One of the trends we’re seeing in church planting, and in church leadership in general, is the growing number of pastors co-leading with their spouses. This model of ministry comes with many benefits for the ministry leaders and the church, but to do it well there are several factors to consider.
The marriage relationship is certainly special. The two of you already have a great partnership when it comes to your marriage, household and children. It might make sense to translate that to your church. I believe that co-leading with your spouse is a potentially great way not only to increase your effectiveness and influence as a minister but also to deepen your relationship with your spouse.
There are some things to consider before jumping in, though. You want to guard against something that looks good on paper but may be bad in reality. You need to be committed to the concept and prepared for the process before you begin.
Determine a Strategy
Co-leading with your spouse should never be a fallback option. I believe you should only consider co-leading if you both feel called to the ministry individually. To work in a church absent of a call can be a recipe for disaster. Just because your spouse is a minister doesn’t mean you need to be as well.
The strategy begins with a shared call and is followed up with a perceived need. Whatever your reasons for co-leading, make sure your strategy fits it. For instance, if you want to maintain a better balance of church and home responsibilities, make sure this option actually works to that end. If co-leading will require both of you to be away from home for extended hours weekly, then your strategy wasn’t successful.
Next, gauge the interest from your church. Does it support the idea? Is there a need for both of you to lead? Is the congregation invested in your mutual call to ministry? These answers will guide your strategy.
Now that you have a framework for your goals, match your strategy against them. Every successful strategy has an end point in mind. What do you want your church to look like with co-pastors? How do you see your own ministry benefiting from it? Work backwards from there, putting in place leadership structure and job descriptions that get you there.
Decide on Roles
Co-leading can mean a lot of different things, so be clear about your roles. For some, it may mean your church now has two lead pastors. In other scenarios, each of you has a separate title but you share similar authority. Being crystal-clear about this when you present it to your church is crucial.
As spouses, you are one flesh but still individual persons. Don’t deny the latter to leverage the former. That means honoring and supporting each other in ministry, including the roles you play in church.
Settle your priorities in marriage before your responsibilities in the church.
God used the term “helper” to describe the institution of marriage (Genesis 2:18). That means the husband and wife work together, not separately, for a shared, common goal. Fill in your spouse’s gaps as he or she fills in yours.
Here’s the principle: God has placed you and your spouse together in a partnership. Your spouse can do what you can’t, and vice versa. Use your individual roles as a way to highlight that truth.
The benefit of this style of leadership is that no one person carries the whole load. Dividing responsibilities means sharing the burden and benefit of pastoring.
One failure of the co-pastoring model is that responsibilities and tasks are either vaguely defined or unfairly divided. Those can still be problems when spouses lead together. In fact, it can be a bigger hindrance given your close, intimate relationship.
Seasons change, and sometimes the roles and responsibilities shift to meet the changing seasons. The key here is flexibility and clarity. Be flexible to adjust to changing realities in your family and with your staff, and also be clear with each other and those around you about what the changes look like and mean.
Avoid assumptions about the roles of men and women in church, too. It goes without saying that a woman is better equipped to lead a women’s ministry. However, not all wives are called or gifted to be children’s ministers. So make sure you understand each other’s giftings and callings. And communicate those well to the rest of the staff and church.
After you’ve divided up responsibilities, do your best to stay out of each other’s lane. If someone approaches you about a concern in your spouse’s ministry area, refer that person on rather than handling it yourself.
And be very upfront and supportive of your spouse if anyone comes to you with a complaint about a decision your spouse has made. As a co-leader, he or she has just as much authority as you do to make a decision.
It’s important to be proactive and seek help and advice before there’s an issue rather than after. Seek a mentor couple or even counselor to process this unique dynamic. When my wife, Cara, came on staff full-time with me, we proactively started seeing a marriage counselor twice a month. This was not in response to an issue we had, but to prevent one from arising. It was incredibly helpful for us.
Whether you co-lead with your spouse as senior pastors, work together on staff, or support them in a non-ministry role, it’s important to see your marriage and ministry as teamwork. You each contribute at home and at church to help each other feel fulfilled. And as a couple, you share a unique relationship that God can use to sharpen each of you.
The challenge is big, but the rewards may be bigger. Settle your priorities in marriage before your responsibilities in the church. Don’t ever let co-leading get in the way of the great relationship you are establishing with your spouse. And don’t let fear drive you from a great partnership you could have in ministry.