When my husband and I were considering co-pastoring, we couldn’t find any resources to help us figure out how it would all work. The best thing we did was talk to others who were in the trenches of co-pastoring and learn from their experiences and wisdom. In this series, I am attempting to cover some of the questions I have been asked most frequently, and I hope it will be a help to those who are new to co-pastoring, or are considering whether God might be calling them to be a clergy couple. Or, perhaps this can serve as a resource for churches who are considering extending a call to a clergy couple but aren’t sure how it would all work in practice.
Or, maybe some of you think the whole idea of clergy couples is strange, and you’re curious about what a day in the life of a clergy couple is like. If that’s you, I hope you will find some answers to your wonderings here, too.
The first FAQ was “How Does It Work?” The short answer was “it depends,” but it is a little bit more complicated than that. Check it out, and jump in on the comments.
The second FAQ is one that I get asked nearly as often as the first:
FAQ of Co-Pastoring #2 – Who Does What?
Every co-pastoring couple has to arrive at their own breakdown of pastoral duties, but after seven years of ministering together, my husband and I have come up with a system that works for us. We share one full-time ministry position, which means we are filling a position that is normally filled with one pastor. This has an impact on what we do, and on who does what.
I’ve been asked specifically which one of us does weddings and funerals. We have both officiated at weddings and funerals. When our children were very small and I was still nursing them, it became easier for my husband to do funerals. But, through his experience of doing those services, he realized that he is gifted and finds great meaning and satisfaction in funeral services. Our “default” practice is for Jeff to do funerals because they are in his gift set. That said, I have been specifically requested for funeral services, and in those instances I will do the service. And neither one of us takes it personally if a family prefers one of us over another.
We have co-officiated weddings, and we have solo officiated weddings. Again, if the couple has a preference, we try to honor that preference when possible. Jeff tends to do pre-marital counseling, but I usually participate in at least one session to offer my perspective on things. This is something we’ve arrived at that works for us. Not every clergy couple handles these things the same way.
For brief counseling and pastoral care, we tend to do that equally. Quite often, when a family or individual requests counseling, they will specifically request one of us. And usually there is a reason for that request – a health issue experienced by a woman that she would be embarrassed to share with a man, a husband who would like a male perspective on an issue he is facing, a couple wanting to work through something and would appreciate both of our perspectives. One thing that is quickly learned when serving as a clergy couple is a balance between humility and confidence in one’s gifting and calling. If you become jealous or have hurt feelings when someone requests your spouse instead of you, it can be easy to feel resentful towards your spouse. When someone has a request, it’s nothing personal, and it is important to be as accommodating as you can.
For preaching, we’ve switched around how we do this a few times. Right now we share the preaching 50/50, every other week. We plan every sermon series together, select Scripture passages together, and plan around the liturgical calendar together. We have found that an every-other-week rhythm works very well for us. But, after I had thyroid surgery, I experienced a drop in my vocal stamina. For several months, Jeff did more preaching than I did because it was not possible for me to do it. On weeks where one of us is swamped with denominational responsibilities, or if one of us gets sick, we have the flexibility to change up who is preaching.
Who watches the kids? It depends on who is “on” that day. Because pastors typically worked from home in our particular congregation, we have followed suit. When I am doing sermon preparation and writing, my husband watches the kids, cooks, and cleans. When it is his turn to preach, I do those things. When there is a pastoral need that arises, we look at our schedule with the kids and determine which of us will go – and sometimes we both go. We have begun to develop a rhythm of advanced planning on Monday afternoons, scheduled pastoral visits on Tuesdays and Fridays, sermon writing on Thursdays. Saturday is our day off so that we have a day off in common with our kids. Wednesday is used for whatever needs to be done.
For special services, we are both involved. I am the organizer, and Jeff is the administrator. I oversee Christian education and discipleship, and Jeff oversees our leadership planning. Even though Jeff presides over elder and deacon meetings, we find ways for my voice and leadership to be heard. If our kids were a little older, we would both lead those meetings.
The short answer to who does what is that we lead and oversee things based on our gifts and strengths. We have to be flexible and gracious in how we do things. When circumstances necessitate, one of us needs to step out of our gift sets to make sure ministry continues on when the other is unable to do something. It’s been a tremendous blessing to me to be able to figure out my strengths and then live into them. And, it’s been amazing to watch my husband find his strengths, grow, and thrive in ministry.