Family and Ministry: The Great Marriage & Ministry Sync-Up

John and Anna MorganMINISTRY COUPLE

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?

HE LEADS

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.

SHE LEADS

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

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Balancing the Scales: Ministry and Family

Figuring out how to be both a good mom and a good leader has been a challenging journey for me. I made a calculated change to my lifestyle last spring when I resigned from my staff role at church after twelve-plus years. My husband John and I now travel full-time together with our youngest and the only one left at home, Brooke, who is fourteen. We put her into an online homeschool program so that she could travel with us. She’s at an age when I really have to be tuned in. Lucky for me, she is a total joy. I love the intimacy of our life on the road together as a family.

Brooke told us recently that she is enjoying the fact that she sees me more than once a week now. It took me aback for a minute, because she has never complained about my schedule. The reality was that we did have seasons when our schedules were so divergent that I didn’t see her for days at a time. I think I was subconsciously sort of hoping that she didn’t notice. No such luck. On the other end of the spectrum, when taking time away from ministry for family, I felt the weight of my responsibilities, especially when it meant missing a major event.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get asked by girls in church leadership is, “How do I balance ministry and my family?” I can’t give anyone an easy answer, because the balance is different for everyone, and it varies from season to season. Sometimes the demands of our families or our ministries make us lean a little in one direction. Unfortunately, neither side is going to take the other as a good excuse for my lack of attention if I live out of balance continuously. It’s always going to be a little bit messy, and we just have to be okay with that. Every now and then we may reach that perfect state of Zen where we feel like both are in balance and happy. Enjoy it while it lasts. What works one year may not work the next. It’s a continual adjustment. If we are aware and tuned in to both sides, however, we can teeter-totter on the scale between the two demands as needed.

Where family is concerned, the absolute must-dos have to be customized to the kid. Gary Chapman wrote an important book called, The Five Love Languages. If you aren’t familiar with it, check it out. Gary developed a little online quiz that kids can take so parents can figure out what their child’s love language is. If kids aren’t receiving love in their preferred “language,” they are going to feel disconnected. Moms have to know what is important to their kid and deliver on that.

Kids who are involved in our ministry are going to feel far more connected to us. Can they do something to help out? It might be a really simple job like making copies or sorting things, but it will help them feel like they matter. Ministry has some significant benefits. Our kids get access to things that other kids don’t. Don’t be shy about giving them opportunities, access to green rooms, or access to relationships with great people. When our kids are connected to the fun parts of ministry, they are far less inclined to be resentful about our involvement.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t vent about ministry in front of the kids. If we bleed all over our kids, they are going to hate whatever got us hurt. Several years ago, I was rushing some food prep on Christmas Eve. I was under the gun because I had to get to church to play for Christmas Eve services. In my hurry to chop some onions, I sliced my hand open. It bled for over an hour before I grabbed Brooke and went to the emergency room for a quick stitch to make sure I wasn’t going to bleed all over my keyboard. It wasn’t serious and I was more annoyed by the inconvenience than anything. I didn’t realize until later how much of an impact that had on Brooke. She has brought the story up several times over the years and still gets nervous when I handle knives. Seeing me hurt traumatized her. The same is going to be true for ministry. We take bumps and bruises along the way, and if we are healthy leaders, we learn something, heal, and keep moving. We forget all about whatever the issue was once we have moved on. It’s much harder for our kids to move on if we have exposed them to our pain in the moment. For our kids to love the church, they don’t need to see every injury we take on our leadership journey.

If your spouse isn’t involved in church leadership, the same thing applies–don’t vent to him. If the only perspective our family has about ministry is what frustrates or hurts us, they are going to see it as a bad thing. I’ve been very guarded about the conversations I have around our kids, particularly where it concerns our pastors. I don’t want them to ever see pastors as anything but awesome. Pastors are major pipelines, bringing Jesus to our families. If kids feel guarded toward their pastors, they are far less likely to receive from them.

There are two sides to this scale. If we say that family is always priority and drop our ministry responsibilities at the first sight of the school calendar, we will do damage to our leadership. Both sides need consistent attention and energy to flourish. The call of God on our lives is not so narrow to make us choose either/or, but it’s both. We can be good moms and wives and be good leaders at the same time.

