Put Your Wife in Her Place ... as a Ministry Partner, That Is

Second to God, no one is more vital to your ministry than your wife. So are you treating her accordingly?
During my 25 years of ministry," the seasoned pastor intoned, "I have served five churches as associate or senior pastor in four different cities--and had mistresses in each. These adulteries stole my time, emotion, energy and almost shipwrecked my marriage and family."

The conference of pastors and spouses gasped as silence blanketed the room. No encouragements of "Amen" or "Preach it" issued from the stunned listeners.

I was the speaker, and my wife, Judi, nodded sadly as I honestly began an exhortation that she and I often give at ministry gatherings around the globe. No, I didn't commit adultery with another woman, but I consistently neglected my wife, placing ministry priorities above her. And worst of all, I relegated her to a secondary role, when we could have been a team, bound in an unstoppable partnership for the kingdom.

With 1998 statistics from Focus on the Family estimating that more than 1,000 pastoral couples leaving ministry each month, we must step back and ask ourselves: Is anyone making it? Or, is pastoring so toxic to marriages that the few that survive are riddled with scars that hinder the effectiveness of their ministry?

For years Judi and I pursued parallel but never-touching career tracks--Judi as an RN and "traditional" pastor's wife and me as a career professional pastor. Then, more than 15 years ago, we both experienced a dramatic encounter with the Holy Spirit that transformed our marriage, family and ministry. We have been together in ministry since that time--facing both the tears and joys with a renewed faith that Christ has wonderful blessings in store for those who answer the call of team ministry.

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Traversing the globe for the last decade, countless clergy couples have shared with us both their stars and scars in ministry, and, recently, we interviewed several couples from diverse ethnic, economic and ministry backgrounds to explore the secrets of effective partnership.

Paradigms are shifting, models of leadership are up for grabs, but one truth remains: Few combinations are more effective in modeling spiritual life and equipping families for the kingdom than that of the husband-and-wife team. In the following pages, listen closely as these couples share their trials and triumphs. We hope you find yourself saying: We can do that, too.

How do you work together as a team?

"Two are better than one." That's what the writer of Ecclesiastes had to say about partnership. James and Varle Rollins serve as team pastors of Living Waters Worship Center in Odenton, Maryland, a church they founded in April 1995. Each of them was called to pastoral ministry before they were married.

"God spoke to both of us to raise up a people for the next move of God. We shared our hearts with one another and were amazed that we both had the call to pastor," they say. "We grew up together and were married at the ages of 18 and 21 years old. Everything we have experienced in life since we were very young has been experienced together."

The couples interviewed emphasized that each spouse must pursue ministry based on strengths, giftings and passions rather than attempting to fit traditional roles. For many, this creativity also allows them to incorporate the entire family in ministry.

George and Angela Aja have pastored Embassy Christian Center in Joliet, Illinois, for 18 years. Recently, they shifted their roles to serve as apostolic overseers of the church, allowing them to plant a new congregation in Austin, Texas.

"We work together as a team not only between the two of us, but with the whole family," they say. "Allowing our children to take part in the ministry has proven to provide an atmosphere for a close-knit family."

The Ajas offer these keys for marital teamwork in ministry:

  • Pray, dialogue and strategize about the overall organization of the church and how it relates to your family.
  • Make sure that your activities match your individual gifting and ability.
  • Discuss what you need to do and what you need to delegate.

    All the couples we interviewed acknowledged the stresses facing ministry couples living in the "fishbowl of ministry." But they encourage pastoral families to seek the balance of authenticity and privacy.

    Married for 25 years, Lee and Cathy Barnes have pastored four churches in the last 20 years and currently lead Seasons Church in Valdosta, Georgia. They note that many pastoral couples give in to the temptation to live two lives: the public ministry personas and the real, behind-the-scenes lives.

    "When a congregation is allowed to see--even on a wisely limited basis--how the man and woman who lead them deal with conflict and failure, then they have a pattern for their own lives," they say. "Not just a pattern for living holy lives, but also a pattern for getting up when you fall, for being restored when you are broken, for overcoming great adversity, for the power of covenant to not only keep you but also to restore you."

    How are your roles communicated to your congregation and practically implemented?

    Perhaps the greatest challenge that a husband-and-wife pastoral team faces is that of helping the congregation understand the complementarity of the two roles.

