It was official. We were co-pastors, elected by our church to serve as a husband and wife team. Now what?
As the bright light of excitement from starting our new co-pastoring journey dimmed, and we settled into the daily grind of parish ministry, we were dismayed to discover we had no idea how to co-pastor. None at all. We both had degrees in ministry and were pursuing master’s level education. We had the tools we needed for exegesis, pastoral counseling, and leadership. Knowledge and information were not the problem—we just had no idea how to wield them as a duo. It was like being an expert at hammering nails only to be told now you must do it with a friend, at the exact same time, in front of an audience—and stay married. Brutal.
In fits and starts, we moved forward, each doing the tasks at hand, but often arguing about who should do what and how. We would iron out a system of “who’s in charge of what” and walk that path for awhile, only to have circumstances change and upset the dynamic―like one person graduating seminary while the other started, having our first child, moving to a new church, and an extended bout with depression. As hard as we tried to find a magic formula to determine the perfect application of our individual skills and gifts, we regularly felt we were coming up short. Our ministry felt stifled―and stifling―to us both, bringing hurt and resentment into our marriage.
We tried to seek counsel, but as there are so few co-pastor spouses in our denomination, we had little to go on. I recall one vague suggestion by a co-pastor pair that we make a Venn diagram of our skills and responsibilities. Supposedly, this would be the magic remedy to what ailed us. However, the “big” stuff―visioning, preaching, teaching―all fell in the middle. So now what? Arm wrestle? I married a college lineman, so that would put me at a very clear disadvantage.
So we just carried on. What else could we do? We sought counsel outside the church with a professional therapist. We talked, fought, prayed, and sought forgiveness. No arm wrestling allowed.
Eight years into this gig and we are still co-pastoring, more happily married than ever. Some days are still very hard, but God’s grace has gone before us, empowering us to be faithful to our vocation, one another, and the church. So, while I’m not usually one for tips and tricks of the trade, I’d like to offer you testimony of our experience and God’s faithfulness in the hopes of giving struggling co-pastors some guidance. These three tips work for any co-pastoring duo, whether or not you’re married: