how on earth do we partner together in ministry?

There were times I’d sit beside Rich at the front of church biting my nails and wondering what on earth my role in all this leadership stuff was.

You see, I knew we were called to lead together. And I knew that although I could lead, my gifts weren’t primarily about standing at the front of church and leading services or preaching a sermon. But “the church”, and in particular the Sunday morning version of church,  doesn’t necessarily acknowledge, or understand, leadership as anything other than the ability to lead from the front. There are times when leading at the front is necessary and important, regardless of whether or not we find that a comfortable place to occupy. But what I’ve learnt is that leadership is so much more than those few minutes of a week spent at the front of church preaching, teaching or leading services.

So how do a husband and wife, with different gifts, abilities and callings partner together in ministry, particularly when one spouse has a paid “full-time” position and the other doesn’t. When one spouse works for a church it’s very rare that the other spouse isn’t involved at all. But we can choose to what degree or another we actively lead together. You may be a man married to a paid female leader. I’m obviously speaking from the experience of being a female married to a paid male leader but I think the principles I’m talking about are similar, regardless of which spouse is the paid staff member and which isn’t.

So, if one is paid to lead, and the other isn’t, how do we lead together?

By “leading” I’m not talking about the typical “vicars wife” model of flower arranging or serving coffee. These are valuable and important tasks that we may or may not take on. But I’m talking here about how do we, together, take on the responsibility of discipling others?

Rather than thinking of “function” I’ve found it helpful to think about “family”. Leading with a mind-set of “family” has really helped me to grasp the concept of leadership in a whole new way.

Think of a regular biological nuclear family. When children come along, it’s quite common for one parent to maintain a regular job with a focus primarily outwards from the home. The other parent may, or may not, work outside of the home, but their primary focus will be looking inwards towards the family and the home. Obviously there will be varying degrees of this in different families. But we wouldn’t say that the parent primarily focused towards the family is “more of a parent” than the one with the focus outwards from the family. They are both parents of equal stature and responsibility though their specific roles may focus on different things.

It’s the same when we lead a church, or a ministry together. One of the couple has a functional role but we lead the spiritual family together, just as parents lead a biological family together. If only one spouse leads the family they’re functioning a bit like a single-parent. I know several single-parents and they are amazing parents. But they would all say that parenting as a single parent is really hard work. There’s no-one to share the load, there’s no partner to process with, there’s no co-labouring, no-one to pick up the slack and there’s no strengths to complement weaknesses. As married couples, if only one of us leads the spiritual family we don’t get all the benefits of two-parent families, either for ourselves as leaders or for our spiritual kids. As we lead spiritual families we take on the same roles as good parents. We love by leading in both invitation and challenge. We set the family culture of service and sacrifice by modelling that ourselves. We set the rhythms and share our faith. We show people how to look to Jesus when we make mistakes, or when life is difficult.  Our whole lives are about living as disciples and discipling others as we look to Jesus together.  So, we influence and lead others far more by our daily lifestyle, patterns and practices than simply an hour or two on a Sunday morning. (In future posts we’ll explore how to lead extended family if you’re not married, and how to partner with others as you do that.)

It’s important to say here that partnering together is a two-way process. If we’re working for a church, how can we partner with our spouse in their primary focus, whether or not that’s in the workplace, in a specific community or the home. One practical response to this is to invite friends from their work or community into your home and community life together. Rich has always been great at encouraging me to disiple,  and discipling alongside me, those in our local community.  Partnering should always be a two-way process. 

If we want to take our part in a movement of discipleship we all need to ask God “what is my part to play in this?” As partners of paid leaders we may not feel professionally qualified but we are called by God. This is not about being defined by guilt or by “shoulds”, but rather asking God what part He is calling us to play.

