Being married and on staff together is a unique circumstance for couples that can be really good, but does carry some risk.
Here are a few of the risks:
• The risk of the appearance of playing favorites.
• The risk of one doing well and the other not.
• The risk of confidential information being shared.
• The risk of extra pressure on the marriage relationship.
• The risk of church becoming the consuming focus of the family.
• The risk of one being let go from staff.
Nonetheless, married couples can and do flourish on staff together, but it doesn’t happen by accident. Good coaching is needed.
Before we get to the coaching, let me briefly state some things that often make being married on staff unnecessarily difficult.
Three scenarios I would caution you to consider carefully:
1. If you have one spouse report directly to the other.
2. If you have both spouses on the same team or same campus.
3. If you have spouses in two positions that cause a conflict of interest.
As a general guideline on coaching, don’t make it overcomplicated. There is no need for a highly structured weekly or even bi-weekly meeting. The idea is to be proactive.
The best approach is to pay attention and stay out in front of problems. Make a conscious effort to check in, ask questions and on occasion meet with the couple together.
The big picture for coaching married couples on staff is:
Their marriage relationship should always take priority over their church career.
The driving principle is:
If they must choose between the church and their marriage, choose the marriage!
This “big picture” point may seem obvious but is often a very difficult nuance to notice and stay in front of. It can be like the frog in a kettle—the slow rise in the temperature of the water is so gradual you don’t notice that the water is now boiling, and now things are serious.
Most church staff members are passionate about their work. They give their all. That’s a good thing. It’s always good when someone loves what they do. But healthy boundaries need to be determined, especially when on staff together. How and when do you shut it off? How much is enough? Every couple is different. And different ages and stages make a difference as well.
The actual coaching practice need be no more complicated than asking how their marriage is going on a regular basis.
If you discover there are some tensions and struggles in the marriage that are beyond what is normal for all marriage relationships, it’s a great practice to pay for a few sessions of marriage counseling from a local professional therapist.
4 targets for coaching married couples on staff:
1. Workloads and patterns.
Pay attention to their combined workloads. Especially if both are full time and have type A-driven personalities. Ask how many hours they are working. Ask about their days off and date nights. For example, if they have different days off that needs to be addressed.
Spouses in ministry often have different levels of energy. They also have different levels of demands and pressure in each of their positions. It’s important to coach sensitivity to the other person’s workload and their ability to keep up.
2. Family values and parenting styles.
Challenge each couple to make a short list of what they value most.
Things such as time together, a positive attitude, forgiveness and grace, honest communication and love of God. The options are many. Help them choose a few. Then they can shape their family around them.
For example, time together could be practiced by saying that 5 of 7 days a week 5 pm to 7 pm is sacred family time.
This kind of intentionality will have a positive and significant impact on raising their kids.
3. Financial pressures and compensation.
Money is a sensitive and complicated subject. If a married couple on staff carries debt and subsequent financial pressures, the couple may view the church as the source of the problem. It’s important to pay married staff based on their individual merit, rather than view their income as combined and “enough” when added together.
The church is not responsible for meeting a couple’s desired standard of living, but each church should do its best to be generous and pay appropriate salaries according to the position.
Financial pressures are common. Some are part of life and some are unnecessary. If financial pressure exists, find out which one it is. Offering financial planning and guidance is a great investment in your staff! Encourage couples to follow the basics of budgeting, tithing, saving and planning ahead.
4. Confidentiality and spiritual life.
I never ask couples to keep secrets from each other, but there are times when professional confidentiality must be honored. This can cause tension between married couples.
For example, one spouse may be a supervisor and knows several salaries, and the other is curious. It’s wise to proactively coach couples how to handle these kinds of things. It always starts with an open and honest conversation. Set up ground rules and talk it through. Don’t allow non-essentials to become a source of conflict. Trust is essential.
Spiritual life and personal faith can be a challenge when a husband and wife invest a considerable amount of time each week helping others mature in their faith and “making the church work.” When they get home, they want to be “off.” That’s good if they still have the passion and energy to pursue God at home and in their personal lives.
Keep an honest conversation about faith and spiritual intimacy as an open subject on a regular basis. Make sure it’s always encouraging rather than guilt or pressure laden.