Team ministry: A blessing to families
Pastoring is a wonderful vocation. As pastors, we embrace the gifts and talents God has given us and use them every day on behalf of His people and to His glory. Yet, pastoral ministry can be demanding, frustrating, and even discouraging. We have long contended with the challenges and expectations of ministry. The cries of pastoral families for encouragement, recognition, and support are heard all around the world. In our thirty-five years of ministry, we have met and tackled our fair share of challenges. Our dedication to serve the church has seen us, at times, overlook our other callings as spouses and parents.
We know all too well how marriages can struggle and family relationships suffer. We have seen how children can grow up resenting the church as a result of the pressure of pastoral ministry. But we have also discovered that it does not have to be that way. There is hope! With a firm determination, unwavering commitment, and the guidance of the Spirit of God, pastoral families can claim victory over the many difficulties that challenge their ministry. The One who called us will sustain us through every trial.
A scenario: “I am a pastor. My wife is a specialized medical doctor. She has a well-paying job that she loves. The conference wants to move us. My wife found out that there is no hospital with her specialty in this new area. She said she has her calling and I have mine. What do I do?”
We have seen over the years that this is a regular scenario. Pastors work better and more effectively when they and their spouse are united in their calling, affirm one another, and work together as a team. But what does team ministry really mean?
For some, team ministry means husband and wife co-pastoring or in joint ministries in the church. But there are couples where each spouse has a different church ministry. Or a pastor may have a spouse who has a separate career. Or one spouse is a pastor, and the other is a homemaker. Can they all still practice team ministry?
We would like to suggest that, even within the wide panorama of varying ministerial scenarios, pastoral couples can still be in team ministry.1
Strength in partnership
Raquel: I have come to identify aspects of my own calling that are integral to a ministry team.
1. I am called to fellowship with God. The God who called me demands that my primary relationship is with Him. This principle is fundamental to every other relationship I have—my relationship with myself, my faith journey, and my choices; my relationship with the mate He gave me and the children we have together; and my relationship with the community of believers with whom I worship, witness, serve, and share my faith. In short, my foremost calling is about relationships.
2. I am called to support my spouse. An essential part of my marital commitment is to create an atmosphere of love, peace, and contentment in our relationship—not only to minister to my husband’s needs but also to assist and protect him. Within this sacred duty, I become a comforter, an encourager, a counselor, and his best friend. Ellen G. White reminds us, “God has assigned woman [and, even more so, the pastor’s wife] her mission; and if she, in her humble way, yet to the best of her ability, makes a heaven of her home, faithfully and lovingly performing her duties to her husband and children, continually seeking to let a holy light shine from her useful, pure, and virtuous life to brighten all around her, she is doing the work left her of the Master.”2
3. I am called to care for my children. At one point in our ministry, I was at home with the children. We still strove to be in team ministry. How did we do that? I prayed for my husband’s work. I supported his ministry at church. But for us, team ministry was more than that. It was recognizing that I, too, had to be involved in ministry. I took seriously the counsel given to mothers: “Her work in the education of the children is in every respect as elevating and ennobling as any post of duty he may be called to fill, even if it is to be the chief magistrate of the nation.”3 I have a binding commitment to my beloved ones. Ensuring their physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual development is the most admirable ministry God has entrusted to me. It is a ministry priority that God has asked me to handle faithfully.
4. I am called to minister in my church. Paul admonishes, “Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith” (Gal. 6:10, The Message). Team ministry did not mean I had to volunteer for everything. It did not mean that I had to accept every position that was offered to me. Neither did it mean I had to have at least one position in the church. While I got involved in the church, according to the spiritual gifts with which God has blessed me, I recognized that I had a position that no one else had. It is a full-time, twenty-four-hour-a-day, always-on-call position. It’s called a pastor’s spouse.
5. I am called to pursue my own calling. God made me a unique individual. I am not called to fill anyone else’s shoes. Jesus says to me, “Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father” (Matt. 5:15, 16, TLB). My career calling may be different from that of my spouse, but it is not less significant.
Benefits to the partnership
Jonas: At one point in our ministry, while I was a local church pastor, my wife worked in the corporate world. We had two separate career paths—but we had one united ministry. That did not mean that she had to make pastoral visits with me or that she had to be a Bible worker in the church. Instead, I sought to affirm her in her calling, she worked to support me, and she prayed for God to create opportunities for her to be a witness at work. For us, that is team ministry.
We know from experience that it may take time and effort, even trial and error, for pastoral couples to negotiate what team ministry means for them—but it is worth it. By seeking to better understand our individual roles, clarifying our personal callings, and learning to serve God according to our gifts, our ministry together was strengthened.
When we commit our best to each other, for the good of the church, the benefits to our partnership are numerous. Two of the most significant benefits of our shared ministry are spiritual growth and a strong friendship.
Spiritual growth. A ministerial team has immense potential to grow together spiritually, both as individuals and as a couple. The couple who prays and studies the Word together will certainly stand together through good times and bad. By seeking His will day by day, they will discover the certainty of His guiding strength. As it was promised long ago, “ ‘the eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms’” (Deut. 33:27, NKJV).