    Robert and Nancy Engelhardt have been married for 28 years and have five children between the ages of 18 and 26. They lead Catskill Mountain Christian Center (CMCC) in Margaretville, New York. A rural ministry, CMCC has grown from 20 to 250 members in the 14 years they have served as pastors.

    The Engelhardts have found it helpful to work from separate offices, communicating a distinction in their roles and responsibilities and allowing them to work separately as needed.

    Pastors Kong Hee and Ho Yeow Sun pastor City Harvest Church (CHC) in Singapore, a congregation of 18,000 that they planted 15 years ago, agree with this philosophy.

    "As the senior pastor of the church, I pray and hear from God for the vision and direction. I am the preacher, the chief leader and the chief 'feeder' of the church. A large portion of my time is used ministering the Word of God to the people, sometimes preaching up to 15 times a week," Kong says. "My priority is to disciple and train up leaders to be effective workers for the ministry."

    Sun is gifted as an administrator and leader. Kong notes that she is a very relational person who works with his staff to carry out the vision that God has given to both of them. Practically speaking, this arrangement requires a high level of communication between Kong and Sun, and between them and the leaders of the many departments at CHC.

    "Sun is the CEO who coordinates with the heads of department to work out the details of day-to-day ministry," Kong explains. "She is the one that literally makes my ideas and thoughts come alive."

    Rick and Cindy Godwin are the founders and pastors of 3000-member Eagle's Nest Christian Fellowship in San Antonio. Describing their roles, they say:

    "Cindy is pastoral. She is a people person always concerned with the physical and spiritual well-being of others. She always remembers their names and cares about their situations."

    While Rick preaches, casts vision and oversees the leadership team, Cindy greets people and provides a warm welcome to visitors at the door. She oversees all the departments, supervises meetings and makes sure that all the ministries represent the vision of the church.

    To clearly communicate these distinctions, Rick often discusses Cindy and her role publicly from the platform--always honoring her contributions. Additionally, at quarterly meetings, an organizational chart effectively shows the flow of authority and communication for the whole ministry illustrating the roles of both Rick and Cindy.

    How does ministry conflict affect your marital relationship, and how do you resolve it?

    Jack and Pam McLaughlin are national trainers for University of the Family, a ministry dedicated to providing instruction and encouragement to families. They emphasize the need to draw boundaries between marriage and ministry.

    "We have to make sure our marriage is our primary relationship and is protected at all costs," they say. "If ministry begins to affect our relationship, we stop and re-evaluate what we are doing, where we are going and if we are moving out of where we should be."

    Rob and Linda Winkler have discovered that there are certain aspects of ministry that should not come home with the pastoral couple--and ministry conflict is one of them. The Winklers have been married for almost 24 years and pastor 500-member Turning Point Christian Center in Vancouver, Washington.

    "We do not argue over ministry direction. God has given us a vision, and we stay on task to that vision," they say. "When we don't have unity, we stop immediately and assess our direction and decisions, make adjustments and then continue to move."

    What are the benefits of doing ministry together?

    All of our "team ministry" couples spoke positively of the blessings and benefits that team ministry had. The Ajas effectively summarized the benefits for them:

  • We gain insight and wisdom from each other because our personalities are so different. We see things from different perspectives.
  • We celebrate each other's successes and are there for each other's disappointments.
  • It provides a common mission for the family.

    "Ministering together is not always defined the same by both of us," Cathy Barnes comments. "Lee would say to me he wanted us ministering together, and I was convinced that by my leading worship and supporting him with my words and actions, I had accomplished that. But his definition of ministering together was to be physically by his side praying for someone at the end of a service. I would have people tell me what a blessing it was to see us in ministry together."

    "I have found that--because God has created man and woman to complete each other--having the full counsel of the male and the female perspective when confronting ministry issues is an invaluable benefit," Bob Engelhardt says. "Also, the opportunity to have both a woman and a man present to deal with issues relevant to each gender is a great benefit."

    Effective team ministry begins with a healthy marriage and family grounded in a whole and holy relationship to the Father through Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. God intends us to enjoy both ministry and marriage, so never let the enemy, church or intrusive members drive a wedge into your marriage.

    Husbands, release the storehouse of wisdom and anointing that God has given you in your helpmeet. Wives, come alongside your partner in ministry, and watch the results God births through your teamwork.

    Principles for Partnership

    Don't leave home without these indispensable keys for healthy team ministry.

