The Goal of Ecumenism: Why and How to be One

I. Introduction
Paul rebuked the Corinthians for claiming the names of Apollos and himself rather than Jesus, with a stinging question: “Has Christ been divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13). One look around the ecclesiastical landscape with churches and denominations bearing different names invites the same question: Does the present state of the church present Christ as divided?
 
The ecumenical movement began with the assumption that, indeed, something is wrong about the present state of the church’s unity. What then is the task of ecumenism? All share the conviction that “it is not the task of the ecumenical movement...to create unity between the churches, but rather to give form to the unity already created by God.”[1] This paper will consider the two dominant positions regarding the proper form of ecumenism, namely, “reconciled diversity” and “organic reunion.”

Seminary Papers

What you'll find below are several of the better papers and sermons that I wrote in seminary. You may find them stimulating, incomprehensible or alarming, but they are indeed my thoughts. There are a few on what the church is meant to do and be, one looking to John(the gospel writer) and his school for wisdom on the current crises about splitting churches, one attempting to articulate what it takes to translate the gospel into a different culture and two struggling with Presbyterian doctrines (the sovereignty of God and predestination/election). There is also one on the tragedy of war and another on how to not be blind to Jesus. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to comment.

Unity and Purity in Johannine Ecclesiology: Searching for Johannine Insights for Churches in Crisis

I. Introduction
Many mainline churches are currently on the brink of a fracture over the issue of the place of homosexuals in the life of the church, among other issues. My own denomination, the PC(USA), commissioned a “Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church” whose very name highlights the nature of its inquiry: “How do we mediate between the mandates of scripture that the Church model both unified peace and behavioral and doctrinal purity?”
This is not a new question, but one as old as the Christian church itself. This document is an attempt to seek the wisdom of the experiences and texts of the Johannine community in answer to this question.

II. Why Ask John?
As we seek Johannine wisdom on this subject, one might wonder, “Why ask John?” In answer to this, let us consider the story of John and his community.

War, Peace & Tragedy in David's Life

It's a question that the Bible, it seems, doesn't answer: Why couldn't David build the temple?  

Looking for an answer?  Read on. 

After the two hobbits, in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee and Frodo Baggins return from their heroing and violence-filled trip to destroy the Ring of power by casting it into the molten core of Mount Doom, the trilogy winds down with a scene that is far from a simplistic happy ending. It is almost too-honest. Frodo tells Sam that he is going to leave Middle Earth, and the Shire, forever, and set sail to the Undying Lands.

"But," said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, "I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done."

"So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them."
The Return of the King: The Grey Havens, p. 209.

The Shire has healed from these terrible times, but Frodo has not, and so Frodo can not stay. He can not enjoy the Shire as he once did, because he can never return to his innocence. This is the tragedy of Frodo’s heroic journey.

Recently we celebrated Veteran’s Day, a time to remember the sacrifices of all those who have served in our country's military seeking the peace and freedom that we enjoy.

Some lost their lives. Many of these soldiers returned from wars with medals, and stripes. But many more returned with the scars of war. Scars on their bodies and scars on their souls. Amputated limbs and amputated hearts.

According to the statistics 55,000 Americans lost their life in Vietnam. Since that time twice that number -- 110,000 Vietnam veterans -- have committed suicide.

A while back I was on the phone with a college roommate of mine. He is a 1st Lieutenant in the Army and was sent to Iraq just months after being married . He served there for almost a year. He told me about the bizarre and terrifying effect of being shot at, of seeing dead bodies, of having friends die. He has been back for more than a year now and he told me that he still wakes up overwhelmed with the fear that he is under attack, that someone is trying to kill him.

More dramatically, one of my classmates was telling me about his uncle, who after returning from Vietnam was so distressed by what he had experienced there that he would wake up in the middle of the night terrified, and throw his wife onto the floor.

These are the tragedies of war.

In 1 Chronicles 22:6-10 we encounter David, grappling with the tragedy of war in his life.
David is nearing the end of his life. He has enjoyed God’s blessing and apart from some significant errors, has remained faithful and humble before the Lord. God has given him great success over his enemies. As David begins to face his mortality, he sets his mind on his legacy, focusing on two things, the continuation of his kingdom and the building of a magnificent temple to for YHWH, his God.

1 Chronicles 22:6 – 10
6 Then he called for his son Solomon and charged him to build a house for the LORD, the God of Israel. 7 David said to Solomon: "My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the LORD my God. 8 But this word of the LORD came to me: 'You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. 9 But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, [a] and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. 10 He is the one who will build a house for my Name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.'

David finds his son Solomon in the courtyard of his palace, puts his arm around his son Solomon, and says, “There is something I want to tell you” and he leads him into his private chambers. David sits on his couch, and Solomon sits next him cautiously, feeling a mixture of eagerness and fear, curious what his father will say.