It is not just the pastor who needs this strength and refuge but the entire family. The pastor’s spouse needs the guidance that only God can provide, and our children should be encouraged to form a closer walk with God. Church demands and family expectations weigh heavily on the heart of the pastor; both roles depend upon God’s strength and can be fulfilled rightly only by leaning on Him at all times.
Strong friendship. We have discovered that as we minister together, we become closer to each other, not only as spouses but also as friends. We were great friends before our wedding, but we are better friends now. I have come to understand that my spouse is the one person I can always and truly depend on. But it is not just inwardly focused. I believe the church is blessed by seeing a pastoral couple laughing together, embracing, and even crying together as they share their victories and failures. It can be a positive witness to the power of a godly marriage.
Benefits to the pastoral family
While a life of ministry comes with many unique challenges, it also presents many unique opportunities. Although others in team ministry may not weave their family life into the life of their congregation, we have chosen to do so. One of the greatest blessings we have found in ministry has been the privilege of seeing God at work firsthand, moving in peoples’ lives and hearts in ways most people never get to see. Involving our children in our ministry has made these blessings real for them too. Some of these blessings are listed:
1.The opportunity to meet people. Pastoral families are always surrounded by a big spiritual family as a result of their ministry. Our children get to know people they might not otherwise have met, including good, godly, and wise believers who relate to their young lives while witnessing to the truth. These friendships make ministerial life more enjoyable.
2. The privilege of leading people to Christ. It is a blessing to witness how God works through evangelism and Bible studies, to see firsthand the transformation of lives when people accept Jesus as their personal Savior. “It was the joy of Christ to save souls. Let this be your work and your joy.”4
3. Participation in historical moments of the members’ lives. The pastor is uniquely privileged to be part of church members’ lives on special occasions. We are included in good moments, such as birthdays, graduations, and weddings and also during tragic events, such as funerals and family crises. Through them all, we have the opportunity to provide comfort, encouragement, and counsel.
4. Influencing people. Pastors have a great impact on the lives of members through leadership and example. Through our words and attitudes, we express joy in serving those around us, offering a strong spiritual influence through preaching and counseling.
5. Visiting church members. There is a great joy when pastors visit church members. It is an incarnational ministry, a ministry of love, in which we find the real meaning of pastoral work. Effective pastoral visitation gives the pastor a sense of accomplishment. Every pastor has strengths and growth areas, and visitation is the strength of our ministry. On some days, visiting is a joyful adventure; on other days, it can be difficult. But ministry cannot exist without it.
6. Recognition and appreciation. Church members are always at the church door after service expressing words of appreciation to the pastor. The pastoral family is blessed by these expressions of recognition for their ministry and spiritual work. Also, pastors often receive tokens and gifts from members on special occasions, which demonstrate the church’s appreciation for their spiritual leaders.
7.Visiting many places. Working for the church gives pastors and pastoral families opportunities to see new places, such as attending pastoral retreats, traveling for special events, or even transferring to a new church.
8. Security and stability. Churches give pastors financial stability. They receive a monthly salary, and often health and life insurance, financial support to educate their children, retirement provision, and other benefits. Financial stability can help ease stress to face the future with confidence and joy.
9. Continuing education. In many places, the church offers continuing education programs that help pastoral couples grow both professionally and spiritually.
For many pastors and spouses, the blessings of their position seem to be few and far between. We sometimes get discouraged and struggle in our role. In team ministry, we gain insight, wisdom, and support from each other because our individual personalities, experiences, and perspectives are unique. When you are feeling unprepared to measure up to the expectations placed upon you or fatigued from the relentless demands of ministry, remember this: you are a chosen vessel for such a time as this, for such a task as this. Trust God, who has given you the privilege and honor to serve.
Struggles are inherent to a life committed to ministry. We must be aware of and heed the apostle Peter’s warning that the enemy is lurking (1 Pet. 5:8), waiting patiently for the opportunity to destroy us. But God wants us to succeed. Being sensitive to His voice and connecting to His Word daily will provide a safe path. As partners in team ministry, we are to be wise, aware, and alert; on the lookout for each other; and pressing forward in our ministry without any distraction or deviation. When we wholeheartedly accept what God has in store for us—individually and as a family—we each will fulfill our assigned role, ministering together for God’s glory and family unity.
We can attest to the fact that the eternal reward of being a pastoral family far surpasses any frustration we will ever feel in ministry. We are convinced that the life of a pastoral couple called to ministry is the best there is. The rewards are numerous: we feel loved, appreciated, needed, trusted, and admired—all as a result of our faithful commitment to the One who called us. We become instruments that God uses to promote the spiritual progress of His people—a channel through which the grace of God, the love of Christ, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit can flow to others.
Enjoy your shared ministerial life and make it a success! Remember: the calling of God is irrevocable unless you choose to walk away from it. But if you have made your calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10), you both will enjoy the ministry for life. John Calvin said, “It is my happiness that I have served Him who never fails to reward His servants to the full extent of His promise.”5 Stand together. With Christ as your foundation and the center of your marriage and mission, you will neither stumble nor be shaken.
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1 For more extensive information on this topic, see Jonas and Raquel Arrais, Joys and Challenges of the Pastoral Family (Madrid, Spain: Editorial Safeliz, 2018).
2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 2:465.
3 Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1980), 231.
4 Ellen G. White, Christian Service (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1925), 110.
5 John MacArthur, Matthew 8–15, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1987), 235.