During The Gospel Coalition’s 2018 Women’s Conference, Noël Piper, Latoya McCutcheon, Lauren Hansen, and Megan Hill participated in a panel discussion titled “Co-Laboring in the Gospel: A Conversation for Pastors’ and Elders’ Wives.” They encouraged and challenged ministry wives, reminding them that their role is both difficult and a deep, lasting blessing. They discussed the struggles and joys, sacrifices and rewards, and the importance of finding security, strength, and direction in God’s Word.
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Megan Hill: Let me introduce for you, the women that you will be hearing from today. Here to my right is Lauren Hansen. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama. She is an elder’s wife at Redeemer Community Church and she and her husband Collin have been serving together in ministry for 14 years and he’s officially been an elder at the church for two years. Then next to her is Latoya McCutcheon from Memphis, Tennessee. She’s been married for 18 years, she has a 17-year-old son. Her husband is a pastor at Fellowship Memphis Church, and they are also in the process of planting a church in Raleigh, North Carolina, and they have served in ministry together for about 13 years.
Megan Hill: Then to Latoya’s right is Noël Piper. She is the mother of five, the grandmother of 13 and the wife of one. She says that through the years she has seen her family as her primary calling. From 1980 to 2012 she supported her husband in his ministry as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Now, he works full-time for Desiring God Ministries, and since adopting her youngest child in 1995, her life and her interests have been drawn into the issues of adoption and racial harmony. She additionally volunteers in the various ministries of Joni and Friends.
Megan Hill: It’s a privilege for me to be here to learn from these women and I know that their wisdom and their experience that the Lord has given them, the grace of the Lord has poured out on them, will be a benefit to us all. I like to begin just by asking you sisters, what are some of the unique blessings of a ministry marriage? What are some things about being married to a man and sharing in ministry that have been particular unique blessings for you?
Latoya McCutcheon: I think of things in little pieces. One piece is that it has been a really great blessing to us that each of our children has had at least one young person, but older than they are, who has been a mentor during some of their teen years, that we might not have had is the kind of friendship or access to otherwise.
Noël Piper: I would say that we’ve had the opportunity to have people who are sharing the same faith with us, who are in the trenches with us to hold us accountable for how we treat each other and how we manage our home and how we love on each other and our kids. I think that’s been a great asset for us.
Megan Hill: Do you feel like those people in your church that have done that for you or other ministry leaders, or I?
Latoya McCutcheon: I think that in my church, and as we’ve developed in our relationship, just having people who are like-minded come alongside us and actually hold us accountable, whether they are members of our church or outside the church, just being able to be in a body of believers has been great.
Noël Piper: I would say the greatest blessing we’ve seen from having a ministry marriage is being able to evangelize, witness, disciple, and care for people together as a couple, because we’ve had the opportunity to host home groups, small groups, you might call them, and to meet with individuals, married couples, families, people who know the Lord, people who don’t know the Lord. We’ve seen people come to faith in serving together and being used by the Lord to help point them to the gospel. Getting to see new life created because of work that the Lord has done through us together as a married couple has been such a gift really, to care for those people, to pray for those people, to watch and see that fruit multiply that they go then and do that to others. It’s so rewarding to be of use together as a family.
Megan Hill: That’s great. I think when we’re in ministry with our husbands, in church ministry in particular, our lives are very much structured around the one in seven. We have this one day of worshiping God’s people and that sort of, if you’re a pastor’s wife, then that’s like the main work day of your week. Not that everybody thinks your husband only works one day a week, but we all know he doesn’t work… The Lord’s day coming together. Then you have these other days and every week this pattern is repeated. It’s very cyclical and goes on week after week through the year. What are some habits, sort of a daily habits or weekly habits, what are some things that repeat in your marriage, in your life, that have been particularly helpful to you? Kind of the little, not the major mountaintop experiences, but just sort of the repeating habits that you’ve developed in your marriage that have been helpful.
Latoya McCutcheon: I will speak about when our kids were still at home, but that would be devotions together in the evening and shaped by what age they were, always something from the Bible, but then maybe Bible story books or other things, if they were very young. Then my husband and I praying together regularly, if we were going to bed at the same time. Those family devotional habits were very important.
Megan Hill: Tell me about praying together with your husband. Do you have certain things you pray for? What does that look like?
Latoya McCutcheon: Now, we pray for sure, for the missionaries on our churches prayer calendar that are up for that week, and then just generally whatever we think of for what’s going on in the world, for things that are happening with our kids. No specific plan. There was a time when we would have maybe twice a year, what we call missions in demands. Anybody who thought they might possibly be interested sometime in missions, to come to our house and we’d have some kind of worship together and something about missions and have them write their name down so people could follow up with them for the missionary nurture program, if they wished. We would pray through those names. What that meant was naming them and then praying a prayer that would cover all of them unless we knew something specific. That was one additional kind of thing we did.
Noël Piper: I think for us, we’ve learned in addition to praying together each morning, we’ve learned to have daily check-ins. One thing that my husband and I have to do, because we both work outside the home is, what was your God moment for the day? Or how did you see God manifest himself in your day? Or what was your deepest thought? We’ve learned to kind of decompose our day outside of our bedroom, simply because we don’t never know how those conversations are going to expand. Sometimes those conversations, some conversations you don’t want to take into your love zone. Maybe we start in the kitchen where there’s food. Just just learning to give him the space to check in and kind of decompress from our day, because outside of the house, I never know what my husband or myself have to encounter.
Lauren Hansen: Yeah, those are great. We echo those family devotionals. We have young kids. We read a Bible story and sing a hymn and do a memory verse and pray every night before bed. Yeah. Also, we, at dinner with our little kids ask, how did you see God at work today? We all talk about how we saw God at work that day. With my son, usually it’s, he’s three, it’s going to the zoo or whatever neat thing he got to do that day. Then we talked about how God was at work through that thing. Absolutely echo those.
Lauren Hansen: One other thing that we found really helpful habit is just going on walks and also our pastor and his wife go on a walk every single day. Like Megan said, my husband’s an elder. He does work for the gospel coalition there, so he’s also in ministry. Regardless, going on walks, we just found to be a very helpful way for us to have time to make sure that we’re talking, because it can be very easy to go about all the things to do in a day and realize you didn’t actually hear how your husband’s doing and he didn’t get to hear how you’re doing. We like that.
Megan Hill: I think one of the blessings of being in a ministry marriage is that you’re very connected in some ways to what it is that your husband is doing. My dad is a pastor and my husband is pastor. I sometimes say, I don’t know what I would do if my husband were a rocket scientist and he went off every day and I had no idea what he was doing. We basically, when your husband is an elder, when your husband is a pastor, you understand the thing, you know the people he works with, the people he’s serving, you know the tasks that he’s doing, you’re even participating sometimes in those tasks. What are some ministry tasks that you’ve been able to do alongside your husband that have given you particular joy, or that have been a particular privilege for you? We don’t have to go in the same order and not everyone has to answer every time. I’m a Presbyterian, so I really appreciate that.
Latoya McCutcheon: My husband and I do a lot of marriage counseling together. I have a background in counseling. I found that to be one of my greatest joys, to be able to walk newly married, or even potential individuals that are wanting to get married through what a healthy marriage could possibly look like and debunk some of the expectations that they sometimes have and just straight up and tell them, “Hey, this is really going to be hard. This is the hardest thing you’re going to ever have to do.” Let’s get that out first so that they can prosper, healthily in their marriage. That’s something that my husband and I have both enjoyed doing, seeing marriages come to fruition and individuals love each other.
Megan Hill: Do you have like a plan? You have a couple of their coming Friday night for their counseling, whatever. Do you two talk ahead of time. We’re going to talk about this or is it just sort of more organic conversation or how do you organize that?
Latoya McCutcheon: Well, initially we will have them to complete certain assessments that we generally will use. For example, one assessment is called the through gospel pathways. It’s called the Enneagram. What the Enneagram allows them to do is to see how they’re wired, because we’re all wired differently. That’s not a sinful thing. Although, at times we can act in a certain way that may be sinful. Also, because we bring certain attributes into our marriage from our backgrounds. It’s always good for us to start there and to also figure out what do you expect from your marriage. Give them language that they can use to communicate with each other so that they can have a better understanding of what they are wanting or what they expect out of their marriage. Those are just some of the tools that we utilize.
Megan Hill: How about either of you, are there ministry tasks you enjoy doing together?
Noël Piper: Probably the main thing we do together is when we have people at our house and are in conversation together and whatever direction that takes, and that depends on who the people are.
Megan Hill: Obviously, there are sacrifices associated with being in ministry. Just name a few of the sacrifices that you think come along with being in ministry.
Lauren Hansen: I think the hardest thing is just seeing the brokenness of humanity and kind of getting a look behind the curtain of what’s going on at church, or what’s going on in a para church organization. Sometimes I just desired to have that wonderful naivete, that these are all just such warm, sunny, godly people, and we’re all just doing great. While we are godly, we are sinners and saints at the same time and we are struggling and mourning. Sometimes that depravity can just feel overwhelming. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know what I know. Sometimes it’s hard to find that balance between how I can help share my husband’s burdens. Then what overwhelms me, because I can really struggle with wanting to control things that I can’t, or having anxiety for bearing burdens that I should give over to the Lord, but I have trouble doing that. It’s hard to feel that that weight… That’s what I’d say.
