I always thought I’d marry a man in ministry. Together, we’d be a kingdom powerhouse. We’d make people laugh, think, feel, and smile, all for the glory of God. Our unique pairing would be used to bring people closer to Christ.
Dreaming about who we’d be was a bit pompous on my part, but I had my reasons. From the time I was a young girl, I knew I’d been called to ministry, so I started to look for a man who fit that plan wherever I went. Would I meet him at camp, or would it be at leadership training? Would we end up sitting next to each other in a seminary class, or would he just happen to be the friend of a friend pastoring the local Sunday night church?
My expectations didn’t lessen when I met the man who would eventually become my husband, but I learned pretty quickly that my dream of ministering together wouldn’t be reality. Although my husband loves Jesus with a fiery passion, he’s found his vocational niche in the financial industry. He serves in the church, both when there’s a need and also when he feels his heart drawn toward a particular ministry, but his heart doesn’t thump for adolescents like mine. And he certainly doesn’t feel called to full-time ministry in the church.
Of course, I didn’t want to let go of my dream right away. It wasn’t until a year or two into marriage that I finally understood: he wasn’t going to be part of the ministry I’d known for almost 20 years. He had no desire to hang out with middle school students on Friday night, even if it meant more time with his wife, and he wasn’t about to lend his financial expertise to the non-profit board I oversaw.
I started to wonder whether our relationship was a detriment rather than a gift. Take, for example, the opposite schedules we kept: he worked a standard nine-to-five office job. I worked a rather un-standard job in ministry that involved early morning donor breakfasts, late night meetings, and endless weekend activities.
I still believed the solution to our problem lay in intentionally serving in ministry together, as I had once dreamed of doing with my future spouse. While that may be the answer for some couples, it wasn’t for us. Instead, we learned how to spend intentional time together apart from ministry.
Not ministering together actually helped us grow closer because we took seriously what little time we had together. Those hours became nothing short of sacred, something neither of us took for granted.
And I learned that while we wouldn’t minister together, he would be my biggest fan. He would do everything in his power to see that his wife, his beloved, his dear one, fulfilled her calling to ministry. I can tell you now that I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sorting Out Different Callings
Julie Van Til, an ordained minister with the Reformed Church of America (who currently serves at City Church San Francisco), went on a first date with her future husband, Andrew, the same day she handed in her resignation to the Bible college where she’d been teaching.
“I realized I was called to pastor in a local church,” Van Til said in a phone interview, “and while I loved teaching, I knew that I needed to take an off-ramp and get into the local church. He knew from the start that I was looking for positions in churches, and I knew that he was looking for a career in brewing.”
As she pursued her calling, he seemed willing to come along. And so a journey into full-time ministry began—a call that’s continued for over 15 years. It hasn’t been without pain, of course, mostly because it can be hard on others when we flip traditional gender roles. The Van Tils have had to figure out what it means for them to serve as they’ve been called—both individually and collectively. When parishioners ask Andrew what he does at the church, his reply is simple: he takes care of the pastor.
Each of us called to ministry while our husband is called elsewhere must figure out what it looks like to answer God’s calling, on our own and as a couple. And this looks different for every couple.
Get clear about your individual callings. Remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons” (4-6, NASB). Just as you’ve been given gifts and talents specific to your work in ministry, your husband has been given particular gifts and talents specific to his. His work might result in serving and leading alongside you or it might result in him ministering as your biggest fan. Either way, get honest with each other about how God is calling you.
Dream big—together. Tell those stories, the ones that have remained hidden within you. Dream dreams. Whisper hopes. Write down where you’ve seen God show up. What might God be doing in you individually and as a couple? Share honestly about how you and your spouse can grow in supporting each other.
Get practical. If you’re called to full-time ministry in the church, should your husband also hold a full-time job? Or should he look for part-time work, or something with flexible hours? How do you balance responsibilities in the home? Every couple has to figure out what it looks like to be an equal partner so that you’re both supported in your ministries and work outside the home.
“Even in households where both partners work full-time, 41 percent of women report doing more child care and 30 percent report doing more chores,” according to Lean In’s 2015 study on women in the workplace.
Finding this balance outside and inside work life, says Van Til, is what a mutual partnership looks like. It’s a matter of negotiating all the work it takes to run a life. So we put everything on the table and we play a mean game of negotiation.
But we negotiate together. We figure it out together. We show flexibility, and we find our unique balance, together. When we work out the practical details, we can lean into our callings and discover what God has in store.
Cara Meredith is a writer and speaker from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and co-host of Shalom in the City's monthly book club podcast. She holds a Masters of Theology (Fuller Seminary), and can be found on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.