ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) — The best ministry teams will experience conflict among leaders, even when all are seeking to do God’s will. Leaders learn to listen, adjust and adapt. When the conflict is with a co-pastor who happens to be a cohabitant, things can be more difficult.
Many Mennonite Church USA pastors serve alongside a spouse. Others work with parents, children or other relatives. The arrangements can be great blessings. They also can be high hurdles to leap.
Though Gladys Maina is the only paid minister at Morning Star Church in Muncie, Ind., her husband, Simon Mungai, is a lay leader who completes the two-person pastoral team. Though both are ordained, they agreed that one of them needed to find a non-pastoral job. Mungai received the first job offer and works as a biostatistician in Indianapolis while Maina stays near the congregation and its outreach ministries, which include a soup kitchen, a food pantry, a clothes closet and other forms of community outreach.
Maina and Mungai worked at joint ministry in their native Kenya before they were married, which helps them communicate now as a couple.
“I don’t think we even have defined roles,” Maina said. “There has never been the issue of who is leading what. It’s always been, simply, ‘What needs to be done?’ And we do it.”
Doing what needed to be done was not always easy for Jonathan Gallardo, who serves on the leadership team at Comunidad Cristiana Vida Abundante (Abundant Life Christian Community) in Cicero, Ill., particularly because his father, Andres, is the church’s founder and head pastor. The younger Gallardo had gone to college to study jazz composition, intending to teach, not preach. He wanted to stay away from church, but God called him back home.
During his years at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Gallardo served with more than 50 churches, either with leadership or music teams. He encountered more than a handful of pastors he deemed strong – scary strong, in some instances. It made him appreciate his father, who while being the unquestioned leader at Vida Abundante, shows more than just strength in leadership, which he often saw pastors use to dominate rather than to shepherd.
“My father is nice. People can walk up and talk to him,” said Gallardo, who called working with his family a blessing. “Now I’ve been able to respect and understand him.”
At one time, there were four Gallardos in paid staff positions at Vida Abundante; now Jonathan is the only one. In his role, he said, he can absorb much of the criticism directed at his father during a current time of congregational transition. The respect contained in their relationship allows him to appreciate his servant-leader role.
Maina said in her community, which is filled with brokenness, her relationship with her husband aids their ministry. When few in the congregation have experienced successful marriages or trusting relationships, they can serve as role models, displaying love and good communication, even when they do not talk at all.
In many cases, the men of the congregation or outreach ministries can speak with Maina, but sometimes they need to talk to a man – Mungai. Passing along someone who needs a counselor is easy, she said. Keeping secrets of their conversations can be more difficult.
“We don’t share with each other without permission,” she said. “He’s my best friend and has been my best friend for 30 years. To keep something from him, especially something heavy on our hearts, to bring it to the Lord and not be able to share with each other, is a challenge. But we want to help people to know that they are safe. What they share is sacred.”
Communication, in whatever form, many couples said, is key in all ministry teams, but sometimes even more important when pastoral disagreements can follow you home. Patrick Preheim, part of a leadership team with his wife, Patty Friesen, at Faith Mennonite Church in Minneapolis, said he and Friesen thought they would work together, but discovered they have different leadership styles. Preheim plans far in advance while Friesen lets things come to her. They have mediated their personalities by separating their responsibilities.
“If I’m invited to help with Patty’s [worship] service, it’s very clear in my mind that it’s Patty’s service and I just do what I’m told,” he said. “If Patty’s worship goes up in flames, we can talk about that. If mine is so structured that we miss an opportunity that the Spirit gives us, we can talk about that. … It’s required learning on my part.”
Bonnie Neufeld of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Ill., said the romantic notion of how wonderful it would be to spend all of your time working with your spouse in ministry can ring true but can also be misleading. She and her husband, Chuck, have found that it works better if they keep largely separate office hours – not because of a lack of love, but because they, like Preheim and Friesen, work differently.
If something must be done, they’ll check in, decide who will handle it and then the other minister will leave it alone.
“There are good things. There is flexibility. You can cover for each other,” Bonnie Neufeld said. “There’s also tremendous potential for ‘winding each other up.’ When that happens, we're pretty good at unhooking and finding ways to relax quickly.”
So the Neufelds take stress breaks and go for walks together when they need to let go. Like the Neufelds, Maina and Mungai often turn to prayer.
She takes the lead at church, but Maina said she leaves spiritual leadership at home to her husband, though Mungai encourages her to contribute as well.
“With two pastors in the house, you preach a lot,” she said. “You have to work hard at keeping a family intact.”
It works, she said, because they both trust in God and have committed to the ministry.
“We have to be understanding of one another and continually pray for each other and give each other leeway to make mistakes,” she said.
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