When we met with the committee for the first time, we were nervous. This meeting was the first step for my husband Jeff, who had sensed God calling him to go to seminary and become a pastor. After the meeting, the committee would either recommend him to come under their care as he went through seminary, or they would recommend that he pursue something else.
In an email shortly before the meeting, the committee encouraged us to come together, with the caveat that I would not be allowed to speak during the meeting since the meeting wasn’t really about me. I could be there as a support, but I needed to be a silent supporter, which at that time made plenty of sense to me. I wasn’t the one headed to seminary.
During this time my husband and I were wrestling with our own beliefs about the role of women in church leadership. Even though we both believed without a doubt that Jeff was called to pastoral ministry, I was struggling with what my life would look like as a pastor’s wife. I wanted to support him in his calling, but I had also long sensed God calling me to serve in ministry as well, even though I wasn’t exactly sure what that ministry would look like.
We sat in a hallway in the basement of an unfamiliar church, waiting for the committee to call us in. One of the committee members opened the door and invited us into the room where the committee was already seated. I waited for my husband to start for the door, and I followed behind him quietly. The whole thing seemed terribly awkward.
In the front of the room, two chairs had been positioned to face the committee. The chairman invited us to sit, and as we did so, I was suddenly aware of how awkward it was going to be to sit in the room and be unable to say anything. I wished I had waited in the hallway.
And then the meeting began. The committee began to ask all kinds of things that we had expected about my husband’s call to ministry, where he envisioned serving in three to five years, and about his perceived strengths and weaknesses. At first the meeting seemed to be going well, when suddenly the questions were directed at me.
“How do you plan to support your husband as a pastor?”
I was shocked. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to answer.
“I plan to apply for jobs in the area to help support us financially, and I want to be supportive however is most helpful as my husband pursues his calling.”
And then another, very pointed question: “We think your husband should consider ministry opportunities other than pastoring a church. He seems unwilling to consider other things. Does that bother you?”
“I believe God is calling him to be a pastor, and I’m supportive of that.”
My heart was racing, and I was hoping I hadn’t just ruined my husband’s chances of pursuing his calling. When the meeting concluded, we went home. We were rattled. We were tired. And we had no idea what they would decide.
Not long afterward, we received the news that the committee had reservations about Jeff’s calling into ministry. They accepted him under their care, but only provisionally for one year. We would have to return in one year’s time, and the committee would need to be persuaded that he had made enough progress and “become less rigid” in his sense of calling.
Although I did not understand the committee’s hesitation, all of our friends and mentors urged us to “trust the process,” and so we prepared ourselves to move to Michigan for my husband’s seminary education. I applied for several jobs, and was turned down for all of them. As a couple, we continued to wrestle with God’s plans for us. We visited the seminary one more time to make sure this was the right step for us, and while we were there, I wondered aloud, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could both be students here?”
That one question was like opening the door just a crack on a whole new world we didn’t even know existed. At that time we were only following after traditional gender roles because we did not know there was any other way. We began having conversations with people at the seminary, with our pastor, and with others we trusted. We decided we would enter seminary together even though we had no idea what ministry would look like for us once we graduated.
Almost exactly one year later, we met with the student care committee again, this time with both of us being interviewed. When the committee called us to enter the room, we walked in together. We both sat down, and the committee asked their first question.
“Last year when we spoke with you, only one of you was requesting to come under our care. What changed for you over this last year?”
We talked about our developing sense of call, one that included both of us. We talked about our leading to church ministry and our hopes for being called to lead a small church, even though at that time we still hadn’t quite figured out how we would serve together. And then someone on the committee spoke up.
“Wow. What a difference from last year! When you both walked into the room tonight, it was as though you brought a bright light in with you. You are exuding light and joy, and we are all very blessed to be here with you and hear you share about the way God is moving in your lives. It is clear to us that God is calling you to be a team.”
The committee prayed for us, and we left the room feeling blessed to have been there.
During the earliest years of our marriage, we both struggled to fit into roles we weren’t particularly suited for. We felt trapped by the expectations that I would stay silent and he would lead. And as we began to grow into our unique gifts and callings as individual people and as a couple, we began to thrive. Other people noticed it in us. They commented on the dynamic way we worked together, and on the joy that we found in the gospel and with each other.
I have often heard it said that when Christians have a marriage of mutuality, it is a marriage where no one wins—that the man is failing to lead, and the woman is failing to submit. But, I have found the opposite to be true for us. Striving for mutuality in our marriage and in our ministry has led us to consider our unique gifts and callings—gifts and callings that we believe we were given by God. This mutual up-building and strengthening has enabled us both to flourish.
Ministering as a team is not always straightforward. It requires many conversations and a whole lot of trial and error. But, it has also allowed each of us to concentrate on the areas of ministry that are most life-giving to us. Ministry as a team may not always be easy, but it is very good.
When we realized we were being called as a team, it felt like someone had opened up the door and let the light come in. We noticed it for ourselves in palpable ways, and it was affirming when others began to notice it, too.
An amazing thing happened when we began to live out of our strengths rather than out of prescribed gender roles: we began to live with more joy. We found ourselves able to live and work more creatively, to depend on each other in healthier ways, and to find greater energy and enjoyment in our marriage and in our ministry. In mutuality we have found freedom as we’ve been able to shake off the roles that didn’t suit either of us particularly well, and in that freedom we’ve found new life, new joy, and new energy to live our lives rooted in the love of God.
This article appears in “Becoming New: Stories of Hope and Transformation,” the Summer 2015 issue of Mutuality magazine. Read the full issue here.