Spouse on Staff, Part 2

Working on a church staff with your spouse can be one of the greatest gifts. At times, it can also be frustrating and even bring heartache into a marriage.

It’s been an ongoing process for Wayne and me to figure out the careful balance between being married and being team members. Through the years, we’ve become better at supporting each other and working through conflict. Here are some lessons we’ve learned.

Be a Spouse First

Am I a spouse or a team member?

I am both.

But first, I am a spouse.

Early in our marriage, meetings were hard on my husband, Wayne. He wanted me there for my ideas and because I’m part of the team, but the volume of pushback coming from my end of the table was wounding his leadership and our marriage. I was putting the role of team member before the role of spouse.

I set the tone for the way people perceive and treat my husband. This is true in any marriage, and it goes both ways.

If I treat my spouse with contempt, if I am belittling or dismissive, other people (including staff members) will feel the latitude to do the same. But if I am unabashedly loyal, supportive, protective and complimentary, it gives Wayne the freedom to lead from a place of confidence and creates a boundary others are less likely to overstep.

There is nothing that will create tension in a marriage like disrespect, whether in public or in private.

Where I grew up in Chile, married couples use the formal word for “you” — usted — when addressing each other. They say it’s harder to curse at each other when using a term of respect to address their husband or wife. Likewise, speaking and acting respectfully toward each other lays a foundation of trust and love, especially in times of frustration.

Support Each Other’s Roles

Our situation looks like this: Wayne is the lead pastor, and I’m over business and worship. It’s a different dynamic when neither spouse is the boss, because other people may be determining your schedules and decisions (for example, the husband is the student pastor and the wife is an executive assistant, or whatever the combination of roles may be).

Regardless of the specifics, it’s important not to undermine each other’s area, but to champion it. Wayne is not a musician, but occasionally he will come see me in the studio or sit in on worship practice just for fun. Does he have the time? Never. But what matters to me matters to Wayne, and it also makes me love what he loves even more.

There is nothing that will create tension in a marriage like disrespect, whether in public or in private.

Wayne coaches both our kids in soccer. My presence on the sidelines means more than anything, even if I’m really a band geek and don’t fully understand what’s going on. I’m there to be the best cheerleader I can be, and that extends to all areas of our life and ministry. It wasn’t always my nature, but I have grown in my public display of affirmation.

In law enforcement, officers and their families face trauma, heartache and frustrating situations. In training, they emphasize the importance of having marital relationships that are supportive, encouraging, attentive and sympathetic. This is not unlike ministry. Sometimes we face immense opposition and heartache. It’s important to see part of our role in marriage as being an encouraging sounding board for our spouse.

Plan for Success

When you work together and live together, there must be some space for processing each area separately. Setting a regular time to discuss church issues is a helpful way to keep from talking about it all the time. Often Wayne and I have the “meeting before the meeting” so we can enter it on the same page, having already worked through ideas and differences.

My uncle and aunt, Rocky and Sherry Grams, have been missionaries in Argentina and presidents of the Bible college there for over 30 years. Regardless of the pressures and daily interruptions, they make time every day to get coffee together. This has been a pillar of closeness and harmony in their marriage.

However you do it, regular one-on-one time is a critical factor in the success of a ministry marriage.

Change Can Be a Good Thing

We went through a season a few years back where I stepped away from working full time at the church. I can honestly say that some time away from full-time ministry was helpful in recalibrating the perspective of my role.

Working together is not for everyone, and that’s OK. Even if you love working with your spouse, sometimes the stage of life works better with a different setup.

Chris and Cara Railey were the lead pastors at New Community Church in Mesquite, Texas. Cara Railey was an educator who brought so much value to the church staff alongside her husband, Chris. But when they transitioned to Chris’ new role as the senior director of Leadership and Church Development for the Assemblies of God, she really wanted to be home with their three boys. It was a surprising shift, but it has been a gift to their family.

Hold the mission tightly. Hold the role loosely. Don’t be afraid to reevaluate.

After 17 years of working together off and on, Wayne and I are in the best groove we have ever been in. I appreciate Wayne for making room for my gifts; he appreciates me for carrying his vision.

If you’re working together and experiencing moments of struggle, don’t despair. It’s just part of it. You’re not alone, and it can get so much better. It’s worth working through because it ultimately makes your marriage and ministry stronger.

As the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

When that is the motivation, God can use two people together.

See also, "Spouse on Staff, Part 1: The Importance of Defining Roles" and "Spouse on Staff, Part 3: All in the Family."

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