Two Changes That Helped Our Marriage and Ministry
Finding strength in differences
My husband, Matt, and I have always had much in common. We shared the same major and minor in college. We are both natural communicators and leaders who are passionate, expressive and competitive. Our relationship blossomed from an intertwined love for LSU, history, our families and Italian food.
As with any relationship, we also have our differences. Matt is an introvert with extrovert tendencies. I’m an extrovert — with very extrovert tendencies. Matt is a strategist and builder with strengths in administration and structure. I’m an altruist and shepherd who guides from strengths of inspiration and insight. He likes working with ideas, and I enjoy working with people.
After five years of marriage, I can speak of our differences with thankfulness and appreciation. Unfortunately, this wasn’t always the case. More than just learning how to share toothpaste and schedules in our newlywed years, ministry brought on the additional challenges of learning how to serve and lead together.
While some of our early tiffs were normal newlywed difficulties, others arose from unhealthy jealousy and rivalry. The attributes we admired most about each other were also the characteristics that drove us farthest apart.
I won’t generalize and say this is an issue for all couples in ministry. It’s not something everyone encounters. Yet I believe it happens more than we may realize, especially in the marriages of strong leaders with shared roles and similar gifts.
At one time, I thought, This is just what marriage looks like. Everyone argues. Everyone struggles. There’s some truth to that, but it’s also a cop-out.
Thankfully, our marriage today is stronger than ever. While we’re still growing, one thing changed our relationship, our friendship and our ministry: We stopped operating in the ministry roles others defined for us.
Christians can unintentionally perpetuate stereotypes about what ministry roles are supposed to look like. There were several typecasts we had to overcome: Sermon prep should fill a pastor’s time. A youth pastor should be proficient at organizing social media and large-scale events. A ministry couple should fill one main role and one support role.
Many ministers fit these descriptions. For us, though, such expectations brought frustration. Though an excellent communicator, Matt is more productive in his leadership when he doesn’t have to prep for an upcoming message. Though capable, I became a better pastor when I didn’t have to worry about our social media presence. We both lead, but we also both support.
For many years, we boxed in our ministry and marriage to meet outside expectations. This halted the day we started serving from the strengths God placed inside us. We drew confidence from the individuality He gave us.
We’ve learned from each other, and we’re better for it.
Operating from the roles others built for us, we wasted time trying to turn our weaknesses and frustrations into strengths and passions. It’s honestly an exhausting and futile process that leads to a life without fulfillment.
As we became more aware of what made each of us unique and strong individually, our marriage and our ministry began to flourish. Instead of replicating each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we started seeing where the dots connected. If I could naturally lead in my strength, it covered Matt’s weaknesses — and vice versa.
Talk about taking the pressure off. Identifying and operating in our God-given individuality finally helped us work together as a team.
We Yield to Each Other’s Strengths
Outside of our local church, Matt and I have each received ministry invitations for speaking, writing, teaching and leadership opportunities. At first, an invitation to one of us felt like a rejection of the other. It’s hard to feel happy for your spouse when his or her opportunity seems like a missed one for you.
Now that we recognize who God made us to be, we can pass on opportunities and support each other proudly when someone approaches one of us with an invitation. That’s because we only say “yes” to openings that tap our unique spiritual gifts.
Matt started declining speaking opportunities and suggesting me for them. It’s been fun to follow his example on system-building projects, saying, “You know, Matt is much better at that than I am. I think you should approach him rather than me.”
That doesn’t mean I don’t vision cast, build or administrate. Neither does it mean Matt never teaches or communicates. It depends on the situation, the content, and the honest answer to the question of who is truly best suited for what God wants to do in that moment.
We Learn From Each Other’s Strengths
Always deferring to another person can prolong leadership development, so it’s important to seek a healthy balance. Turning down certain opportunities that fall outside our skill set is one thing, but saying “no” to everything we don’t want to do is laziness.
I’ve scheduled time with Matt and said, “Show me how to do what you do.”
This applies even to small details, like calendar planning and meeting agendas, because I find him brilliant and proficient in all things concerning organization.
It goes both ways. Matt doesn’t preach a message that I don’t look at — and tweak. I have a voice in his pastoral decisions and thought processes. We’re the first to read each other’s blogs and buffer each other’s ideas.
I can now build systems and not drop the ball with problem-solving functions — not because I’m imitating my husband but because I have learned from him. And he’s learned from me. We’ve learned from each other, and we’re better for it.
We didn’t get to this place overnight, and we still have much to learn. But as we apply the lessons God is teaching us, we have a great foundation on which to build. That’s true not only for us, but for any couple willing to venture through these perspective changes.