Collaborative leadership is becoming increasingly more common. Companies and organizations are noticing that diverse partnerships that spread power and leadership are often more creative, healthy, motivated, and, dare I say, fun!
While collaboration offers many strategic opportunities, it also creates a diverse set of obstacles to navigate. This becomes even more interesting when the collaborative partnership is a married couple leading in a ministry setting.
As I co-pastor our church with my husband, our hope is toward becoming a more flourishing partnership, to see our spouse as a gift, deeply loved, and valued.
We’ve received wise advice about this over the years as we’ve served and led together. There are a few priorities that have helped guide us in our collaborative ministry partnership that we’ve found to be effective and fruitful.
Agree to disagree
Expect that you will have conflict regularly, and build structures to address it consistently. Do not assume that any conflict is too small to clear up. Often, it’s the million little things that become the most weary and burdensome.
Creating non-negotiable rules of engagement will protect your marriage, your personal sanity, and relationship with others who lead in ministry with you. For my husband and I, we created our non-negotiable list on a weekend retreat away and has agreements about body posture, off-limit words, and protocol for unresolvable issues. Because of this simple list, we spend less time defending our personal agendas and cleaning up emotional messes.
We still argue and fight regularly. But, by respecting the structure we’ve put in place we’re able to show love and respect towards each other, even when we disagree.
Define clear roles and responsibilities
When you both share ownership of executing the mission of a church, the way you divide up the roles and responsibilities needs clear definition. It will serve you both well and will be of great value to the leaders and volunteers who serve alongside you. This is a great opportunity to encourage each other towards your natural and supernatural gifting areas. If you are unclear about them, spend time praying and get in touch with people who can help you clear it up with a practical job description and ministry goals.
Be mindful of your joint impact on others. Leaders and teams can find co-leadership arrangements challenging and confusing, especially at first. Be clear about communicating your roles and responsibilities to others, and seek regular feedback on how they experience you not just as individuals, but also as a pair.
Know your own weakness
As human beings, we often play to our strengths and highlight the best side of ourselves. While knowing your strengths and operating in your gifts is useful, knowing your weaknesses is a discipline of wisdom and discernment. Get to know where you struggle and stumble and fail. These are the places where you really learn who you are in relationship with God. If all else fails, ask your spouse. They are intimately aware of your shortcomings. Make it a regular practice to own your failures and honor the journey of becoming more like Christ.
Collaboration is a powerful and creative force in the church. Especially as it shadows the way we see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working, playing, and serving in collaboration with each other. I pray God blesses our failures and our disagreements as we grow in our partnerships with one another.
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Nikki Sauter is lead pastor of the Cloquet Vineyard Church. She and her husband planted the Cloquet Vineyard and just celebrated their 2nd birthday as a church community. Her mission is to encourage, develop and empower those around her to live out a good and beautiful life. She lives in Esko, MN with her husband and 3 children.