Four Lessons in Co-Pastoring
by Lauren Apple
When people learn my husband and I co-pastor a church together, there are often many questions that come up. The most prominent one, however, is “How does that work?”
Well, to be honest, we don’t always know, but there are a few things we have learned in the journey that have helped us survive.
The Early Struggles:
When Silas and I met in college, we both had a specific calling that we believed God had placed on our lives to vocational ministry. At that time, specifically, youth ministry. And as we began our dating relationship, it was a source of tension and doubt in the back of both of our minds.
Silas would later reveal he just thought we would get married, and I would fall into the “pastor’s wife” role naturally. He had felt he was called to vocational ministry really, and I would end up doing it alongside him.
But, God had a different plan.
Back then, there really were not many examples or models out there for us to see husband-wife co-pastors and desire to fit into that mold. We were fortunate enough to be a part of a denomination that believes in women in ministry, but even so, there was not a lot of husbands and wives both doing vocational ministry within their individual calling.
So our early years of marriage & ministry really consisted of us both pushing for our individual agenda, calling, ministry and hoping the other one would get out of the way so we could do what God called us to do.
Those first couple years were not easy to say the least.
However, as we have continued to hear from God and be re-directed and re-directed again to this place of co-pastoring (no matter how much we fought it and tried to do it our own way), God has revealed a few things to us that have helped us in our ministry together.
Lesson One: Our Calling is a Family Calling
As we grew our family and our marriage, it became more and more clear to us God had called our family into ministry. This wasn’t a calling Silas received or I received, but this was a calling God had intended from the beginning that would be a sacrifice of our lives and our family’s life together to serve God.
Dad is not just a pastor, or Mom is not a pastor, but we have all been called to serve God in ministry; my 5-year old, my 4-year and even my 18 month old.
Our calling is not about the church but about our lives. God created each of us individually to serve Him as a family. We each have our own specific gifts and callings; we have been given the perfect set of personalities, giftings and desires to serve God in ministry how He sees fit.
When we recognize that, we recognize that not one of us is more “qualified” or “gifted” to be a pastor or to serve, but, instead, we are each gifted differently to fulfill the needs of the church the way God designed.
As Silas and I began to serve the church, we began to recognize the vast differences we had in our giftings and our strengths. Together we perfectly complement each other and can serve in a greater capacity than any one lead pastor, and because of that we don’t just say you are where the buck stops, you get the final say. Instead, we say that each of us bring a unique perspective and strength to the ministry, and we need each other in order to serve the church as God has called us.
Lesson Two: Fight for One Another
People will not understand, and, honestly, people will be intimidated. When you are living out your calling as husband and wife, but also as pastors, you will come against a lot of spiritual battles and judgment. A lot of times you will feel the need to prove yourself or show others why you are called, especially as a woman.
People want you to fit into the typical box of Pastor’s wife, and you simply cannot. But please learn from my mistakes that when you take up that banner of proving to others that this is your calling, you will only end up getting hurt and hurt others (most likely your husband) in the process.
You need to be assured of your calling, but so does your spouse. Husbands need to be fighting for, advocating for their wives in ministry, and wives likewise for your husband. In marriage you cannot pull the God card and say it is your way.
If you are going to take on this co-pastoring journey, you really need to decide from the beginning that you will be your partners full supporter and cheerleader.
Silas and I have both individually, at times, when we have been unsure of God’s direction, said that we will step back so the other can pursue the calling God has placed on the other’s life. And time and time again, God brings us back to doing it together.
You will not be successful if you are not both believing in and supporting each other’s individual callings. You must decide that you will not push forward, or fight for your own dreams, calling, and desires, but, instead, your primary focus will be doing these things for your husband.
Lesson Three: Be On The Same Page
There is no greater plan of the enemy in a co-pastor’s life than to break you apart.
This is a trap that can easily be fallen into as co-pastors. If a congregation member is upset with your spouse and mentions something to you, if you show even the slightest bit of disagreeing with or not advocating for, or even being confused by the actions of your spouse, this will quickly split a church and diminish the influence of your spouse.
You have to over communicate EVERYTHING. You need to be talking about the smallest details each and every week. This way you are communicating the same things and the same vision to your congregation.
The most important thing we have learned about this is if your spouse does something you don’t like, don’t agree with, or are confused about, don’t act like it until you are alone.
Disagree privately, but always support publically. People are just waiting to find a weakness within your ministry and your marriage. Do not give them that opportunity.
Lesson Four: Have Fun With Each Other
In ministry and marriage if you are not choosing consistent moments of fun and laughter, you will burn out quickly.
Silas and I live together, work together, sleep together, eat together and a lot more “togethers”; if all our our time together is focused on ministry and talking about ministry and resolving conflict together, we won’t last long.
We have to consistently chose times to just laugh, goof off and do something crazy. We have to decide even in the midst of frustration and anger, to let it go and live a little. Ministry is hard, Pastoring is hard, Christian people sometimes suck (okay a lot of times), but if I wasn’t doing it alongside my best friend, I would have quit a million times over already.
Co-pastoring is hard work
It’s hard work to serve the church in ministry. It’s hard to have to constantly fight and advocate for one another in ministry. It’s hard to have to over-communicate again and again to make sure that we are on the same page. But, so is anything in our Christian walk.
It takes time, effort, sacrifice and a lot of God’s grace, but I am so absolutely blessed that God chose to bring Silas and I together in this journey of marriage, parenting and co-pastoring.
Lauren Apple is Co-Pastor of City Church in New Holstein, WI, alongside her husband Silas. They have been married for 7 years and have 3 kids. She is gifted in communication and graphic design.