    One article cannot begin to plumb the depths or uncover all the challenges of husband-and-wife team ministry, but we believe that couples working together in ministry are a vital part of God's plan for advancing His kingdom. Here are 10 principles that will keep a husband-and-wife ministry team effective and life-giving:

    1. Allow God to define your ministry. Everyone will have an idea of what expectations you and your spouse are to fulfill--and what roles you are to fill. But God is the one who calls and equips. Be open to the encouragement and criticism of others, but remember who you must ultimately answer to.

    2. Communicate more than you think necessary. Keep the lines open when it comes to talking about roles, responsibilities, concerns and frustrations. Sharpen your discernment and leadership by bouncing ideas off each other.

    3. Don't bring church conflict home. Remember: you and your spouse are on the same team. Don't dump conflict, negative feelings or anger over difficult problems and difficult people on the teammate God gave you. When in doubt, tell each other, "You are not the enemy."

    4. Resolve anger daily. Few factors contribute more to relational deterioration than unresolved anger. Forgive, forget, and move on. When your spouse is frustrated with you, listen up--and ask forgiveness, even if you're not 100 percent to blame. Your ministry and your flock depend on it.

    5. Minister spiritually to each other. Your first ministry responsibility is your marriage, so may your spouse never say, "You pray with everyone else but me." The time and energy you expend in ministering to your spouse will bear fruit in your ministry to others.

    6. Rest, exercise and eat healthy. Sure, it isn't easy, but your physical health will ultimately have great influence on your spiritual productivity. Don't burn out before your time because you failed to pursue a spiritually--and physically--balanced lifestyle.

    7. Build a support network of friends with whom you can share difficulties and struggles. Seek relationships with those who will sharpen you--and those who you can in turn sharpen. Friendships outside the church provide a context for accountability and mentoring. Don't miss out by living in isolation from those God has placed in your lives.

    8. Don't let the ministry rob your finances. A commitment to success often leads to the temptation to blur the lines between ministry and personal finances. At worst case, this could lead to ethical conflicts, but it could also cost you the worry and distraction of financial instability. Draw clear lines, be faithful in giving, and let God provide for the needs of His church.

    9. Affirm each other publicly and privately. Don't let words of encouragement go unspoken. Use the public forum of pastoral ministry as an opportunity to model positive affirmation in marriage. In private, remind your spouse how his or her life and service to you are a godsend; two are always better than one.

    10. Seek to understand each other's personality, talents, gifts, preferences and relational skills. Make it your mission to help your spouse realize all the potential God has created in him or her. Find opportunities for them to shine, and take pride in the person with whom God has teamed you up. There's no one like them, and you were tailor-made for each other.

    Confronting the Marriage Crisis

    How pastoral marriages can buck the divorce trend--and set an example of life-long love.

    In their new book What Every Man Wants in a Woman / What Every Woman Wants in a Man (Charisma House) which will be released April 1, John and Diana Hagee, pastors of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, offer insights for couples who want to keep their marriage together for the long haul:

    1. Invest the time. "The first step toward making a marriage affair-proof is to determine that both of you want to improve your marriage. Every marriage can be a better marriage. Turn off the football game. Put down the newspaper and plan a date night. Sit down and make a list of exciting things you would like to do together, and then do it. Your marriage can sizzle, but not without your planning to make it happen."

    2. Say the words. "Dr. Willard F. Harley Jr., in his book His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, refers to the high expectations men and women have for their marriages. Both want their needs met, yet seldom do they communicate those needs to their spouse or take the time to know the needs of the other. Dr Harley states: 'The main reason needs are often not met within the union of marriage is not selfish unwillingness to be considerate, but true ignorance of each other's needs.' I have found that many individuals try to learn to 'do without' having their needs met. They would rather do without than to attempt to convey to their mate their true needs."

    3. O.W.E. it to him/her. "Diana and I have something between us we call O.W.E. It's an acronym for One Way Every day. One way, every day, I seek to find a way to make Diana feel good about herself or to help her accomplish a task that is becoming overwhelming. Last night we washed dishes together. Some days, it's a rose from the rose garden. Other days, it's a card. Other times, there is a date night. But one way every day there has to be the transmission of my effort to make that day a better day."

    For more information or to order a copy of What Every Man Wants in a Woman / What Every Woman Wants in a Man, call 1-800-599-5750, or visit www.charismahouse.com.

    Having served more than 32 years in pastoral ministry, Larry and Judi Keefauver are the founders and directors of Your Ministry Consultation Services, a worldwide ministry of speaking, writing, counseling and consulting (www.powerhousefamilies.com).
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