If I had a dollar for every conversation I’ve had about pastors looking for great, married couples for their leadership team, I’d be well on my way to affording my first pair of Jimmy Choos. Respected couples in leadership, both of them passionate about Jesus and ministry, are actually kind of rare. One half of the couple may be ready for greater leadership, but the other half is not.
The Bible is a pretty lean source of information about married couples doing God’s work together. If Bible writers couldn’t scrape up many examples, then if you struggle, I’m pretty sure you’re okay! The examples I have found are not traditional male/female church roles.
The Bible says so little about Peter’s wife that we don’t even know her name. Even though she was anonymous, she wasn’t invisible, however. Paul told us that she traveled with Peter on his missionary journeys. (1 Corinthians 9:5) They must have had a sense of partnership about spreading the gospel. Legend has it that she was martyred with Peter, dying just before he was crucified upside down.
Isaiah was married to a prophetess. The two of them evidently shared a unique ministry and relationship together. Isaiah chapter eight describes how the Lord gave Isaiah a word. The Bible tells us that Isaiah immediately made love to his wife, the prophetess, and they conceived and had a son. Isaiah named his son after the prophetic word, a name that meant quick to the plunder. His wife was definitely all in to be willing to make a prophetic statement to the nation out of her children’s lives! (Also, how awkward must that have been for her husband to write about their sex life and it wind up in the Bible?)
Acts eighteen gives us a glimpse of perhaps the most successful ministry couple in the Bible. Priscilla and Aquila were friends of the Apostle Paul, tentmakers with him. They were all leaders in the early church together. Priscilla and Aquila together introduced a man called Apollos to the gospel of Jesus. Apollos went on to be a major soul-winner in the early church. This would be like leading Billy Graham to the Lord.
Scholars believe that Priscilla had equal status to her husband. She wasn’t considered property or inferior. This partnership extended into their leadership, and she was likely considered to be a teacher in the early church. Some scholars even believe she anonymously authored the book of Hebrews. Either way, the Bible gives us a tangible sense of their partnership. They co-owned their business and in the same way, co-owned their work for the church of Jesus Christ.
As wonderful as these couples were, the Bible shows us far more examples of solo ministries. Jesus, Paul, Anna the prophet, and the list goes on. Jesus said that more often than not, your family is not going to be supportive of your ministry efforts. Every individual is on his or her own journey, and married couples frequently aren’t synced up. They are moving forward at a slightly different pace or started the journey at different times. This means that usually, one is pushing a little harder and one is pulling back a bit.
So what do you do if one is further on in the journey? Church girls in particular can get caught up in private analysis and worry about how ministry is impacting their marriages and families. Are we doing it right? Is this okay? How do I know for sure?
Sometimes he is a bit farther down the track. Girls who marry men who are already leaders in the church are usually facing this. John and I had lunch with a pastor last week that is getting married next week. He’s been in ministry his whole life, and knows he’s going to pastor his dad’s church eventually. His wife-to-be is a business administrator from out of state who is uprooting her whole world to marry him.
His eyes got a little wide and panicky as he described their conversations leading into the wedding. She has lots of questions about what her role will be, what the expectations are for her. He found those questions really difficult to answer since they had never even been in the same church. She serves in her church now, but in an area she isn’t passionate about. She’s ready for something new in her new church. He wants her to be happy, but he recognizes how long it will take her to build the same influence he has. He asked us, “What do I tell her?”
They may struggle, at least for a while, because she is trying to sync up to something he is already doing. It would be like she walked up behind her man while he is digging a hole, and grabbed the end of his shovel to try to help him dig deeper. She’s in the way, slowing things down rather than helping. She ends up feeling useless. She may wind up on the sidelines because he feels burdened by her desire to help. To him, this will probably seem easier for both of them, because he doesn’t recognize that he not only could use her help—he needs her help.