As David gets ready to speak he thinks back to that day 20 years ago now when he was reclining on this very couch, relishing the aroma of his cedar house, overflowing with gratitude for all that God had given him, for his remarkable military successes, for his children, for God’s covenant with him. That day he was overflowing with joy, and felt compelled to go worship at tabernacle. When he stepped out of his house, and saw the tent of the tabernacle he was overcome with guilt... “How can I live in a house of cedar, while the ark of the covenant of God is in a tent?” he thought to himself. 

At the prophet Nathan’s encouragement, David had begun preparations for a glorious temple for the Lord. But that night David woke up to see Nathan rushing into his bedroom. He sat at attention. Then Nathan spoke words on God’s behalf that crushed David’s dream: “You shall not build me a house to live in.” Those words rung in David’s ears as he now sat before his son Solomon. “You shall not build me a house to live in.”

Now, sitting before his son David began to speak. “My son, I had planned to build a temple for the Lord, but God spoke to me and this is what God told me, he said “David, you have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me. But I will give you a son who will be a man of peace, I will give him a peaceful reign, and his name will be Solomon, for his shall be a reign of shalom. He will build a house for me.”



I wonder if when Solomon heard these words as joyful? Or maybe Solomon detected sadness, and disappointment in his father’s voice?

David can not build God’s temple. David, who was a man after God’s own heart, Israel’s greatest king, can not build God’s temple.

Have you ever been unable to do something you wanted so deeply? Maybe even something that you wanted to do to God’s glory?

The natural question to ask in these circumstances is “Why, Lord?”.

Why, Lord, can I not get into medical school? Why, Lord, can I not get that job? Why, Lord, can I not marry that person? Why, Lord, can I not give birth to a child? Why, Lord, can I not serve you in that position of leadership? Why, Lord, am I limited by this disability? Why, Lord, can I not build you a temple? Why, Lord, can I not enter the promised Land?

I picture Moses, in the last days of his life, standing atop Mt. Nebo, gazing over the promised land longing to be there, with the words of God ringing in his ears “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” And Moses died on that mountain, never setting foot in the promised land. Now, there was a clear reason why Moses could not enter the promised land, Moses had sinned. But what about David? Why couldn’t David build the temple? Had he sinned?

The Book of 1 Kings suggests that David was not able to build the temple because he was too busy fighting off enemies. But the Chronicler doesn’t offer this explanation. Instead, he sees a different connection between war and this inability to build the temple.

David repeats to Solomon God’s words: “you have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me”. The redundancy makes it emphatic, but not necessarily clear.

We know that it is the blood, not the busyness of war that is the problem.
But, why does David’s bloodshed in war prohibit him from building God’s temple?
I must admit, when I first came to this text looking for a sermon, I thought I had found biblical grounds for denouncing war as unacceptable to God. I thought it was obvious that God was punishing David for a warmongering reign. Maybe I was even more attracted to this reading because of the current state of our national politics.

But as I sat reading, looking for commentators to back to me up...I came across something that was rather unsettling. Instead of finding that the Chronicler was a virtual anti-war protester, I discovered that throughout the Chronicles, he gives the distinct impression that David was fighting God’s wars. Throughout the volume David is constantly being blessed by God in battle. It says that “the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went”. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed, but even more disturbed.

So it wouldn’t work to blame David for his wars as a moral fault. This is simply not what the Chronciler is suggesting. I could not attribute this restriction to a moral fault of David.

David was not guilty!
 
But there must be some connection between the blood David shed in war and God’s restriction. The text is clear: his war and bloodshed disqualify him.

I believe the connection we are looking for is in ritual purity laws. Numbers 31 commands soldiers returning from battle, those who had killed someone, or touched a corpse, to stay outside the camp for seven days, and to do purity rituals on the 3rd and 7th days. So there is some precedent for believing that war has a way of making warriors impure. David was not guilty but he was dirty.
But this isn’t a very satisfying answer, because these men of war were eventually purified and returned to the life of the community.

Why could David not be purified?! This creates a problem for me!! How could it be that David is restricted from building God’s temple, when all he had done was fight God’s wars? How could God support David’s wars and then tell him that they disqualified him for building the temple?
There is no real satisfying answer to this troubling question. It is simply the tragedy of David’s life.
A Commentator captures this dilemma: “David’s wars were God’s wars...The Davidic wars were waged at God’s command, with his explicit help and blessing. Moreover, through these very wars Israel achieved the condition of “peace and quiet”...

“However necessary these wars may have been for the fulfillment of God’s plan for Israel, the objective fact remained that blood was shed; this, according to Chronicles, was David’s paradoxical and tragic flaw.” (Japhet)

Even as God’s obedient servant, God’s warrior, David had become unclean.
David was not guilty, but he was dirty. And that dirtiness, prevented him from fulfilling one of his greatest, and most noble dreams...building the temple of God.  What tragedy.

