Working with Your Husband
An Interview with Executive Pastor Karen Miller
You and your husband work at the same church. How do your roles relate?
I’m called Executive Pastor, and my husband, Kevin, is called Associate Rector. But basically, he serves in another executive pastoral role. It’s been a year and a half since he came on staff full time. He has taken over a lot of the financial area, adult formation, and some preaching. My area is the staff, the ministries, the running of the church. We’re assigned distinctive roles, but we also overlap because we’re in a collaborative team environment.
So what’s it like to be married to someone on the same church staff?
It’s a twofold answer. One, it’s awesome because it’s something we’ve dreamed about since we got married. Although when we first got married, we thought Kevin would be a pastor and I would be the pastor’s wife. So our journey with the Lord has taken us on an interesting creative design path. I actually became the first official ordained pastor in the couple. But we have always loved working together in church. Our lives are called to the church even when we both had full-time jobs outside the church. People would ask, “What’s your hobby?” Church. All spare time and spare money went to the church. So it’s really fun to be on the same staff together.
The adjustment has been figuring out where we stop talking about work when church is our life and now it’s our work, and it’s our friends, and our daughter goes to the church and my sister’s the business manager and works at the church full time…how do we stop talking about church? And when are we talking business about the church and when are we just sharing about your days like we used to? That’s what we’ve had to really work on.
So how do you navigate that and other challenges when you’re at home and when you’re at church? I imagine there are some separate challenges for when you’re interacting at home.
We have navigated through a lot of it, and we’re still navigating. The thing that helps us at church is the fact that over the last eight years I’ve built an environment with a very healthy staff. Our first principles are from the Bible. The second book we use is Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Every staff member reads it and knows those principles. We work very strongly on short accounts, healthy conversation, keeping conflict down, while also being aware of spiritual warfare. So part of it is just to try to keep a healthy environment at work.
We’ve also been honest with the senior pastor and the staff. Like any time you bring in a new person, there were ripple effects throughout our staff when Kevin joined. Working on a new building, we were having a lot of design conversations when Kevin was still fairly new and they were getting used to him. We got feedback that it was difficult for them because they didn’t know our dynamic well. If we were sparring a little bit, they felt uncomfortable. We’re both strong personalities and strong leaders. So we actually had to work on how we work together in meetings.
One thing that helped was establishing who’s leading the meeting. Because I would be leading and then Kevin would take over his piece of the meeting, and it was confusing. So I’d say, “Kevin’s leading this part of the meeting, and then I’m leading this part of the meeting.” Also being open and honest with the staff that when we’re sparring, it’s okay. That’s helped, too.
Another thing that helps is that we have a bishop. At first some of the staff were wondering what would happen if Kevin and I and the senior pastor were all in conflict. We made an agreement up front that we would go to the bishop, that then we would go to therapists if we needed to. Then we would work on mediation.
At home, the difficulty is knowing where to end work. Kevin and I meet once a month, but we’re talking about having a regular meeting every week to have that time when we can discuss some of the things we’re talking about at home at ten o’clock at night when we’re both on our laptops in our home office. Then instead, at ten o’clock we can be unwinding and going to bed.
Thursday night is our guarded date night. We may talk about work, but not problem solving. If we go into problem solving, we’re done talking about it. We stop the conversation and take it up later.
We’re pretty good as a staff to take off Friday and Saturday. So for Kevin and me, Friday is Sabbath. We don’t do any kind of church work. Just whatever we want to do for fun. Then Saturdays are chore days.
How do you feel your professional relationship affects your marriage relationship and vice versa?
His entry was harder than we thought it would be. The personal and the professional get mixed: “Are you interacting with me as executive pastor or as my wife?” All of that got pretty blurred at one point until we recognized that in conversation, for example, he has to identify, “I’m talking to you as executive pastor of the church; or now I’m talking to you as my wife.”
You have to define that for each other at that moment.
Right. We’re still working through that.
We also make sure we’re connecting on that romantic and personal level. Whenever we go on vacation, we bring along little cards or books that help us get off work conversation.
What advice would you give other people who work alongside their spouse or who are considering such an arrangement?
If you are going to do that, your marriage has to already have high skills in partnership, communication, and conflict resolution. That sounds pretty basic, but that’s why a lot of marriages end up in our office—they can’t do it anymore. If they’re fighting about sex or money, it’s actually about communication, trust, and respect.
Karen Miller is executive pastor at Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois.