Shepherdess: Team Ministry

The author shares how team ministry has worked in her family, pointing out that it is a two-way street. She notes that societal changes require some changes in the concept, but some things remain constant.

Jeanne Larson's team ministry has carried her to the Philippines, where her husband teaches at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Far East.

What does a husband-wife team ministry mean today? In early times team work suggested a pair of oxen or horses pulling together to accomplish a job. We have surgical teams, athletic teams, and teaching teams. They are all group activities that focus on a specific goal. So we would expect team ministry to be just as clearly defined. But it's not.

Changes in society have made it difficult to develop a clear picture of team ministry today. Some refuse to accept reality, stubbornly insisting that nothing has changed. They are like the people a few years back who refused to admit that tractors and cars were here for good. Others conclude that team ministry is no longer needed—a conclusion that is equally futile. A woman cannot live as she did when she was single and be successfully married to a minister.

To develop a concept of team ministry acceptable to God, to our families, and to our church organization, we must recognize what remains the same and what has changed. Let me give you a few examples of changes in society:

1. Women are not home as much as they once were. In the United States women have comprised three fifths of the increase in the labor force in the past thirty years.

2. In all parts of the world women attain higher levels of education. Often in the past only the minister's wife could play the piano or adequately carry out other church duties. Now we have well-trained laymen who can do these jobs. And it isn't wise for a minister's wife to do a job that a member can do.

3. Formerly, the professions a minister's wife could pursue were limited to nursing, music teaching, and schoolteaching. Even these were only acceptable within quite confined limits. But today ministers' wives are asking why other professions they have trained for are not as suitable.

4. Today our children's education sometimes requires more than the hus band's income. Some ministers' wives must return to work to pay tuition, dental bills, or similar necessities. It's not simply that they want luxuries.

5. In years past a woman spent much time taking care of sick children. Now in the Western world many of these child hood diseases have been eliminated. And this has freed much time for the wife and mother. In addition, there are conveniences in our modem life and/or homes that free us for many other duties.

But we must remember that not everything concerning team ministry has changed. As we develop our concept of team ministry, we must remember those things that remain constant:

1. Most important, I believe, are our commitments to the Lord, to His work, and to our families. We need a clear vision of priorities. I often think of Mrs. Noah. Noah had faith, and I think she did too. Noah was 480 years old when he received his building and preaching orders. It wasn't until twenty years later that their first child was born. How would you like the assignment they had? They raised three children under the most trying circumstances. They preached a worldwide warning message, and no doubt worked with limited funds. They certainly must have had a team ministry. But what if Noah had been married to Mrs. Lot? It makes a difference if each team member has a commitment to the Lord, and to His work, and to the family. And if there is a clear vision of priorities.

2. Another thing that never changes is the minister's need for support. Mr. and Mrs. Simon Peter lived in Caper naum, a beautiful, interesting little city, with a mild and genial climate. As a fisherman's daughter, I know how much the Peters must have loved the water front—the cool breeze, and the special fellowship enjoyed by fishermen. But when Peter became an evangelist, Mrs. Peter left this lovely area. She left its genial climate, her family and friends, and "hit the evangelistic trail." Why? Because she knew that Peter needed her, and she wanted to be there. One writer has objected to women's liberation not just because it brings competition within a marriage, but because it causes the loss of vital emotional influence. Literature is replete with examples of women in the supportive role as faithful and wise counselors. This supportive role for us will never change.

3. A third thing we must remember as we build this framework is that we must participate in our husbands' programs. No wife can do everything. But every wife can do something. No wife is without some talents that she can use to minister with her husband. When Abraham was gone Sarah ran the ranch, if I read the books correctly. And apparently she was in on most of his decisions. Sarah wasn't always a wise participant, but the Lord worked with her, even as the Lord will work with you and me if we follow Him. Sarah matured. She grew. At first she laughed when she was told that she was going to have a child. But her faith and her trust grew to the point that the New Testament mentions them five times. A recent survey, reported in the book Who Is a Minister's Wife? asked what church members considered the most important requirement of a minister's wife. They answered that she should participate enthusiastically in the life of the congregation, support her husband, and reflect his work in her home and life. What was true in Abraham's time is true today. The need for participation has not changed.

How it worked for us

In the light of these principles, may I share just a bit of what has worked for us as we have developed a mutually satisfying team ministry.