Life is that way. You live and you get dirty. Even if you live in obedience to God, you get dirty. War is perhaps one of the dirtiest things in life. And our dirt limits us.
We are limited by our experiences, our relationships, our choices, the choices of others, our genders, our bodies, our injuries, our IQ’s, our socio-economic standing.
Life is dirty and our dirt limits us and there is deep tragedy in that.
But even in the face of these tragic limitations, God offers consolation.
Hear God’s words of hope to David:
9 See, a son shall be born to you; he shall be a man of peace. I will give him peace from all his enemies on every side; for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give shalom and quiet to Israel in his days. 10 He shall build a house for my name. He shall be a son to me, and I will be a father to him, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.’

God’s promise about Solomon is not a taunt to David, but a great word of hope.
God’s blessing and covenant will be with Solomon. God will adopt him as son, even as he had adopted David as son. Solomon will build a house for the name of the Lord, and God will establish his kingdom. God’s offer of hope does not deny the tragic truth of today, but it looks to the future. It is a redemptive view.
 
Remember Frodo’s words to Sam: “I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them." He looked beyond his own tragic loss of the Shire forever and found consolation in knowing that he had given many others the chance to enjoy it.

How is God directing your eyes to the future and toward the benefit of others? What is God’s offer of hope to you? Where is God’s consolation?

Could it be God who makes successful and generous businessmen of those who couldn’t get into medical school? Could it be God who provides dear friends to the single? Could it be God who offers adoption to the infertile? Could it be God who allows us to encourage those who have suffered what we have suffered? Could it be God who allows us to care for and mentor those who will do what we can not? Could it be God who allows us to look out at the promised land, and to train others who will lead God’s people as they cross over? Could it be God who allowed David to win peace and great wealth and give him a son, so that he might build God’s temple?

It could. It could.

Life is unavoidably full of tragedy for us.

But just as sure as tragedy is God’s persistent and redemptive offer of consolation.
May we learn to see God’s consolation when our dreams remain unfulfilled.
Why, Lord, must we face the tragedies of life? Perhaps we may never know. But we praise you for your redemptive consolation.

Give us eyes to see it, and hearts to receive it.

Related Post
Lord, Save us from the American Patriot's Bible

Contextualization in Kenyan Contexts

“Driving in Kenya is organic,” said Rev. Francis Omundi as we entered one of the numberless crowded roundabouts of Nairobi. Indeed, the lines of travel on a Kenyan road bear more resemblance to the growth of trees, due to epidemic potholes, than to the routes taken by Western drivers on their well-paved roads. Regardless of your background, if you want to drive in Kenya, you must learn to drive organically; whatever your destination, whatever your vehicle, you must drive as a Kenyan.
The same principle, when applied in the field of missions, is known to scholars as contextualization. The presentation of a culturally-relevant and faithful gospel is the task of missions. In this paper I will consider the task of missiology with respect to cultural adaptation as well as

That the World May Know: Newbigin’s Eschatological Ecclesiology of Mission and Unity

I. Introduction
What if we placed our thinking about the church within the grand narrative of God’s ongoing redemptive work in the world? What if we defined the church not by what it has been, or even by what it is, but by that end to which it moves? The answers to these questions can be found in the ecclesiology of Lesslie Newbigin. Newbigin, who began articulating a vision for the church while he was a missionary in South India, has had enormous and irreversible impact on contemporary ecclesiology. His insights were instrumental in the early decades of the World Council of Churches, and even show up in the documents of Vatican II.
This paper will attempt to encapsulate the major elements of Newbigin’s ecclesiology. 

Satan and Sovereignty

I am a Presbyterian; an Evangelical-Charismatic-Presbyterian to be exact. As you surely know, Presbyterianism is founded on Calvinism, which has at its core a belief in God’s Sovereignty. John Calvin speaks of God’s sovereign providence as the decisive will in all events, even those enacted by Satan. For some time now I have been trying to reconcile this belief with my personal experiences with the awful reality of the evil Satan causes: theft, death and destruction. Could it really be that these things are ultimately caused by God?
This paper begins with a personal encounter with demonization that served to drive me into the question at the center of this writing. Namely, given the freedom and influence of Satan in this world, how can I affirm God’s sovereignty? I will survey biblical testimony regarding the authority of Satan and juxtapose this to the biblical testimony on God’s sovereignty. I will then consider differing perspectives on the sovereignty of God and conclude with a definition of God’s sovereignty that accounts for Satan’s activity.

