the year difficult.

One of the unique assets of this congregation, often reflected in worship commission discussions, is attention to the arts. We remind ourselves continually to consciously include quality music, poetry, drama, banners, and a variety of other visuals. We will long remember the very large rock in the center of the sanctuary during one Lenten season. The rock reminded us of God’s faithfulness as well as the burdens we carry. The rock was so large that it sparked a lively discussion of just how it came to be in the sanctuary. Another memorable visual was a leaning framework from which hung a plumb line as we studied the book of Amos and considered our faithfulness to the will of God. Many who would not consider themselves prepared to study texts and develop themes can make significant contributions to worship in the exercise of God’s various gifts to them.

These ideas, and more, have been sparked by our reading and interest in the worship practices and traditions of the wider Mennonite church and beyond, combined with a vigorous and sustained discussion within the worship commission. This discussion reflects who we are and our personal understandings and experiences of worship gathered over the years in a variety of settings. It goes without saying that a good amount of trial and {67} error is involved. As a pastor, the method of lay leadership and involvement in the development and practice of the worship service is extremely helpful. It is, as well, immensely satisfying to see the gifts of the congregation exercised on a regular basis as we worship together.


This lay involvement brings additional joys, freeing pastoral time for a variety of other tasks. In those weeks when sermon preparation is not a requirement, attention can be more fully given to visitation, reading, future planning, or personal contacts with those who are more marginal to the life of the church. This also allows for periodic seasons as an elementary Sunday school teacher, a wonderfully rewarding experience that many of my pastor-friends are not allowed. Sometimes it is also possible to sing in the choir or take my turn making coffee for the fellowship time between the worship service and the Sunday school hour. All these ways of being in the congregation allow me to be a pastor in deed as well as a preacher of the word.

As I write this, I realize there are congregational circumstances which may impede this model of pastoral ministry. Size, whether very large or quite small, is an issue. Tradition or congregational personality is another. I also realize that part of the joy I feel in this style of ministry is related to who I am as a person. However, I strongly endorse even small steps in the direction of inclusion of the congregation at as many levels as possible and variety in pastoral activity.

Given the relatively short average tenure of pastors within the Mennonite Brethren Church, it is in the best interest of the Church to build congregations which are less dependent upon serial paid pastoral leadership and better equipped to thrive and grow across the course of the long term. In our congregation, the 7/8-time model is helping us to move toward that goal.


  • Builder: An educational magazine for congregational leaders. Scottdale, PA: Herald.
  • Mennonite board of congregational ministries. Elkhart, IN.
  • Reformed worship. Grand Rapids, MI: CRC Publications.
  • Webber, Robert, ed. 1993. The complete library of Christian worship. Vols. 1-7. Nashville, TN: Hendrickson.
Bill Braun has been part of the pastoral team at College Community Church Mennonite Brethren in Clovis, California, since 1992. He currently co-teaches the fifth-sixth grade Sunday school class and is chair of the West Coast Mennonite Relief Sale.

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