If you are married to a man who seems married to ministry, chin up. Things are not what they seem! You are not like some second wife to your man. You don’t have to hang out on the sidelines, waiting for a project you can help on! God uniquely created and gifted you. Those gifts may still be seeds, or tender little shoots, easily trampled. But get some iron in your spine, because your husband needs you and who God has designed you to be—whether he sees it yet or not. Don’t wait for him to figure out what you can do. Look for the needs in church life and in church people’s lives. If you just jump in and keep your skin thick, your gifts will make room for you. Don’t worry about whether you fit a certain type of church girl. It takes all kinds, including your kind! Bring your babies and jump in.
Sometimes she is out front. A friend of mine, who I will call Amy, serves the equivalent of a full-time job for her church. She and her husband have been financially blessed, so she has been able to commit most of her time to building the church, just getting part-time jobs here and there over the years to fill in the gaps when it was needed. Ministry is her whole life and she absolutely loves it.
Her husband is a good man. He takes care of her, loves her, loves Jesus, and supports her. Over the years, he has hovered on the edges of the work that she does at her church, sometimes serving, sometimes not. He has struggled to understand how she could put so much time and energy into something she isn’t getting paid to do. Now, after many years, he has begun to develop resentment toward their church leaders. He doesn’t understand why they have not decided to employ her and give her the compensation she deserves. It’s not that they need it, but he believes they should honor and show appreciation toward her financially. He has pulled away from serving completely because of this frustration.
Amy is one of many women who find themselves pushing toward kingdom building while their husband seems sort of dragged behind. They don’t work together in church because they couldn’t. One would be pushing the plow with all their might, working toward one goal, and exhausting themselves because they are also dragging their plow partner along. (Who is resenting not being able to chart their own course and pulling away toward other goals.)
The girls who handle this situation best are pretty special. The thing they have in common is that they are chilled out. They refuse to give into worries about this, because worry leads to nagging. Nagging erodes the marital bond. They have decided to trust in Jesus for their husband’s journey. They have intelligent, non-emotional, non-manipulative conversations with their husbands about God and the church. These conversations start with stories from her day, or sharing her passions and goals. She has great emotional intelligence. She can read the moment, read his responses correctly, and knows when to listen instead of argue.
These girls have taken the pressure off themselves and off their husbands and have learned how to be patient. I think in that the secret to being chilled-out is that confidence is at the bottom of it all. I see a confidence that Jesus has it all in hand. We may not see the work the Holy Spirit is doing, but we can trust it, both in ourselves and in our husbands. “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT) They have learned to view the journey as a whole, instead of just seeing the moment right now.
These amazing women know their purpose: to build God’s kingdom. They have chosen their place to do it. They serve with strength and dignity, even when it means sitting alone at church in a room full of couples. They seem to have discovered a secret about partnering with Christ in the meantime. The twinkle in their eye and the purpose in their stride show off a beautiful soul at peace.
WE LEAD (MARRIAGE & KAYAKS)
These elusive power couples I began by referring to, have somehow managed to align their marriage and ministry goals. They are leveraging their partner’s strengths to push each other toward the same place. I’ve observed three things that couples that lead well together have mastered.
I’ve been in a two-man kayak a few times. It was not cute. I’m awkward, sweaty, sunburnt, sore, and irritated mostly. On the occasions that I have ventured out with someone, it has taken most of our time and my energy for us to just figure out how to synchronize our movements. If you don’t work together, you literally go nowhere. It takes work to find a rhythm of communication and paddling perfectly in unison.
Marriage is like that kayak. It can be a vehicle that takes us forward, or it can be a frustrating waste of energy. For John and I to sync up, it takes good communication, and equal effort on both our parts. Lastly it takes a jointly chosen destination. Without all three elements working together, we will wind up paddling against each other. For us, it’s church or bust. We both live-and-breathe love church and the flawed but growing people who make it up.