Until my senior year in college I never considered marrying a minister. I had a personal career goal in mind. Within my heart I thought if I should marry I would make a good doctor's wife, not a minister's wife. But that last year Ralph began to give me some attention. As time went on and I began to realize that I was developing more than casual interest in this reserved Swede, I felt very uncertain. I was a comparatively new Adventist and had some very strong misconceptions about the role of a minister's wife. One day I casually said to him, "Ralph, have you ever considered taking something other than the ministry?" His answer came instantly. He looked at me and said, "Jeanne, I know I am called to the ministry, and if it means giving up the woman I love or giving up the ministry, I would give up the woman Hove."

I didn't know what to do. I waited, and prayed, and saw more of him. And I realized in a way I never had before that the ministry is a calling. Nothing else can interfere. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:4, "No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits" (R.S.V.).

Eventually Ralph and I were married. Not right away, but eventually. By then I had spent much time thinking and praying about the whole thing, and especially this part of our working together. I realized that his work must be first. His was a holy calling. Mine as an English teacher was a profession. And they do not have the same priority.

I felt then, and I still do, that a man cannot enter the ministry with the reservation that his wife's profession will tie him to a certain place, or make him go to a certain place. A minister's wife is also called, but indirectly, through another human, just as Philip was called through Andrew. I made two major decisions before I married: Ralph's work must be first. And I must not accept any employment that would make it impossible for us to work together. And together, Ralph and I decided that we would do whatever the conference or mission committee asked us to do. These three decisions have made most other decisions since then quite easy.

Maintaining priorities

We discovered two kinds of opportunities for team ministry: unqualified opportunities (those that anybody can do at any time) and those that are qualified by circumstances. But we must maintain our priorities whichever kind of opportunity we are responding to. One priority concerns the wife's professional work outside the home. There may be times when she can do none. There may be times when she can do some with restrictions. And there may be times when she can work full-time and still participate in team ministry with her husband.

When we were first married and while our children were young, I took no jobs except for brief periods of teaching when there was an emergency in a church school. Later, when the children were in the upper grades, I taught in some of the schools they attended. I went to school with them, and I came home with them. At this time Ralph's evangelistic thrust was mainly on the weekends, and so we could be with him. Still later, when they were away at school, I took full-time employment in an academy, and then at the college where Ralph was teaching. I was offered the opportunity to be principal of the college academy, and later another academy. I turned the jobs down because taking them would have meant that I could not go with Ralph on evangelism. Ralph feels very strongly about my participation in his evangelistic program.

Ralph was senior pastor at the Campus Hill church in Loma Linda when the call came for him to teach at the seminary in the Philippines. When we accepted, coworkers and friends were baffled. Why would I leave a good job at the medical center? And at my age too! I might not ever get a job like that again! But to us it was simply in line with our previous decisions. I enjoyed my work at the medical center, but not enough to ask Ralph to give up a mission call so I could keep my position. I feel, as we think about our team ministry, that this is an important priority.

A second equally important priority is maintaining what I call a two-way-street relationship. It may appear thus far that the wife is always the one to give in. But The Adventist Home tells us that God will not excuse ministers who neglect their families. And so the minister must give too. Our three children arrived in three and a half years. We planned it that way. But with a busy soul-winning program they were a handful. And during those early years Ralph gave me something far better than money could ever buy. About four o'clock in the afternoon is my low time of the day. Every afternoon', at that time, he took over the three lambs for an hour or so, providing me with a little time for myself. I have never forgotten that.

When the children were older, we pastored the Central church in Honolulu. There we worked out a program in which Ralph put in a ten- or twelve-hour day but nevertheless found time to have three hours every afternoon with the family. We used this time to shop, to garden, to swim, to hike, to visit museums. In other words, it was family time. Counsels on Health tells us that as a rule the labor of the day should not be extended into the evening. Those after noon hours were Ralph's evening. At 5:00 P.M. , after a snack, he left for a long evening of pastoral duties. The family was totally satisfied with this arrangement; and we never heard a word of criticism from the church.

Later still, when the children were older and I was teaching full-time in the school they attended, we added another dimension. After reading The Adventist Home together, the family set up a plan whereby we all, including Ralph, got up early and did housework for one hour before breakfast. That meant five hours of housework every morning; twenty-five hours of housework a week. We scrubbed windows, did the washing, the ironing, the bathrooms, the woodwork, the floors. When we came home from school at night we found a restful, attractive home. Because there was no evening or Sunday cleaning, we could do other things at these times. We taught the two boys early that it was not demeaning to their manhood to help in the house. Believe me, when the three children left home I missed their help! 1 believe that if a wife is going to help her husband, a two-way street for home chores is a necessity. I realize this can be carried to excess.

Team ministry opportunities

Now let's consider opportunities for team ministry anyone can do anytime. I will mention just three. And you will think of others.

1. We can discuss sermons and witnessing methods. I have never written a sermon for my husband. But 1 have had input into his thinking. It is important for a minister to have a critic evaluating his sermons, and not just be assured, "Honey, it is wonderful." But the critic must be knowledgeable, and not just react from emotion. Jesus expects us to use our heads. He didn't talk to women only about babies, curtains, and recipes, important and nice as they are. He expected them to stretch their minds, to know the truth for themselves. He commended Mary for her eagerness to learn. The woman at the well was the first to learn about the Resurrection. Go down through your Bible and read how He took special efforts to encourage the women. They listened. They understood and followed His teachings. Sometime ago I heard a minister's wife say, "I don't have time to study. I just take my husband's word, and believe what he believes." How sad. How much better to have the spirit of Priscilla, the wife of Aquila. She knew the truth for herself, and she knew how to share it. Apollos was a gifted, learned, and experienced professor, but he was teaching error. When he came to their town, Priscilla and Aquila in a team ministry taught him the way of God more accurately.

2. Another unqualified opportunity for teamwork I call coordination, or social leading. In any kind of church work it is important to establish warm relationships. If the minister and his wife are warm and friendly they are like a magnet that attracts. Their warmth spreads to church leaders, and from there it radiates out to the congregation, and in turn to the community. It works even in a large church. At Campus Hill we began by inviting groups of thirty or more to our home for Sabbath dinner. I was working, and that made this expense possible. For some reason people feel closer to a minister once they have been in his home. Even during a time of theological tensions, we were able to build warm friendships with those who had been a bit edgy with us. Those friendships continue. And by the way, Ralph and I did the cooking together for those dinners. It was fun, and we looked forward to it. I am a firm believer in church socials. It is good for the church family to get together.

3. A third unqualified opportunity we might call cooperation, or opportunity for emotional support. To whom does the minister turn in times of hurt, disappointment, stress, or even resentment? The only one he really has, aside from the Lord, is his wife. Our husbands must be "as true to duty as the needle to the pole." They must "stand for the right though the heavens fall" (Education, p. 57). But when the heavens seem to be falling, a minister needs to have his wife's support. A close friend of mine, an Adventist minister's wife, has accepted some popular advice. She is insisting that she live her own life apart from her husband and the church, and even has her membership in a different church from the one he is pastoring. She isn't happy; her husband isn't happy. And the Lord's work is suffering.

Specialized service

Now let me list some qualified opportunities for team ministry. Some a wife can do. Some she may not be able to do.

1. She may serve as her husband's secretary.

2. She may visit—alone or with her husband. In Loma Linda I used to spend my noon hours just visiting those in the hospital, the elderly, and the sick. It was a blessed experience for me.

3. She may telephone.

4. She may write cards and short letters.

5. She may give Bible studies. How can we expect our members to give a Bible study if we don't have time to give just one a week?

6. She may fulfill special assignments like Weeks of Prayer, Vacation Bible School, study or story hours, cooking classes, health demonstrations, and so on. (Generally, of course, it is better to come in for special help than to take on a yearlong assignment.)

7. She may minister through music as time and talent permit.

8. She may distribute literature.

9. She may counsel.

10. She may start prayer bands or prayer circles.

11. She may do background work, such as writing news stories, mimeographing, et cetera.

Team ministry is many faceted and much varied. No wife can do everything. But every wife can do something. Despite changes, husband-and-wife team ministry is possible today. Commitment to the Lord, to His work, and to the family, and a clear vision of priorities are necessary.

Without team ministry talents go to waste, families grow apart, God's work suffers, and souls are lost for eternity. Team ministry provides us the opportunity to spend more time with our husbands than most wives can. It offers us experiences and challenges unequaled in any other work. And best of all, there is involvement and satisfaction in the greatest work ever given to humans—the winning of and caring for souls. The results of our team ministry will last forever.

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Jeanne Larson's team ministry has carried her to the Philippines, where her husband teaches at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Far East.

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