There are also a few must-dos on the leadership side of the scale. Consistency is critical for earning people’s respect. If we bite off more than we can successfully execute, we move backward, not forward in our leadership. Before committing, we need to think through our schedules and be realistic about family and job obligations. Commit to what can actually be accomplished well. People trust leaders that they can count on. When we engage our leadership environments or our teams, we have to come prepared. This means be on time and do the homework before arriving. If we come in disorganized, late, or without knowing our stuff, we lose leadership credibility. It’s very hard to respect someone who leads unprepared.

Girls, if we jump in and out of visible leadership roles and fail to consistently presence ourselves in leadership environments like staff meetings or leadership meetings, people will mentally sideline us to the non-essential areas of responsibility. If I don’t create a perception that I am mentally present and involved, people will assume that I don’t want to be. It’s my responsibility to create people’s perception of me. Whatever we commit to do, we have to do it consistently in order to earn respect.

If you have totally disengaged for a season because of an infant or some other reason, the way you reengage matters a great deal. I’ve seen girls who came back from an extended season out and struggled to reestablish their leadership, even when the position was waiting for them. Some came back in with an iron fist, trying to stamp their authority all over their teams. This was met with resentment and resistance. It’s much easier for everyone if we ease our way back in, with low pressure and high affirmation. Team dynamics change continually. It takes a little time to watch and learn what works differently now. Reengaging effectively requires that we relearn our awareness of the team’s morale and level of buy-in. We only learn this by listening and watching. In the early stages of reengaging, we have to ask more questions than we answer.

We don’t have to keep the lines clean between the two sides of the scale. In fact, mixing family with ministry is the best solution. The most effective female leaders I know meet with people around their kids’ schedules. They will do a ministry-based meeting on the sidelines at their kids’ games, at their house while their kids are doing homework, or at the dance studio while their kids are getting a lesson. Others set up rooms at church for their kids to work or play in next to their offices and bring them along. The Bible says a three-strand cord is not easily broken. Ministry life can lend strength to family life, and family life definitely lends strength to ministry. When ministry is our life, not an extra thing we do, it extends into every part of the way we live. Doing ministry with other families then means that we are doing life together, and the lines between family and church get very blurry. I have found this to be the best way for us.

I know that some of you who are reading this are seasoned leaders. Please post any thoughts you might add to the conversation or suggestions for ways you have found to balance the two sides of the scale or to bring them together.

When He Isn’t As Into Church As She Is

My dad called me today about a sticky situation. One of the young women who leads in our church is having marriage trouble, and not the infidelity kind or the abuse kind, but more of a respect issue. She’s been growing in her leadership and her personal identity through the last ten years, went to college and got a degree, and has morphed from a timid, shy girl to the strong, confident woman she is now. Her husband doesn’t quite know what to do with it. Now that she knows herself, she knows what she wants from her marriage, and he evidently is not delivering that. Poor guy, he’s gone through a hard couple of years and felt the effects of our shrinking economy, etc, and furthermore, he sits on the sidelines at church, involved in nothing and is apparently perfectly satisfied to simply attend.

Churches are dominated by women, many of whom have spouses who don’t attend church or are not saved. This same trend is moving into leadership levels as well. I have three girlfriends I’ve thinking about after that conversation today. They are in ministry roles in different churches. They are super passionate about serving Jesus and building his kingdom, and both have great leadership strength, but their husbands, though they love Jesus, do not share the same passion for building His church because of various life experiences. It seems like they are always struggling with their husbands apathy. Whenever there is a project or a decision to be made that requires a little bit more of them, their husbands don’t cheer them on. I have sat over coffee with these girls and watched tears roll down their cheeks as they communicated the pain they felt over their very loved husband being so distant from serving in God’s house as they should be. Their husbands all have different reasons for it, and some quite understandable, but in the end its all the same.

