For the third time this summer, my husband and I have been contacted by church people about being married co-pastors who share one clergy position*. In no particular order of importance, here are some thoughts.
We have been serving this congregation for three years as co-pastors and co-heads of staff. Prior to this call, my husband had served in executive work in the church, as an executive presbyter, and as an interim synod co-executive. Prior to that, he was a lay member of a church staff and before that, a special education teacher. Before taking this call, I had served in a variety of pastoral roles: associate pastor, interim pastor/head of staff, part-time interim co-pastor of a four-point parish, temporary supply solo pastor, part-time interim associate pastor. All of which is to say that we had both served in a variety of roles in church work.
But then our child was going to be in school full-time, and I was itching for something more permanent, and my husband was ready for a different direction of ministry. We agreed that we wanted to be pastors of a congregation. We agreed that we did not want to serve two different churches. We decided (and yes, discerned it as a call) to be co-pastors serving the same congregation.
We applied to twenty congregations, none of which was looking for co-pastors. We heard back positively from two, one of which is the congregation we now serve. We did file with the denomination’s matching system, which matched us twice, once with a three-point parish and once with a two-point parish. Not what we were looking for.
Suggestions for couples looking to serve as co-pastors
1. Do not rely on the denomination’s matching system.
2. Be creative in your cover letter. We used that as a way to extol our virtues without bragging – I wrote about my husband’s gifts for ministry and he about mine. The cover letter is KEY. Use it to (briefly) lay out how you would be co-pastors.
3. Be clear about whether you would share one position and each be part-time or if you want more than that.
4. Once you get your foot in the door, look at the church MIF and using the job description they provide, explain who would do what, and what you would both share.
5. Be realistic about the hours you will work. When we began serving, we were each half-time, and that meant for us each working about 30 hours per week, because some of those are overlap hours. When we are both at a session meeting or leading worship or conducting a wedding or funeral, those are overlap hours. It was our choice to share a position, and the church was not looking for two people.
6. Be honest with each other about the state of your marriage. If you are in a rocky place, serving as co-pastors is no way to strengthen your relationship.
7. Be clear with the search committee about office space. Most churches don’t have a spare office hanging around. We shared one office for two years, which had its pluses and minuses. Let the committee know if you are willing to share an office or if that’s a deal breaker – but wait until you’re into the process.
8. Be clear with each other from the beginning about accountability and critique. When is this person a spouse and when is this person a colleague?
9. Leave domestic things in the domicile. Do not fight with each other at staff meetings, committee meetings, or for God’s sake, in worship. Also, be aware that public displays of affection might make folks uncomfortable. Never kiss each other at a staff meeting. Trust me on that one.
10. Engage the services of a coach, counselor, or therapist to work with you both. If this is the first time you’ve worked together, it will be really helpful to have a neutral third party who is not a part of the church to talk things over with.
Suggestions for committees considering clergy-couple co-pastors
1. Be open to the possibility; a blanket “we won’t consider a clergy couple” might keep you from looking at some great folks.
2. Talk with congregations that have a clergy couple as their co-pastors, and ask good questions about how that’s working.
3. If the couple has served together before, ask about that. If they have not served together before, ask them how they envision dividing the work.
4. While you cannot ask them direct questions about the state of their marriage, look for signs of the health. Our PNC was impressed because we never interrupted each other.
5. On the plus side: when you call a clergy couple, you get a wider diversity of gifts. You get two for one, even if each one is only part-time. There are benefit benefits, too technical to explain here. You get two personalities and working styles. If the couple is heterosexual, you get a woman and a man.
6. On the minus side, when you call a clergy couple you take some risks. The marriage could end. Family crises affect both pastors. They usually take vacations together. If it’s a staff situation, there are now two people in the authority position rather than just one; it could feel overwhelming for other staff members. You might have to find a second office. You might like one better than the other but you’re stuck with both.
7. If you do consider a couple, be clear with them about the time of the position. Is it one position for two half-time people? Is there room to expand – each become three-quarters time or full-time?
8. If you do consider a couple, and if there is/are another pastor/pastors on staff, be clear from the beginning about things like the preaching schedule. If there are two co-pastors and one associate, does the associate then preach less often? Do the co-pastors share equally in preaching? Who superivses whom on staff?
9. Understand that this is a couple who will take vacations together and who may go on study leave together. That’s fine and good.
10. Generally speaking, be as clear as you can as you go deeper into the conversation and ultimately into a call about things. The more clarity there is from the beginning -about time, roles, expectations, job descriptions, office, benefits, other staff members – the better.
So if you would like to talk more or if you’d like to talk with a member of our PNC or the congregation, send me a message. My husband or I would be happy to share with you about our experience, which we love! And we’re grateful to our congregation for taking a chance with us. It’s been a great dance so far!
*Last December, one of the two part-time associate pastors moved on to another call, so now my husband and I are both serving 2/3 time.