I find this a scary place a lot of the time. I naturally shrink back, and let Rich do the “leading”. But actually the times when we are most effective is when we lead together. His strengths are my weaknesses and my strengths are his weaknesses. Our combined “together” is more than our individual strengths and weaknesses. We don’t need to lead in the same way as our partners in order to be effective leaders. In fact our difference to them is our strength. I recall processing this, through floods of tears, with my leader, Sally. I was feeling that in order to lead I needed to somehow be like Rich, or be something or someone else in order to lead.  She gave me some of the most life-giving words anyone has ever said to me: “I just want you to be Anna. I want you to be the Anna that loves God, loves the poor, is compassionate, that loves India, that loves people, loves her kids and is prophetic.  You just need to be that person when you lead. And that is more than enough.” Those words released me to lead in the way that God has called me to lead. When I bring a gentle prophetic challenge or encouragement, when I share stories of how God has used me to share Jesus with someone, when I walk alongside or pray for one of our team, when I write a blog post – all these things are me leading and influencing others, in the unique way God has called me to do it. There’s more for me to step into, but I’m on the journey.

What God has placed in us is enough. It’s enough to start, and as we start God will provide for us in the areas where we lack.

So, in summary, here are three questions to be considering when we’re looking  at partnering together in ministry:

1. Are we thinking in terms of functional roles or leading as family?

2. Do we recognise, and live out, partnering as a two-way process?

3. What is my unique part to play in this?

In my next post I’ll talk about some of the practicalities of how to partner together in ministry.

robinsonsAnna is married to Rich and together the Robinsons lead the 3dm UK team in Sheffield. They have 3 children; Josiah, Esther and Samuel. You can read lots of Anna’s thoughts, reflections and stories on family life by visiting here


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12 replies »

  1. This is really helpful Anna – echoing many of our thoughts and questions as Andy heads towards curacy with a collar and the visible leadership trappings of being a vicar etc! And meanwhile I remain in a position of leadership in the wider regional church, so although nothing changes for me, everything changes! Its a challenge for us to get the family to be the right proportion as obviously both being in paid roles we do have functions to perform. But family comes first and everything else flows from that – both the nuclear and the extended. For us, it is decisions about simple things like sharing doing the school run, making it a priority to be at home between 4 & 7 as many nights as possible & weekend days of 1:1 time with each of our two LO’s. I’m nervous of the vicars wife label – especially as I love to bake! But it’s embracing leadership in all it’s forms and primarily in the way that we live as a family on mission, being flexible in that and redefining it as God is building our new roles and pattern come June. Long comment, processing as I type. Thanks again!

    • yes, Alice, that’s exactly it – embracing leadership in all its forms – and leading out as family on mission rather than performing functional roles. Thanks for commenting, and hope that you and the family are doing well.

  2. Thanks so much for putting into words something that I often find so hard to express and explain to others. I’m married to the one who is paid to do the job and am really encouraged and affirmed by this. Thanks for taking the time to share your journey.

  3. Anna, this is life giving even for those with no paid church role. This spoke to my very soul on a day when I really needed to hear from Him. Thank you for your obedience in sharing this! God’s blessings!!!

  4. Thanks Hettie – glad that you’re encouraged – we really want people to feel encouraged to partner together and be (and do) all that God is calling them into. It’s an exciting, often challenging, (but always worth it) journey!

  5. I am a female pastor, and my husband is the unpaid partner. We have been married almost three years, and I have welcomed him into, celebrated and enjoyed his partnership in ministry. We are co-leading a small group at the moment. We have also written a little devotional booklet together for our congregation. We invite people into our home, hosting dinners for new members, and giving people an opportunity to know us as a couple. My husband has wonderful construction ability, so it is not unusual for him to be heading up some building project at the church while I am working in my office. He brings a strength and protective spirit to my ministry that is immensely supportive and helpful for me. I bring a gentleness and compassion that can help bring balance for him. I find that together we have so much more to offer than either of us is able to contribute on our own. My ministry has been enhanced and has grown because of my spouse.

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