I’ve seen women through the years whose response that unequal passion was different. Some women will shelf that call and drive inside them thinking that submission is a holy and godly route, and that they need to defer to their spouses wishes as to how they spend their time and energies, which just drives me nuts. Here’s my issue with that thinking–God clearly wants to be first priority in his life. He asks us to show our worship by offering our lives as “living sacrifices”. That means time, money, heart, passion–the works! How could God, who asks for nothing less than our all, say okay, I get it. The man in your life wants you to slow down and take his priorities on over mine, so that’s cool. He’s more important. NO WAY! I just don’t believe that God’s definition of submission includes putting your husband before God. The original language speaks of submission as a loving deference. Its the same unselfishness that is required for any mature adult relationship to survive long-term. Submission does not mean losing one’s identity in the desires and priorities of someone else. These women die a little on the inside every day I think, and have deep resentments toward their husbands-all in the name of their attempts to be obedient to a very misunderstood Bible verse.

Some women respond by creating separate lives from their husbands. It seems like some of them successfully navigate this and it works okay, but for others, the gulf deepens between husband and wife and there is a break in relationship. This seems like an enormous sacrifice that God is not asking for. God is FOR successful marriages! I have another friend who lives this balancing act between ministry life and married life, doing her best to side-step crises by compromising when her marriage seems in imminent danger. She lives essentially at the mercy of her husbands threats, and when he threatens, she has to drop everything to rescue the situation. This scenario just breaks my heart. How do you choose every day between two things you love? How unfair for her husband to force the choice! In my mind, it’s like being forced to choose which of your two children you love the most. It’s simply not possible!

The best possible scenario is one like mine where both partners are equally invested and there is shared passion and interest. Unfortunately, the statistics don’t favor this arrangement.

Here’s the thing that I can’t get my head around. In today’s circles, a man’s leadership in the church is not hampered by the wife’s level of leadership or involvement. Why does it seem like my dear friends are limited in their opportunities because of their husband disengaged attitude? Is it a road block in their own mind or is it an unspoken expectation that women let their husbands lead, and wherever they are leading is the right direction?

So back to my original conversation with Dad–what to advise? Should she back off of her church commitments and be whoever he wants her to be, or should he change? And after her ten years of development, would it be possible for him to catch up? In my experience, the most fundamental need of a man is to feel respected. Is it possible for her to respect a man who is not as bought into church life and the kingdom of God as she is? I am concerned. I feel a mysterious pressure from I don’t know where to advise her to back off and make her marriage the priority because God is for marriage. But on the other end, I feel a conviction that backing off from building God’s kingdom is always the wrong choice!

I believe the right answer, in spite of the pressure I feel, is for her to show leadership and step up to the plate in her household as an equal partner. The best picture of life as God intended is Adam and Eve in the garden. Eve was made from his rib, from his side, created to stand next to him as an equal. When mankind fell, this arrangement fell apart. Jesus died to redeem us from the fall and to put womankind back where they belong…at the side of men. Men need women to be complete. It’s interesting that in the news this week they have been discussing how men have run our financial industry since its inception and have made such a mess of Wall Street that now, companies are realizing that women are the missing element and are hiring women to lead in that environment! This precious lady has a God-designed purpose to live out. How horrible would it be for her to live her whole life trying to please her husband but never to have pleased God by finishing her assignment.

Women need to learn to lead sideways. This means inspiring their husbands to serve God, not nag them. Women need to stand with grace and strength as examples to their husbands of how to love God, not wilt and cringe. Women need to live with joy and peace in their homes and not attempt to manipulate their husbands into doing the right thing. When we are at peace with ourselves and know who we are in Christ, we are irresistible to men! Power struggles are not necessary when you know who you are. Leading sideways means clearly communicating our desires, our thoughts and feelings, and our expectations without making assumptions about what he should already know. Leading sideways means being willing to have the risky conversations without getting defensive or escalating. This also means leading with strength in church without feeling guilty or feeling insecure because he isn’t there with us.

I believe that we can never underestimate the importance of two things. One, prayer absolutely changes things. And two, ladies, if you have that leadership itch in you, be VERY careful about who you marry. Warm fuzzies and attraction aren’t going to make the journey.