Two Pastors Under One Roof and Steeple: Dual Clergy Couples Talk

I. Introduction
Two callings were long considered incompatible in the Christian Church: Ordained ministry and marriage. While the Protestant Reformation made marriage possible for ordained men, it was only relatively recently that women, too, have been widely ordained. Women’s ordination set the stage for the phenomenon of dual-clergy couples: husbands and wives who are both ordained ministers and both working in ministry.
My wife and I are a part of this phenomenon, at least we hope to be after our upcoming graduation from seminary. Ever since our engagement, others have taken it upon themselves to both announce what a “dynamic team” we will be and to warn us of the challenges of life as a clergy couple. Perhaps the first challenge of the clergy couple life is finding employment, and this is the present one for us. With this in mind, I determined to equip myself with a list of the advantages clergy couples give to churches, so as woo nervous committees.
This essay has grown out of my attempts to understand the advantages and challenges of dual-clergy couples both for themselves and for the ministries that they serve. Several questions will be considered: What are the stories of clergy couples regarding their employment and family life? What advantages are there for churches who employ one or two members of a clergy couple? What disadvantages do clergy couples present for churches? What advantages are there for clergy who are married to clergy with whom they may work? What challenges does clergy coupledom pose for the couples themselves and their families? In closing, I will briefly suggest what help the insights gained from these interviews may offer.

II. Method and Participants
Given that little research has been done in this area, I began with the simplest method: interviewing clergy couples to whom I had accessibility, whether locally or through prior contact. I interviewed members of four clergy couples, three of which work together in the same church, and one in which the husband and wife serve different churches. Two of my interviews were with both members of the couple, and two were with only the male member. Each of the clergy couple members work in PC(USA) churches and are ordained, with the exception of one spouse who is ordained in some other way, but who nonetheless serves the Presbyterian Church with her ordained Presbyterian husband.
The agreement among these clergy couples regarding some of the pros and cons of their lives and careers makes me hopeful that their experiences are somewhat reflective of many like them. On the other hand, some of the comments made in interviews seemed to be speculative. That is, some of the interviewees at times seemed to be speculating on potential advantages and disadvantages that they had not yet personally seen play out.

III. The Paths of Clergy Couples
The common denominator among the couples interviewed is that each of their members is currently serving the church. I asked each couple to tell me about their journey from the time that they met to the present. I will represent their stories briefly and anonymously.
Bill and Betty married before their senior years in seminary and decided to look for different calls because, in their own words, “we were too competitive and thought it would be too hard to have every waking moment together.” Bill accepted a call as an Associate Pastor in another region of the country and they moved. Betty was called as a chaplain for a retirement community locally a few months later. A couple of years later they had their first child and Betty quit her job to care for the child. She regularly volunteered to preach locally and many times was the first woman to preach in those churches. She became the chaplain at the local hospice. The couple moved when Bill became a solo-pastor in another town, and they had their second child. They spent five years there.
During that time Betty was looking after the two kids and running the Christian Education program at Bill’s church. Their next move was to Betty’s call as an Associate Pastor in another town. While there, Bill served as her volunteer. “We switched roles,” she said. During this time, Bill was driving a schoolbus and was considering a Ph.D. Betty’s church was led by a clergy couple team which got them thinking about working together. They took their first co-pastorate on the East coast, splitting a single position in which they served together for seven years. During that time they both got D. Min. degrees, Betty starting her's first, and Bill beginning his just before she completed her's. In 1999 they left the East coast and moved out West, where they currently share senior leadership, both working ¾ time, at the same church.
Jill and Gary met during college. Gary recruited Jill to help lead a YoungLife club. After getting married and graduating from seminary with M.Div’s they split an Assistant Pastor for Adult Education position and Gary earned a Th.M during the first two of three years there. They moved states to split a position for five years as Associate Pastor for Discipleship Development at another church. With the birth of their third child, they moved to Europe for three years and Jill parented as Gary earned a Ph.D. Jill and Gary moved back and took positions as co-pastors, still each working ½ time. After seven years, they moved to another co-pastorate, in which they are currently serving.
Rick and Diane met in seminary, but did not begin dating until several months before graduation. Because they were not ready for marriage, they “began to look for a situation where one of us would be permanent and the other wouldn’t because we didn’t know what this would look like.” Diane took the ‘permanent’ call to serve as a Jr. High Pastor at a large church and Richard took a year-long residency position in another department of the church. After this period, they got married and Rick took at 10 hr/wk internship at a church nearby and helped out as the super-Junior High volunteer at Diane’s church. Eventually Rick was hired and ordained as an Associate Pastor at the church he was interning at and they continue to serve in these two churches. Diane just had a child and is still on leave. While they have no immediate plans for either of them to change positions, Rick told me “I don’t know that long term the two churches thing is sustainable.”
Fred was an intern with the college program at a large church when he first met Gayle, a freshman. They didn’t start dating until a few years later when Fred finished seminary. They became engaged after Gayle had begun seminary and they were married while she was still a seminarian. Fred had taken a position as youth pastor. Gayle worked in another department of the church. When they had kids, Gayle quit her job for a few months and then picked up part-time work outside of the church. Eventually she took a Parish Associate position in church different from where Fred continued to serve as youth pastor. Fred changed positions to Adult Ministries, then New Ministries, and Gayle came on staff with him at that point in a non-ordained position. For the last year they have been leading a church plant with 200 members from the church that Fred has been serving for 18 years.
While the sample is too small to make any observations without hesitancy, there are some similarities in these stories that are worth noticing. First, there seems to be a general movement, over time, in each of these couples toward working together. Also similar is the way in which the arrival of children seems to disrupt the women’s careers more than the men’s careers. Two of the couples took advantage of the extra-time afforded to them by splitting single positions to pursue further academic study. In each story there was at some point along the line, one member who was officially under the authority of the other, either because they were in a subordinate position or because they were volunteering.

IV. Advantages for the Church and Ministries
In the following sections I will list and discuss the themes that arose from my interviews, noting how many couples expressed the sentiment. They are generally in the order of expressed most often, to expressed least often.

Collective Wisdom
The first universally mentioned advantage is the collective wisdom that informs work of each member. Whether the clergy couple works together or in separate churches, each member has a theological reflection partner to help them make good decisions in their ministries. One couple said “they get a lot of experience talking to experience” and “extra wisdom.” Another said “Having a spouse who is also a minister, at some level means that you have present with you another subject-matter expert that is conversant on these issues...a sort of in-house consultant...”. One pastor talked about how, even when his wife was doing women’s ministry, his thoughts were helpful to her, because “we’re both are pretty good editors of the others work.” Hiring a member of a clergy couple means that you have not only hired an individual with theological training, but someone equipped with a partner who can help them reflect even more deeply, hence more wisdom and creativity will be applied to the churches needs.
More Work Accomplished
The second universally acknowledged advantage for churches hiring members of clergy couples is that more work is accomplished. It is important to note that there are variations on this theme. Some pointed out that when a clergy couple splits a single position, they do more work than a single person could. One said, ““Obviously, you put in more hours. We share a job. They get more than one person by us sharing a job.”
Another pastor pointed out the way in which the flexibility of the pastoral schedule allows them each, as two full-time employees, to be more engaged in their ministry: “I can cover, you know, she gets a retreat, speaking at a retreat...because I’m flexible I...change my plans and she’s able to be there and vice versa.... So I think the advantage is we’ve probably been a lot more present for the ministries we’ve been involved with than we would have otherwise...”
The third way in which a clergy couple lends itself to more work being accomplished is that even when only one person is officially on duty, if the other is present, they are likely to be also doing ministry, perhaps as a volunteer. One pastor told me about this: “there have been times where one of us is attending a worship service where the other is preaching [and]...there’s somebody in need or in crisis and we end up meeting with them, praying with them, counseling with them.”
In summary, there are three ways that clergy couples get more work accomplished. First, and most obviously, clergy couples splitting a single position do more than a single person could. Second, clergy couples each with their own full-time positions are able to accomplish more because their spouses flexible schedule assists. Third, when one member of a clergy couple is working, often the other ends up doing volunteer ministry.

Higher Quality of Work
Three out of the four couples also suggested that clergy couples do higher quality work because, when working together, they are able to delineate tasks based on gifting. One pastor told me, “The parts that I don’t like that [my wife] does get done immensely better. My stewardship campaign sucks, but [my wife’s] doesn’t. They’re really good because she loves stewardship.” Another said, similarly, “I’m not really good in the hospital...I’m really pretty mediocre. [my wife] is that tremendously!... [but] we don’t let her touch anything having to do with money...cause she’d just lose it.” Even when a couple is in different churches, they are able to enhance one another’s quality of work: “there’s been times when...[my wife] has come by [my] church, come into the office because I’ve had this thing that I don’t really want to do...[and I’ll say] ‘hey, help me with this one,’ and vice versa.”
Diversity
Three couples mentioned the advantage provided by the diversity of ministry style and gender. “It’s two of us, you can pick who you want to talk to,” said one female pastor, to which her husband added, “That’s a huge advantage for the church members. Huge.” In a similar vein, the presence of both a woman and a man provides diversity. Another couple said, “Having a male to relate to, having a female to relate to, just that in it self is huge.” The variety in preaching styles and male or female directed illustrations is also something that can be “a real gift to the church.”

Other Advantages
Other advantages that came up were each mentioned by two couples. The first advantage is the model which the presence of a public marriage and family can provide: “I think our marriage is a witness to other people, the way we relate to one another.” The final advantage for churches was the financial advantage that results from the structure of the Board of Pensions benefits program: “it can be economically advantageous to [the church] in the sense that you don’t have to pay benefits on two people, you have to pay benefits on one and [for the other] you got an employee with out having to pay benefits.”

V. Disadvantages for the Church and Ministries
Asking clergy couples to come up with disadvantages for churches in having them on staff is probably not the most effective way of identifying these. Perhaps this is because clergy couples have had to spend their energies convincing churches of the benefits and ignoring the legitimate difficulties that hiring clergy couples create. Nonetheless, several disadvantages did arise.
Vacation Absences
When two pastors from different families work at a church, one is often covering for the other, especially if the other goes on vacation. When the pastors are married to each other, they go on vacation together. “Even though you’ve got two ministers, you’ve got to have somebody come in [to preach] cause we’re going go together.” This same downside was admitted by three of the couples.

Hard to Replace
The two couples that share time and a half talked about the flipside of the advantage of more work being done by a clergy couple splitting a position. What this means is that when the time comes for them to move on, they will be hard to replace. “I think it would be hard to be a single person following a clergy couple, because we do work more...”

Power Dynamics
Two couples talked about the complicating power dynamics that clergy couples can create on a staff. “I can conceive of a time in which someone would need to talk to one pastor about another pastor, not in a gossipy or godless chatter kind of way but in a, sort of, ‘hey help me with this’... ‘I don’t know what to do with this, [the other pastor] said this, what do you think she means by that?’ If [the other pastor] and I were married...it’d be hard...” Another couple talked about how a Senior Pastor might feel threatened by an associate position split by a clergy couple: “I think that Associate Pastors can really be a threat to Senior Pastor...here you are you have husband and wife, and you, and now you’re ahead of them [in authority], but boy...they influence a lot of relationships and they control a lot of ministry and so I think there is a wariness of some senior pastors for that...”

Other Disadvantages
There were several other disadvantages that were mentioned just once. One pastor stated that if you hire both members of a clergy couple full-time and they have children, you will get less hours out of them than you would from two individuals. One couple acknowledged the impact of the marital relationship on ministry: “..it always becomes evident.” There is some risk when you know that “almost always if you end up divorced, you’ll end up losing the church.” One couple lamented how clergy couples sometimes subtly expect increases in pay and positions for spouses. One pastor suggested that if a pastor’s spouse is also a pastor then they have no connection to the secular world through their spouse’s career: “If you were married to someone that was a salesman, you’d have all this input from a whole other sphere.” Finally, it was suggested that you would probably get less theological diversity from a couple than you would from two individuals because generally people marry someone with a similar outlook.

VI. Advantages for the Couple and Family
Understanding, Intimacy and Respect
One advantage for the clergy couple itself stood out above all others. Clergy couples believe that because they are both theologically trained and in ministry they have a deepened understanding of, intimacy with, and respect for their spouses. Part of this relates to their understanding regarding the pastoral lifestyle. One couple said, “I think there is a huge advantage, just having two clergy married to each other because it’s such a weird lifestyle.” Others mentioned how it inhibited resentment: “I think there is more peace in the marriage because...the church as mistress, or as...slave master...you still have to fight against it, but it doesn’t become the demon quite so quick...because they understand it”; “If you’re married to someone who also gets relational ministry...she’s gonna be your partner in that...Often ministers spouses can be in a place where they resent [the intrusions of relational ministry].”
Another aspect of the primary advantage for the clergy couple is intimacy and partnership. One couple shared that as a clergy couple “you have this shared Christian life, shared priorities, you have shared values...we’re growing in Christ together...” As partners you avoid having the typical pastors spouse who “can get so bitter cause they know all the scoop and have no clout to do anything about it. And I think when you’re...together in this, you feel it together, but you can find the way out together too.” There is also an important benefit of respect in the clergy couples because they value what their spouses are investing their lives in: “I respect her as a pastor so much because what I care about in my own life is being a pastor...the thing that matters to me the most is what I respect her for and I think that builds a different kind of respect.”

Flexibility
The second most popular answer to “What advantages are there for you as a couple or family?” was “flexibility.” The flexibility of the shared pastoral life was what led one couple to it: “Sharing one job has allowed us to...not have other [child care] providers, it has been [my husband] or it has been me and that has been great.” One pastor told me that flexibility is a huge bonus because it usually allows at least one parent to make it to the kids events. Even for couples without kids, the flexibility is a plus.

Congregational Support
Members from two different clergy couples mentioned relational support as one of the benefits of clergy couple life for them and their families. “The upside [of working in separate churches] is there are a whole lot of people, there are two communities that are caring for us, encouraging us, providing for us, loving on us...” This relational investment is also a benefit to the children: “I asked one of my kids a little while ago...who his best friends were and the first three were over 30 years old, cause it was people who had taken an interest in them from church.”

Spiritual Partnership
Just as having someone else around that is trained theologically is an aid to ministry it is also an aid for the pastors themselves as spiritual beings, said two couples. “For our spiritual life together to have somebody who—I can be reading something or studying scripture and say, you know, “I was looking though this, and this is kind of exciting”, “I’ve been wrestling” or “What do you think about this?” to be able to have someone who is familiar with different theologians, different fallacies of thinking, that’s really fun.”

Other Advantages
Other advantages for the couple were mentioned only once. While it may make others on the church staff uncomfortable, the extra portion of power that a clergy couple has is a benefit in their eyes. “A Benefit for the Pastor of a clergy couple is it’s really hard to work around two of us...when you’ve got Pastors at a Session and you got two Pastors at Session to know what’s going on, to know what the agenda is and play good cop/bad cop and reframe it. I mean, it’s really hard to get stuff around us...it’s a very powerful thing.” Even as a couple splitting an associate position, the two have more influence than any other single Associate.
One member of a clergy couple saw it as an advantage in the interviewing process to often be able to present the idea of a clergy couple to the Pastor Nominating Committee because by doing that “you’re pastoring that group from the beginning.” One pastor suggested that kids benefit from having two pastors for parents in that somehow this lessens the ridicule they get from other kids because “when they find out that both parents are pastors it’s a novelty thing, it like, ‘I don’t know how to categorize that now,’ so actually I think he’s had less...” This same pastor suggested that all the premarital counseling he and his wife does together “has been a really great blessing to our marriage because we’ve got to be honest...it’s like constant marital counseling.”

VII. Disadvantages for the Couple and Family
Demands of Church Work
The most cited disadvantage of clergy couple life for the family is the high demands of church work and how they encroach on family time. This idea was echoed in the voices of all four couples: “You can’t get away”; ““It’s hard to get away from the ministry”; “It can own you, it’ll be all you do”; “the church is insatiable.” The consuming nature of pastoral work leaves one couple saying, “We’ve got church and we’ve got kids and that is sum total of our lives.” The stress is persistent: “Every 168 hours at least one of you has to prepare a sermon.” One pastor commented that little spare time is the flipside to the blessing of flexibility. He gave me an idea of his hours early in ministry: “I was probably 80+ hours before kids and then with kids I cut back to probably 50 or 60 hours.”[1]

No Shared Worship
While one couple pointed out the spiritual advantages for the clergy couple above, two mentioned the spiritual detriment. One said, “It’s hard to worship together.” Another said similarly, “Worship together is rare.” This second pastor, who works in a different church than his wife, qualified this as a disadvantage saying that every pastor has this disadvantage, so it is not unique or heightened for clergy couples. This couple finds that their “spiritual growth dynamic has to come from places outside the church...cause we’re not hearing the same sermons...we’re not expressing our faith in the same ministries.”

Isolation
The nature of pastoral ministry also can tend to isolate the clergy couple relationally, though I do not believe this is unique to clergy couples. “There are no trusted friends,” said one couple. A second couple expressed a similar sentiment regarding the “bubble” of their isolation.

Disadvantages for the Kids
Two of the couples discussed the specific disadvantages for the kids. It is common knowledge that it is tough being a pastor’s kid, but one couple said while expectations of perfection have faded away, expectations of participation remain because church members and staff still think “that maybe [the pastor] valued...activities less if [their] kids weren’t signed up.” Two parents worn out from the demands of church work have less to give their kids in terms of energy. Parents often show up late for kids events, and the kids are often stuck at church waiting for their parents to finish talking to someone after the service. Kids of clergy couples also run the risk of being “immunized” to the gospel “because they see the ugly side [of the church].”

VIII. Additional Themes
Several other ideas came up in number of my interviews that I think are worth considering even though they are not responses to the questions about advantages and disadvantages.

Not Serving As Liaison
Two couples told me about how intentional they are in avoiding triangling, or serving as a liaison for others to their spouse and two others hinted at it. If a member comes to one pastor with a question about something the other is responsible for the one pastor says “that’s a very nice question, go talk to [my husband].” Another couple defers attempts to triangle by saying, “If he said something that hurt you, you should talk to [him].” I also encountered this resistance to serve as the spouse’s liaison while scheduling interviews. One pastor, while accepting the request for he and his wife to be interviewed told me he “should know better” than to accept something for her. Another pastor lived this out, telling me she was willing, but that I had to talk to her husband first, and I would have to call him myself.

The Importance of Being Equally Yoked
One couple I spoke with was emphatic that “you have to have equal speaking gifts to be a clergy couple” because those are the gifts that show who has power. A pastor from a different couple said the same thing: “If one pastor can preach and the other can’t...then it can be tough...‘Oh we love having Billy here, and Sandy’s really nice.’ Preaching is probably the place where this most manifests itself...” A pastor from a third couple talked about how it really unfortunate for the church and the couple when one of the pastors is liked more or better suited for the church.

