Many of my seminary friends dated and then married fellow ministers. What I have observed is that as they have graduated, unless the couple serves as co-pastors, one spouse ends up serving a church while the other does something else. That is what has happened for my wife, Clary, and me.
Passionate about both the local church and education, Clary teaches fifth grade math, science, and social studies and is pursuing a Ph.D. in education and social change. I currently serve on staff at a church, one in which Clary is heavily involved. Navigating a dual calling can be difficult. And while we certainly do not have it all figured out, we have learned a few things along the way.
First, any church that calls you or your spouse is calling both you and your spouse. Clary and I are equal partners in marriage and in ministry, regardless of who is on a church staff. I will not serve in a church that does not recognize that we are both equally called and equally gifted, because they will not just be getting one of us, they will be getting both of us. Serving a church that does not recognize equal giftedness will put additional stress and strain on your marriage.
Second, it is important for any place that you move to have ministry and/or career opportunities for your spouse. Your spouse deserves to live out his or her calling just as much as you do. Churches often move at a snail’s pace and the anxiety over finding a church position sometimes pushes ministers into accepting a call without making sure that the church is right for both them and their spouse. Because of this, Clary and I have equal say on any position I accept, and I have equal say about any position that she accepts. Those decisions affect both of us.
Third, realize what a wonderful gift you have. Having a spouse that is seminary-trained not only can be helpful with some practical and logistical details for Sunday morning or Wednesday evening, but more importantly, it provides the minister with a wonderful sounding board. I bounce ideas off of Clary all the time. There is not one sermon that I have preached that Clary has not heard at least twice before Sunday morning. She gives me constructive criticism on both content and delivery, and her feedback is invaluable. I am a better preacher for it, and I think this sharing makes us both better ministers. I get her input on long-range goals and ask her opinion on certain pastoral situations, being sure not to break confidence. Equally important is making sure that I am there for her. One spouse’s job cannot constantly be given preferential treatment over the other’s. I have helped her grade papers, served as a chaperone for school field trips, and helped proofread her own papers for class more times than I can count.
Fourth, protect you and your spouse’s time, especially when it comes to church. People often come to me asking if Clary would be willing to do something. From personal experience, I have learned to always send that person to her to ask. I am the one on staff; she is not. It is not fair for people to expect her to be involved in everything, so I tell people that. I have also discovered that if you don’t manage your time, others will manage it for you. And they will manage your spouse’s time as well—if you let them.
While these words of advice may seem simplistic, some of these lessons are ones we have learned the hard way. When difficult decisions have come our way, we have always handled them together and applied the principle of equality. And I think we have a stronger marriage for it.
Kristopher Aaron is minister of church growth and outreach at Deer Park Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky.