Working With Your Spouse in Business and / or Ministry

An Excerpt from my upcoming book:
Married, Successful & Embracing Life: A Godly Woman’s place in a changing world.


When a husband and wife work together, because they are married, it is difficult for the people who work with them to give equal measure or weight to the authority of both husband or wife. Whereas one will be celebrated, it is most likely the other will be tolerated to a certain extent. He or she may not necessarily be disrespected but will not be celebrated equally as the spouse.

This however does not have to be the case. Most spouses expect others to celebrate their partner  merely because they are married to them and not necessarily because of their own merit in the ministry or business.

As a pastor’s wife, my experience in interacting with church members has been two -fold. There are those who relate with me more in the capacity of the specific work I do in the ministry. They are not surprised or lackadaisical in attitude towards any requests I make of them in the line of my duties in church.

Then there are others, who are generally respectful, do not personally dislike me but do not necessarily take my requests as seriously except it comes to them directly from my husband. Even where he tells them,’I want you to undertake this task with my wife’, they find it difficult to accord it the same weight as they would a task directly supervised by him.

It is not difficult to understand why this is so. The systems of work are designed to work operationally with one leader to whom everyone assigned to the task answers. Although that leader may also be responsible to another, those under him or her in the daily cause of events do not answer to the higher authority. How many line managers do you have at work? One. You only go above them to talk to their line manager if you are invited to do so and that will be a rare occurrence and not an everyday matter. In most organisations, the manager who will supervise an employee is integrally part of the recruitment process and the employees knows who they are answerable to from the start. There is no confusion about it. Imagine if another manager who is not your line manager keeps giving you tasks to undertake everyday? You will either have to be seeking constant clarification from your line manager about these ‘extra tasks’ or out of deference, you will put those task to the bottom of the pile to be worked on when you have some time to spare. Those tasks just don’t carry as much weight as the tasks given directly by your line manager. It is even worse if those tasks are coming from the spouse of your line manager who operationally does not have a clear line of authority as far as everyday operational matters of the business are concerned. This is the dilemma church members or most ministerial staff have with the Pastor’s wife.

Spouses in business must decide which areas of the business are under whose jurisdiction, and must give each other the authority to groom and work with their own teams or the workers without undue interferences from each other. This does not mean they are not in agreement. It means they are business like, serious minded and respectful of each other, the staff and the vision of the business. Their joint oversight should be more visionary than operational. Not only does this not confuse the staff, it ensures the absence of one spouse micro – managing the other thereby inadvertently undermining their authority, confidence and ability to elicit the required responses from those they have to work with. It might lead to some inefficiencies where they are more than one staff member or employee undertaking the same task. For example, we may not be able to have two human Resource or Personnel departments in one organisation. Such a department should be separate and not directly under the supervision of either spouse’s area of operation but must be able to meet the needs of the organisation as whole.

I once worked with a couple who run an Arts organisation. Although both husband and wife were seen by the staff as jointly responsible for the vision and direction of the organisation, the husband worked with the non artistic staff, dealing with issues of finance and marketing etc while the wife was in charge of the creative artistic , day to day operational work. There was an administrative head or manager who handled all matters administrative and was not under the direct leadership of only one of the spouse. They worked beautifully together and even when they had to do some tweaking of the systems along the way. I have met other couples who seem to work with this same style. When carefully observed, the lines of demarcation, supervision and shared authority were very clear. The staff members work out for themselves who it is that has the overriding authority, in relation to their day to day work, there is no confusion about who each person is accountable to. Where one spouse is always doing the directing and the instructing, the other spouse feels like an employee and does not garner the respect and loyalty of those working directly under him or her, it affects their output and enthusiasm. they cannot take ownership. Business is not an extension of the home where the man is the head and must micro manage everything. It requires discussion and agreement for each spouse to be effective in their particular area of the business. It is often easier to make these distinctions in secular business world than in ministry.

Most ministries are run voluntarily. There is a strong awareness of the authority of the head pastor. This is most often the man or husband. It is very clear that all other authorities in the church or ministry derive from him. Where there are associate pastors, they all seek to be directly accountable to the head pastor if at all possible. They will like a direct endorsement from him in respect of their contributions and tasks. It is even often the case that even with clearly drawn lines of a hierarchy of responsibility, the head pastor through the frequent ministerial interactions with the flock through weekly sermons and other public duties is seen by the flock as the one with the ultimate say in all matters and they will go back to him time and again to clarify tasks assigned by others. Most head pastors are so used to this way of running heir ministries that they even demand it to be so and are very uncomfortable with people exercising a certain level of initiative and independent leadership. Unlike the CEO of a business, people at all levels in the ministry tend to have access to him unless systems are intentionally put in place to limit such access. People fight being asked to go through laid down departmental lines. This in itself is a challenge for those leaders working under the head Pastor, like associate Pastors and heads of departments. Their empowerment for effective functioning is often not consistent. It is not long before they realise that ‘they can do nothing without the head pastor’. Those that are empowered without checks also often develop their own following and cliques and some will take opportunity to go off and become head pastors of their own denomination. This has led to the proliferation of churches on one hand and the tightening of control inadvertently by some head pastors on the other hand so as to prevents splits in their congregations. It’s a double edged sword which stagnates the growth of many ministries and fosters a lot of insecurities both in the Heads and the Associates.

