Discovering the Power of Partnership

By Ben Mandrell

I started preaching 10 years ago. The whole thing started with a teensy-weensy spark. I was asked to lead a “talk” at a summer camp and several people came forward to say, “You know, Mandrell, that wasn’t so bad.” From there, God began to place more and more on my preaching plate and eventually my calling crystallized.

I blinked my eyes and I was sitting in seminary. I blinked my eyes again and I was walking into the office with the sign: “Senior Pastor.” Gulp. It all happened so fast for me. It all happened so fast for my wife.

You see, Lynley didn’t marry me when I was a preacher. She didn’t sign on to be a pastor’s wife. God snuck that in the back door of her life long after the ink dried on the marriage license. Certainly, as I have felt my knees buckling these past years at the enormity of this task, she has felt the weight of it as well. Leading a local church has been a joyful journey, but like all jobs, this one has its share of troubles.

About two years ago, something significant happened in our house, a breakthrough. The Lord led us through an unforeseen door to a room full of riches. God was about to take us through a threshold to a new place of ministry. He had provided me no warning.

The magical moment took place on a typical weeknight. We tucked our four sleepy kids into their cozy beds and traipsed downstairs to catch up. As we began chatting, I sensed immediately that something was wrong and so I ran through the list of clueless husband questions: “Did I say something? Have I been a workaholic this week? …” To all my questions, I received a sigh and then a hardly audible “no.”

“So what is it?” I asked with increased volume. The suspense was killing me. Following an awkward silence, she spoke, “I’ve … been … thinking.” (Note: This is always a scary lead-in statement, an ominous introduction employed by wives to gain the full attention of their husbands. Hence, I braced myself.)

“Thinking … about … what?” I inquired.

“Us.” “Me.” “The ministry,” she said in rapid fire. And then, very calmly, she announced: “I think it’s time for us to partner more closely together.”

A defining moment

As soon as the words fell from her mouth, I knew this was a monumental moment. I heard God speak, through her. For years, Lynley had played the support role with no signs of discontent. She had found joy in doing all those things that made my life feel smooth. She cooked a Sunday lunch on Saturday night so I could decompress at home after three morning sermons. She dressed the children in their Sunday finery. She combed their hair, applied the requested gel, and brushed their teeth. She dropped each of them off at Sunday School early. Finally, she made her way to the front pew, smiling at each passerby and parking before the opening choir special. She was making my life and my call so much lighter and easier and enjoyable. What she was missing, however, what I was missing, what God was now revealing, was the satisfaction of a shared ministry.

A new spark was ignited that night when Lynley shared her burden. We both felt that God was leading us to something brand new, and we brainstormed what that might be. Just 15 minutes later, we were in full agreement that we would pray about some form of marriage ministry. This would be “our” ministry. Not mine. Not hers. Ours. A new category of calling.

As you might expect, all those “Moses” musings began to emerge in our brains and we felt afraid of this assignment: “Have we been married long enough to lead others in this way? Would others see us as arrogant or placing ourselves prematurely on a pedestal? Would anybody listen? Would this be a ‘grandiose idea’ that never gets off the ground?” All those insecurities flooded our minds, but God supplied the courage to stay this course and see where it would lead.

Two years later, as I now write, Lynley and I have just finished our second go-round of a mid-week marriage class at our church. We have now taken two groups through a five-week crash course on the simple practices that make marriage passionate and purposeful. In no way do we see ourselves as marriage experts, but we have made ourselves marriage students and we are sharing what God is teaching us. This new ministry has been a blast!

Something to consider

I want to challenge you pastors and worship pastors. Have you ever considered how God might be glorified through a shared ministry with your spouse? As important as her support role is, what would happen if the two of you stepped outside your comfort zone and led something together? A mission trip? A small group? A class on a subject that is close to your hearts? The possibilities are endless!

Pastor Jimmy Evans, in his book Our Secret Paradise: Seven Secrets for Building a Secure and Satisfying Marriage, shares insights from couples he’s counseled: “Marriage is about sharing. If you don’t share, it’s not a marriage. … Marriage is about making decisions together. Marriage is about doing things together. What’s really difficult for one person can be easy for two.”

As my wife and I have worked diligently to develop our ministry to married couples, several beautiful things have been born. I want to share those with you, in hopes that you might feel propelled toward closer partnership with your spouse.

The fruits of a shared ministry

We have grown spiritually. I would be preaching to the choir to explain how teachers take home far more than their students. If you’re reading this article, then you’re probably a pastor of some sort. You need no further explanation. God’s Word gains a deeper root when we prepare lesson outlines and rehearse them over and over in the car as we travel to the church. The pressure of presentation is productive.

As Lynley and I have instructed others on the importance of forgiveness, we’ve become better forgivers ourselves. As we have role-played petty arguments and immature responses to conflict, we have better understood Paul’s admonition to “conquer evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). Even our children are benefitting from this ministry as we were now mirroring a godlier model of marriage in our home. God has rewarded us with spiritual growth and progress. As Timothy was told, discernable progress is essential in the ministry (1 Tim. 4:15).

We have become better friends. Everybody says that their spouse is their best friend. That’s the textbook answer, but the reality does not always reflect that response. Best friends are constantly weaving in and out of each other’s worlds. They refuse to silo. In Genesis 2, adam receives Eve and immediately joins up with her. “This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (v. 23). There is no one like her! He wants to draw near to his helpmate.

When a husband and wife work in a ministry together, they grow closer as a team and the relationship gets tighter. In our marriage, this has felt like a belt that has been brought three holes in. Lynley and I were great friends before but we’re better friends now. We see God using our meager gifts to move people forward in their lives, and the church sees pastor and wife giggling, cutting up, and sometimes shedding a tear as we share a heartache or a failure.

We have been inspired to partner in even more ways. Since Lynley and I took on the challenge to co-lead a class, we have also begun praying together before the pitter-patter of little feet in the morning. We have tried to do this in previous years but could never sustain the practice. These days, we’re finding it far easier to pray for the troubled marriages that have come to our attention, for the couple who is wading through infertility, or for that pending tragic divorce. We’re powerless to change marriages. Only God can do that and our mutual ministry has motivated us to pray with greater fervency.

One other way that Lynley and I have learned to partner more closely is in the Pastor’s fellowship Meal that we host at our church every six weeks. This is a small, informal dinner designed to help our visitors feel at home. Instead of me standing behind a lectern and pontificating, my wife and I now sit on stools for the first 30 minutes and share what God has done and is doing in our lives. The last time we gathered, as my wife spoke so freely and confidently, I silently thanked God for increasing her joy, my joy, and our joy in the ministry. We are finding new ways to glorify His name together.

Pastor, I challenge you to pray about a deeper partnership with your mate! It has enriched my life beyond measure.

photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc