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Co-Pastors

In 1996 our moderate Baptist friends in the Carolinas were not optimistic–a local Baptist congregation calling a husband and wife to serve as pastor? They didn’t think so. And sometimes we didn’t either.

The compromising yet genuine suggestion was that Jeffrey could find a church to pastor and Tonya could fit in. This option, however, asked one of us to ignore our calling to pastoral ministry. Though we are not stubborn to a fault, we were and are committed to God’s calling.

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Five years makes a difference. In 2001 we sought to transition from shared ministry as associate pastors in an ecumenical church to co-pastor a Baptist congregation. Those same moderate Baptists encouraged us that the possibility was open in ways it had not been before.

Today a growing network of Baptist co-pastors are serving churches in North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri, among other places. Some of these congregations are multi-staff churches in urban settings. Others are small rural churches. What they have in common is a married couple who serves as “pastor,” equal in ministry and complementary in giftedness.

Each co-pastor couple and congregation finds a model for ministry that works for their unique context. Some of us share one ministry position and thus one salary. Others are both “full-time” with two full salaries. Some co-pastors have designated ministry responsibilities: one focuses on administration and education, while the other looks after pastoral care and worship planning. Other co-pastors employ a more fluid model in their ministerial tasks—either pastor visits or counsels or leads when appropriate. In all cases, both pastors preach on a regular basis.

As moderate Baptists continue to educate women and men in our seminaries, and as we affirm openly our support of women in pastoral ministry, the role of co-pastors in congregations should proliferate.
 
It models pastoral ministry for both women and men; it affirms the role of marriage and families in congregations; and it reflects the biblical example of Priscilla and <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Aquila. While co-pastoring is not for every church, nor for every married couple in ministry, more Baptist search committees need to be open to the possibility of co-pastors, and more couples called to ministry need to prayerfully explore this model of ministry.

We, therefore, humbly offer the following advice.

For Baptist search committees:
(1) Co-pastoring is a proven and effective model of pastoral ministry and can perhaps work in your church.
(2) Creativity with salary and the division of ministry gives churches options rather than limitations with regard to calling co-pastors.
(3) The pastoral calling must be issued equally to both pastors so that each individual will be seen as pastor to the congregation.
(4) Your church may lose fellowship with other churches and groups not open to female clergy.
(5) Ready to consider co-pastors? Couples serving as co-pastors have resources available to help churches in the search process. We can talk to search committees, or have church members share what it is like in a church with co-pastors.

For ministry couples:
(1) Co-pastoring is a proven and effective model of pastoral ministry. This works! And it can be done.
(2) Know how your gifts for ministry are complementary and how they are unique, and be able to share these ideas with search committees.
(3) Shared preaching is a must in establishing pastoral identity for both pastors.
(4) Every marriage requires good communication. Sharing a pastorate requires the same.
(5) Interested? Shoot us an email. We would love to help you explore the possibilities of serving and proclaiming together.

Tonya and Jeffrey Vickery are beginning their fifth year of pastoral ministry at Cullowhee Baptist Church in Cullowhee, N.C. This column also appears in the April 2006 Baptist Studies Bulletin and is used here with the authors’ permission.