For most pastors who work with their wives or husbands in ministry, the issue for the supporting spouse becomes twofold. For the purposes of this discussion lets, say the supporting spouse is the wive. Her role from the beginning is an off shoot of her role as a wife. She is a supporting partner in ministry. Her role in church starts off as an extension of her role at home, whereas for her husband it is a career, it is not necessarily so for her personally. This is alright if she does not feel called to public ministry herself, then she can gradually find her way as the mother of the flock. She has no formal roles to play except as the wife of the Pastor. She is therefore satisfied being accorded the respect and honour as an extension of the respect and honour accorded her husband. She is usually not seen by the members as necessarily distinct in her own right as separate from her husband. She does not necessarily have operational responsibility for an aspect of the ministry and does not require a distinct clear line of responsibility or authority without operational interference from her husband as is the case of an associate pastor. She has no department or team working under her.

As you and I know, this is rarely the case. There are many Pastors wives running, the women’s ministry of their churches. Some lead the children’s departments or the choir or undertake administrative tasks. At another level, some are preachers and pastors themselves. The dilemma however is that there is often never a clear transition from being simply the wife of the pastor to being a minister or associate pastor in the church. Unlike other associates, she has a mishmash of responsibilities with no clearly defined roles and a team to accomplish any particular task with. Most of the people working with her will go over her head to seek constant clarification from her husband, the head pastor. Her instructions even when she is undertaking a task are often not handled with the same weight as her husbands except perhaps by those specifically assigned to work with her if any. This is the norm in most churches and it is frustrating for most Pastor’s wives. They feel patronised, tolerated and not celebrated in their own right. They are one with their husbands and yet do not carry the same authority as he does in the church. They are also unlike an associate because they are seen as the dormant extension of the husband with no clear jurisdiction of their own. They have to live within an uncomfortable no mans land where the rules are not clear either to them or to the members and they are expected to exercise decorum, be great achievers, peaceful but enterprising at the same time. Many Pastors wives are confused but making the best of it after all, they are the Pastors wife, a privileged cosseted position to be in. Many a pastors wife after years of ministry, if marital problems have spilled over from the privacy of their homes in to the church feel ostracised as people really let loose and let them know that the respect and tolerance they have enjoyed over the years has not necessarily been for them as individuals but has been because of their husbands.

There are many wives who are gifted and want to express these giftings in their own right, but within the ministry have to fight patronising behaviours and overt disrespect not only from the members of the congregation but also often from their own spouse who has to be the one directing and instructing others on her behalf if she is to be able to galvanise any real support for what she is doing.

There are pastor’s wives who decide to exert their own influence, stand up and contribute their specific particular gifting. They are often seen as brash, pushy, competitive, opportunistic particularly if she makes demand not through her husband but directly enforces the authority she believes she has.

Husbands therefore have a job to do, if they really do want their wives to be fulfilled in ministry working with them. This refers only to women who above and beyond their role as wives believe they have a calling and a ministry to fulfil as well. They have to work with the husbands to create systems that do not undermine the husbands authority as the husband and the head of the church but also empowers the woman to stand in her own right where she is celebrated for what she brings to the table and not merely tolerated as the pastor’s wife in her attempts to use her giftings and callings. If a Pastor’s wife has skills that in a secular work command a certain cooperation, allowance and respect, then in her use of that same gifting in the ministry must be accorded the same due deference. Perhaps due to the complexity of her combined role as the wife of the Pastor and also as a minister in the ministry, we need to allow such wives to develop their own teams to work with in addition to the laid down structures in the ministry.

Perhaps they need opportunities to deploy their giftings outside the church where they serve so that those gifts can be seen as independent of the husbands callings and giftings but only after they have fully satisfied their wifely roles within their home ministries.

Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 KJV)

First and foremost a wife’s place with her husband is a place of honour, not lip service, not a patronising role, not simply respected out of duty. Honour cannot be faked. Honour is higher than respect. Honour exudes unforced to the person who deserves it. Honouring someone requires a voluntary acquiescence to the fact that they merit such honour. Before honour can be given to the wife, the husband must dwell with her according to knowledge both of her person and of her role. Her person includes her identity, her makeup, her giftings, her calling which are uniquely hers and not what a system says they are or are not. Her role must be carved from that uniqueness.

Her ‘weaker vessel’ does not mean what she carries is inferior. It just means her packaging is different. Her packaging is subject to harm. Her packaging makes her vulnerable. You will never know a woman’s vulnerability until you are aware of what she carries. You don’t throw rocks at a glass house same as you can do to a brick house. The glass house will break. Don’t expect your wife in ministry alongside you to fit into a system that everyone else working in ministry with you fits into. Don’t also patronise her by insisting people honour her beyond her role as your wife. For them to honour her capacities and abilities, they must be exposed to it.

A wife who works in a secular job will not need her husband there to tell people what she can or cannot do. She will be paid her salary based on her performance as a person. If she is a manager, she will have a team working under her which her husband does not need to directly interfere with even if he is the CEO of the organisation. Why should this be different for women in public ministry with their husbands? If you protect the glass house but never really open it up for its true contents to be seen, it can never really be honoured. In fact thieves will be tempted to break through ( and that is how adultery and other forms of unfaithfulness and disillusionment with ministry happens for some women), or it contents will break out without permission. If it truly contains treasure which is useful beyond the remit of the home, then that treasure must be allowed to have full expression just like any other if it is to be employed in ministry.

Honour your wife by differentiating between her role as your wife and her role as your partner in ministry. The two overlap, but they are not the same. Because of the uniqueness and complexity of combining both roles, don’t force your spouse to comply and fit into systems that don’t work for her. Set her free to be herself. Let her develop her own team, and let her gain the respect of those that work with her.

Anyone who is serious about working with their wives in ministry must be willing to let her unique and personal identity be exposed. She should not only be an appendage of her husband. She does not need to be in ministry to be that. She just needs to be his wife if that is all he wants. If you are serious about her working in ministry, then let her with your help set up systems that work for her. Let her manage those systems. Let her be free to be herself.