- Good Communication
Good communication starts with mutual respect. Respect is an attitude that you choose to take, not something your husband earns as some kind of reward for good behavior. Before I open my mouth, I have to make a decision to speak to him with respect and love. John and I have a positive-speaking culture in our marriage. If I get negative about something, John goes really quiet. It gets awkward enough that I know I’ve crossed a line, and I backpedal. He doesn’t back every bad decision I make, but encourages the best from me. Same applies in the reverse.
When we are leading well together, we include each other in major decisions, even if it’s just a heads up. We navigate crises together. Nothing gets hidden. When we communicate to each other in public, we speak respectfully. It can get easy for married couples to get overly familiar with each other and disrespectfully disagree in front of other people. For us, this is a major no-no. If I want someone else to value my husband’s leadership, then I’d better value it first. Again, the same applies in the reverse. He champions my leadership to other people.
For most of our marriage, John and I worked in the same church on different teams. I don’t think you have to be on the same team to be in sync. We were able to cross-pollinate each other’s ministry efforts by providing an outsider’s fresh perspective to challenges as they arose. We were each able to give wisdom to the other because we were outside of the situation. We stayed mutually interested, despite our different focuses. When a couple has very different gifts or interests, then this kind of ministry partnership is probably going to be ideal.
- Equal Effort
You can’t co-lead if you aren’t co-working. Your marriage kayak is going in circles when only one of you rows. Too many girls let their husband take the lead and then coast behind. He needs you, and you need him. Your gifts are designed to complement each other.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Babies are an amazing season. If you give yourself permission to disengage from the church world when your kids are young and stay home most of the time, it will bite you in the butt later. We all can figure out some way to connect to the church at every season of life. The kingdom of God is like this massive train that chugs forward with our without us. If you get off, for any reason, trying to catch up is difficult. Your spouse will have developed stronger leadership muscles in that time, and you may find it difficult to run at his pace or emotionally deal with his pressure if you have been on the sidelines for a few years.
I love how my friend, Lindsey Stewart, is navigating this season of ministry. She is mom to a gorgeous toddler and wife to a church consultant. He travels all over investing in churches. She made the decision to take her little girl and go on the road with Brandon, her husband. It absolutely would have been easier for her to stay home with the baby and let him go do his thing. She made a decision that ministry isn’t his thing, it’s their family’s thing.
Equal effort means that both partners are running in their own lane, using their unique gifts to do the works God specifically designed them to do. Sometimes we girls wish our spouse were passionate about something else or gifted in a certain way. God designed him around what He wanted him to do. Strong-arming your shy guy into getting on the stage is going to leave you both frustrated. But if we chill out and encourage our spouse in what they do well, and help celebrate the wins right where they are, that’s where the magic happens. We find mutual strength and support that comes from understanding we are in this together, both carrying the weight.
The roles don’t have to fit the traditional expectations. It’s one of the amazing things about the church today. So many different ways to serve the church and serve people are available to us.
- Joint Goal
Couples that successfully lead side-by-side have aligned their lives’ mission. She is not out doing girl stuff while he does guy stuff, with different sets of friends. It’s not my thing or his thing. It’s our thing. John and I have allowed vision to grow between us. It has taken years for us to see how we complement each other and where our dreams align. Sometimes it means deciding to care about what your husband is passionate about. The end results are goals that are co-owned, one hundred percent.
Good conversations about this can start with questions like: What do you want your life’s legacy to be? I want more than a comfortable standard of living and early retirement. What do you want?
If I can align my vision with my husband, then the challenges that arise along the way are far less stressful. We both know and want what is waiting on the other side. The church never becomes the enemy or the tolerated competition. We are in this together. Our marriage kayak has one destination, and we can get to it because it’s the direction we are both paddling toward.
If we get all three of these things aligned: communication, equal effort, and a joint goal—there is nothing we can’t do. My prayer for you is that your partnership will quickly speed you toward a goal of building Jesus’ kingdom here. Here’s to the making of more Priscilla and Aquila partnerships!