Boundaries
Three of the four couples made some reference to the role of boundaries in their pastoral lives. The rule in one family, which any of the kids could tell you, was “never talk about family...even to family.” Boundaries, while important, are hard to enforce said one couple who also expressed one boundary emphatically: “I have very strong boundaries surrounding my house. It’s not open!” Another couple talked about how church-talk was off limits after 8pm. This same couple shared that they did a fine job of boundaries for themselves, but it was their kids who they forgot to consider: “our kids had a lot of boundary issues that we needed to learn to be sensitive to.” A pastor from a third couple disparaged those who come out of seminary so determined to set boundaries that they stifle relational work.

It’s a Unique Calling – Know Thyself
The idea that doing ministry as a clergy couple is the best thing a couple can do was repudiated several times. One couple said, “You can have a fabulous marriage and not be able to work together.” Another said, “We happen to compliment each other in our likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses and there are couples who can’t do what we do.” A pastor from a third couple stressed that while some couples “are wired that they can absolutely share a position” others should steer clear. He urged, “Know thyself. Know how you guys relate and what situations are gonna be successful and then give yourself flexibility to change cause you don’t know it until you see it.”

Woman Members of Clergy Couples
Twice interviewees hinted that clergy couple life had been more difficult for the women. I asked two male pastors individually, what their wives would add to the conversation and they gave me similar answers. The first said “My wife would say: “It can own you, it’ll be all you do,” and then went on to say why he did not mind the consuming nature of ministry. The second replied, “She probably would have said I painted it too rosy...cause its harder on the mom.” This pastor attributed the added difficulty for his wife to an instinct of children to prefer mom to dad, but shortly thereafter wanted to say that it is not necessarily harder on the moms but on the one who is working less hours for the church.
I noticed something else about the women of the clergy couples I interviewed—they were strong women. In the two interviews with couples, both women did noticeably more of the talking. One of the husbands identified his wife as “one of the original women’s libbers.” He also jokingly suggested that when there is conflict he just gives in rolls over: “Do I want a little love, or do I care about the mission budget...”. One of the pastors I interviewed alone told me he and his wife never self-identified as a “clergy couple” partially because of his impression of “clergy couples”: “I don’t want to say prideful, but it was a big deal. You know, the woman was really concerned about being considered equal with the man and the man was...really liked the church game...kind of liked the church politics thing.” It seems that often the women members of clergy couples are strong, confident, outspoken women.

IX. Concluding Thoughts
This brief and tentative sample of insights on the facets of clergy couple ministry and life may offer something to three groups of people.
First, it may offer some guidance to churches. If they are deliberating over whether to hire a clergy couple, they may be enticed by the promise of increased volume and quality of work, the diversity of genders or the collective wisdom that each member brings. On the other hand, they may prefer to hire two pastors who can cover for one another during vacation times, or feel that a clergy couple would be a power threat.
To churches with clergy couples these insights can engender both understanding and appreciation. Seeing the dangers of the insatiable church for the clergy couple family should help congregations understand the boundaries which the couples set. Perhaps the congregations also will learn to appreciate the diversity, wisdom and models that they are afforded in addition to the more commonly recognized financial and workload benefits of clergy couples.
Second, these insights may be helpful to couples in seminary together. If they are considering whether to look for jobs in the same of different churches, they will want to know that some couples find serving two-churches unsustainable, especially once children enter the picture, and also the apparent trend of clergy couples toward one church over the course of their lives. Seminary couples will want to know the importance of being equally-yoked as well as the high stress, and congregational support they could expect as a clergy couple.
Third and finally, perhaps these insights will be helpful to those already serving as clergy couples. By being able to identify the benefits of their own careers, as well as its disadvantages may prove to empower them to take advantage of the advantages, and be proactive about it’s dangers. If they are not already allowing their ministries to be informed by the wisdom of their spouse, they may want to be intentional in doing this so as to enhance their work. If they are not benefiting from the blessing of having a spiritually mature journeying partner, they may want to set aside time to enjoy this. If they had been unconscious of the isolation of their lives from those outside the church, they may become proactive in breaking out of this.
As members of the second category of beneficiaries listed above, my wife and I are no longer blissfully ignorant, but soberly expectant about the dynamics of clergy couple life and ministry.

[1] It should be noted that this pastor was in student ministry, and makes a distinction between hard and soft (fun/relational) hours. When kids entered the picture, it was the soft hours that were dramatically cut.

Election: That Distasteful Presbyterian Doctrine

Congratulations! You were chosen as TIME Magazine's person of the year. I hope you appreciate what an honor this is. One of your fellow elect, Kathi, expressed her gratitude by promising to use "all the wealth and fame that came with the recognition for good causes."

Sometimes people get chosen for “wealth and fame” as Kathi put it. Other times people get chosen for...something else.
Like me for example. A while back, I was chosen to report for Jury Duty. But I’ll tell you more about that experience later.

First, read this passage. It is a text about chosen people.
1 Peter 2:4-10
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,"and, "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall."They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
This text is about chosen people. It is about election.