This is part of a series on clergy couples and their stories. Andy and I wrote a book about being a clergy couple and all the insanity that goes along with it called Yoked: Stories of a Clergy Couple in Marriage, Family, and Ministry.
My husband and I were given an incredible gift before we ever began our ministry together in our first church. Even though it isn’t anything I can hold in my hands or look at, this gift has had a profoundly positive impact on my ministry.
Almost eight years ago, my husband Jeff and I were in our last semester of seminary. We had been in conversations with a lovely church in rural Iowa, and we were hoping to be their co-pastors. As first-time ministers, we had no idea what ministry would look like in an actual church. As first-time co-pastors, we had no idea what it meant to share a ministry (apart from the idealized way we pictured it in our heads). As soon-to-be first-time parents, we had no idea what it meant to be parents at all, let alone what it meant to be co-pastors with a newborn child.
Our congregation had never had a clergy couple before. In fact, the entire region of our denomination where we serve had never had a female minister, or a clergy couple in their history. How would compensation work? Who would oversee which ministries? When things got tough, who was in charge?
The search committee came to talk to the congregation about the necessary next steps before extending a call to us. During the course of the meeting, the moderator of the church (someone who had been brought in to help with the search) said, “The most important thing you can do is be flexible. They are new to this. They are discovering their individual gifts and how they work as a team. You are learning how to have co-pastors and shared authority. Be flexible, and it will all work itself out.”
Be flexible. I can’t even begin to tell you how much of a gift that has been to me. And my church has lived it out. For the first three years of our ministry here, we needed that flexibility desperately. We were finding our voices, our gifts, and how we worked together. We were learning that things we once thought were weaknesses were places of great joy and energy. Some areas that we thought would be strengths, weren’t nearly as strong as we had thought. Other things needed to be a team effort, and we had to learn to communicate often and openly with each other in order for the whole thing to work.
My classis (regional governing body) has given us this gift, too, by listening to our voices, not making assumptions about how our team ministry works, and by including us in important conversations. I am grateful beyond words for this flexibility and generosity. It has enabled my husband and I to minister with joy in the same ministry context for the past 7+ years.
Just a couple of years ago, I had a phone call from a church that was considering extending a call to a new clergy couple. The person excitedly talked about how they loved these two candidates. They told us that even though they didn’t know how co-pastoring would work, they saw that it was working in our church. When he asked me how it would all work out if they called a couple, too, I was so thankful for the opportunity to pay it forward.
“Be flexible. Give them the opportunity to discover their strengths individually and as a team. When they find their balance, your church will be greatly blessed to have them.”
As a type-A, perfectionist who loves to have straight forward answers for how things work, I’ve had to let go of my neat and tidy hopes and dreams for co-pastoring. No two clergy couples function in the same way. No two co-ministries are divided the same. No two churches considering a clergy couple are in the same boat. Flexibility is a gift that has given me the opportunity to find my voice as part of a clergy team and to serve with a joyful heart.
If you are considering a clergy couple, give them the opportunity to be flexible. If you are part of a clergy couple looking at your first ministry placement, give yourselves the flexibility to learn who you are once you are in your first call. Flexibility provides the space for growth, discovery, and unified vision. And when those things are in place, amazing things will happen.