BY HIRAM AND ELIZABETH RIOS
Divorce and separation are rampant. Statistics show that over half of marriages today end in divorce. Unfortunately, these statistics are just as high for evangelicals as the rest of the population. For those of us in ministry, we know how easily the demands of ministry can take their toll on a marriage. Most of the ministers we know depend on an understanding, self-sacrificing spouse in order to continue their work in the ministry.
However, my husband and I feel that we have found a good solution for the stress that ministry can place on marriage – work together! Of course, this option is not one that every couple should consider in order to “save” their marriage. But we find that for most Gen X couples who share similar convictions, marriage and ministry can be a match made in heaven.
We believe that working together cultivates intimacy. Well, at least that is our opinion. That is exactly what it did for us. We did not intend to work together to reach youth at first, but we soon realized that we had a similar passion to reach this generation for Christ. We figured that two heads were better than one! Hiram’s outgoing personality and my administrative skills made us a dynamic duo.
Many of us as young Latino/as grew up watching our pastors sacrifice their families for the sake of the gospel. As young leaders, we knew that we did not want to repeat that tragedy. Somehow, family time was going to be just as important to us as fulfilling our call to work with young people.
We started working with youth two months after we were married. Although we have faced challenges, we have never looked back. If you and your spouse are contemplating a team approach to youth ministry, please consider some of the challenges and benefits that we have discovered.
Volunteers felt intimidated.
Due to the fact that we were a couple, most volunteers were afraid to voice their frustrations for fear that we would defend one another without regard for objectivity. Solution: Make sure you establish ground rules from the beginning. Have regular “feed-back” sessions. Allow volunteers to voice their opinions and be mature enough to honor their insights. This will create credibility and decrease the fear factor.
Wife viewed as a “cute little side kick.”
Youth ministry as every other pastoral role in the church is a male dominated profession. Solution: If you are the better half of the couple (hah), a woman in ministry, develop your own credibility apart from your husband. Find ways to serve/lead in areas that fit your gifting. Men, please allow us to bloom and fulfill our calling in youth ministry too.
Only male leadership acknowledged.
There are times when the pastoral board only wants to discuss the future direction of the ministry with male leadership. Solution: From the beginning, include your wife in all decision making. After awhile, people will understand that your wife is a significant part of the leadership team.
You see each other often!
Youth ministry involves countless activities. There are times when youth ministers are called to be away for a few days such as on camping trips, etc. and working together affords you the opportunity to go on the trip.
You get to know the same people.
One of the best parts about working with students is the resulting relationships with the youth and staff team. It is much easier when you both have friendships with the youth and leaders.
You both impact the same kids.
In our ministry, we became surrogate parents for kids who were either part of the foster care system or who had parents but did not feel comfortable talking with them about difficult issues. In both cases, we impacted the same students as a couple, being able to model a godly marriage and family.
Okay, some of us don’t want to go there, but sexual harassment charges are abundant in youth ministry. To safeguard your ministry, have the wife deal with the ladies and the husband deal with the guys in the youth group. If you are reading this and are not planning on working with your wife, please empower a godly lady to work with the female members of the group.
Both are tired at the same time.
Since you both go on the trips and lead the teaching sessions on Friday nights, etc., you are both exhausted at the same time. Get a baby-sitter. If you have children, often you need to find a baby-sitter so that you can attend meetings and be free to focus on the youth.
Young people and church adults start to believe that the youth are your children. Kids come around at all hours of the day and night.
ARE YOU CUT OUT TO CO-LEAD A YOUTH MINISTRY?
Here are some questions to ask each other if you are thinking about working together in ministry. We don’t recommend this for just any couple
Do both of you feel called to work with youth?
Do you like each other as friends (really like each other)?
Can you respect each other’s opinions?
Can you see each other as equally called to ministry, submitting to each other as need be?
Youth ministry is a high calling and high privilege. Having a partner in ministry who is just as committed to the cause as you are is a blessing that can help the ministry succeed in ways you never dreamed or imagined. Try it if you dare!
Rev. Hiram Rios founded and directed DESTINY Ministries in NYC for eight years before becoming Director of Youth Programs at the Latino Pastoral Action Center (LPAC). Hiram and Liz have recently relocated to Florida in order to open the South Florida branch of LPAC and continue youth work there. They recently became the proud parents of Samuel.