Latoya McCutcheon: I would say time is always something that you have to give up. I think that early on, my struggle was making sure that I helped my husband balance his time. I became a stopwatch, and making certain that the time that we do take away from the home that is replenished by God’s word or some creative way of spending time with each other and our kids, just to make sure that nothing is left undone. Sometimes that means he has to wash clothes and I’m not, or chores are done that he would normally do and I have to pick up the slack. I think time is one of the most valuable things that we have to sometimes let go of in order to complete God’s will.
Noël Piper: To extend from that, it means that since time is tight, that you schedule things that might seem more spontaneous and other families, like time to play with the kids in the evening, for instance. That lack of spontaneity can kind of wear on the kids over time as they think about it, I think.
Megan Hill: Then to follow up on that, these sacrifices that we make, whether they are time or emotional energy, or just bearing the daily burdens of God’s people, how have you found meditating on Christ and knowing Christ to be helpful to you then as you’re making these sacrifices, obviously Christ, the one who sacrificed for us, are there particular ways that Christ has become sweeter to you in ministry because of that?
Latoya McCutcheon: I think in a lot of ways, having a daily devotion kind of sets the tone for my day. I noticed that to some people, they have to wake up with coffee. I have to wake up with some type of devotion or I will be cuckoo throughout the rest of my day. I know that my husband at times, he has to get his devotion on the other side of our walls at his office. For me, I have to find that that space to collect my thoughts so that I’ll know how to approach my day. I think that’s been really helpful for me.
Megan Hill: Are there particular passages or particular things that you’ve studied that have been particularly helpful to you?
Latoya McCutcheon: Yes. Early on, I did a devotion on Proverbs 31, 10 through 31. A wise woman offered that devotion up to me when I first got married and it was tremendously beneficial to me because it gave me a paradigm for what a virtuous woman was really looked like. Although my mother was a great God-fearing woman, their marriage wasn’t, my parent’s marriage wasn’t one that I wanted to emulate. Seeing that and walking through what specifically does a virtuous woman look like and what that woman could potentially be for me, helped me to get through my first years of marriage, which were for me, very tough, because I walked in with, again, my own expectations of what I thought that would look like.
Lauren Hansen: How has Christ’s sacrifice become even more precious and real? I think I’ve learned the limitations on my own importance. I’m just not that important compared to God’s grand plans and his ability to do things that I can’t even ask… Well, I can ask and imagined, but he asks us to do that. Things are beyond my ability and that he’s just so much bigger and has such a greater desire to see his church flourish. I feel smaller than I used to in a good way. I guess I’d say it’s humbling. It’s humbling to be of use, and it just gets richer as time goes on.
Noël Piper: I think it’s not possible to underestimate how important it is having just the rock under you, the certainty of who God is and how he works, and that he does only good for his children, even when it’s hard. That even when I’m not consciously thinking about God, that is where I’m standing.
Megan Hill: I think sometimes because there are sacrifices in ministry marriage, we can fall into the trap of thinking that the church or the ministry is the enemy, that it’s sort of either the church or our family, or it’s either the church or me, or somehow that the church is against me or it’s the other thing. Are there ways that you can point to that the church has actually been a great blessing to you, that you’re a better wife or a better mother for having the church, that the church has actually been your best friend in ministry marriage?
Noël Piper: I love the men and women who have worked with our kids through their different ages and times that people would probably really rather not have been working with one or another of them. I’m sure I heard only a fraction of what some of those things were. Some of them come back as stories still in our children. My children are in their 30s and 40s now. That is a huge thing to have people that we trust to be telling our children the truth and to living it out for them.
Lauren Hansen: I think that’s so true, especially, you know, if you’re in a situation like, I’m in a situation where my husband does virtually all of the preaching, and then we do family devotions in the home, which my husband or I lead, depending on who’s home that night. My children’s instruction is coming almost entirely from one or other of their parents. I think what Noelle was saying is so important because the church then provides you with all these other people who are saying your soul is important and Christ is the best thing out there. Bearing testimony to the thing that they’re hearing from us, which is good, but they’re saying, you know what? We also are invested in this.
Megan Hill: Are there other ways that the church has been a great blessing?
Megan Hill: Do we have a lot of elders wives in here? Are we mostly [inaudible 00:21:21]. Okay, good. Okay. Because I think the answer to this question is a little bit different.
Lauren Hansen: That’s why you’re on this panel. There we go. It’s interesting that it comes to mind that pastors being a position of such respect and honor and importance being behind the pulpit, I’d imagine that the congregation just sees them a little bit differently, both in ways that are challenging in ways that are very good and supportive elders, really being behind the scenes, I think can, can not be that first, like top of mind, church care recipients, because they’re doing so much that isn’t seen. Thankfully, I think our elders are very much aware of each other and what families need on that almost horizontal level of leadership, because I don’t even know that a lot of our totality of our congregation knows who the elders are.
Lauren Hansen: There’s a family. They might need some particular support and love from our church because of how much they give and time and energy and things. I’m thankful that I’ve seen us take care of each other and be aware that if you have sort of a tree of, of care and leadership, it’s thin at the top and to look around and remember the others who are up there with you, putting shade over those lower branches might need a little covering sometimes too.
Megan Hill: Can you give like one or two practical examples of how elders families can care for each other?
Lauren Hansen: Yeah. I think a lot of just asking, assuming too, that we’re under some spiritual attack and assuming that it’s not… Life’s going to be hard and they’re going to be seasons or particular hardship and really just asking those real questions and being vulnerable. Asking to be let in sharing needs and sharing burdens, and then trusting that people want to be there to meet them. Yeah. We’ve had adoptions that have fallen through, bizarre major illnesses, just a lot of hardship that we just communicate try to meet needs and [inaudible 00:23:48], meals, prayers, fundraisers, those sorts of things. Yeah.
Latoya McCutcheon: I think that the assumption is because, I’m a pastor’s wife, but because the pastor is usually the one that’s up there, that’s leading this caring, that’s shepherding the body, that there aren’t situations that may arise within his household. It’s been great to have members of the church come and say, “Hey, let’s let us pray for you or let us take you out to dinner or,” and I think that that’s what church is supposed to look like. It’s not just the pastor that’s providing shepherding to the flock is also that reciprocation that takes place, because we’re all God’s church. There needs to be a level of reciprocation.
Megan Hill: Can each of you maybe talk about sort of one challenge without naming names, but one challenge in ministry life that you’ve worked through as a couple that has been something that you’ve experienced and just tell a little practically kind of, how did you work through that?
Noël Piper: One of the stressful times for us was when one of our staff, two of our staff members were involved in a situation where that they needed to be released. That caused a lot of disagreement and uncertainty in the whole congregation and disagreement about how it should be handled. There were many, many late meetings until late in the night with the elders trying to sort things out. I was really surprised at that time that my husband away from home for hours on end way more and way later than usual. Yet, we felt more, I felt more connected with him in ministry during those days. I wasn’t directly involved with any of the conversations that were going on, but there was just a sense of really being together in ministry here at this, fortunately only a one time period in the church.
Noël Piper: I think that was a real sweet thing that God did that was totally unexpected. I’ll just tell you something funny. It was one of those nights he was out past midnight or whatever. The kids and I came home from somewhere 10:00 or so at night and discovered a bat in the kitchen. I had to call one of my neighbors, pull up the badminton racket from the basement, called one of my neighbors who really didn’t want to come over, but he did anyway. Even our neighbors were helping us out in that time.
Latoya McCutcheon: I think for us, just walking with newly married families that may be experiencing loss of a child or just issues within their marriage and my husband and I have had to sometimes disagree on how to proceed in reference to assisting in those situations. I think that with us, trying to figure out what would be the right direction to go in. I think it’s helped us to kind of look at ourselves and our marriage as well. In that, we were providing assistance, we learned how to better communicate with one another through some of the issues that we’ve faced with other couples. I think that that’s been helpful to us.
Lauren Hansen: I think our biggest challenge is just that my husband and I have very, very different personalities. You mentioned the Enneagram, I’m a two and he’s an eight. You’re in a eight. Yeah, yeah. I don’t know if you all know, that basically means I’m the giver, like the all heart, all relationship helper. What’s eight? He’s the challenger. Yeah, the challenger. Yes. Yeah. You talk about having different perspectives. Sometimes we just have very different perspectives and I think over time, have learned to pray more and more and to trust that the Lord is good and that he’s working in leading, he’s speaking to both of us, but too also, I’ve learned that my husband has information and knowledge of particular situations that I don’t have because I’m not in that role.
Lauren Hansen: Sometimes it can be tempting just to over overstep or because he thinks so differently for me just assign, assign steps he wants to take or whatever. It’s just like, “Oh, that’s his personality. That’s his part that I don’t understand and I don’t like.” To be more patient, to be more prayerful, to be more sympathetic. To know that my way isn’t the right way. There are gifts in all the things that, all the ways that God’s made us and given us to see him when he’s at work.
Megan Hill: I have one more question and then we’ll open it up if some of you have questions, but so we talk a lot about ministry life being a fishbowl, maybe more so for a pastor who’s up front and less so for elders. I think elders wives definitely face this too. People are looking at you and they’re watching your family life. What is one thing that you hope that your church, that the people who are will learn from watching you? Learn about marriage, learn about family, ultimately learn about Christ and his church, because marriage is a picture of Christ in his church. When they watch you, what do you want the people in your church to take away or to learn? Of course, you’re not going to do it perfectly, but this is our hope, if by grace that they might learn something.
Latoya McCutcheon: I would say my husband, my husband and I early on wanted to make sure that we had a mission for our marriage. I’ve always felt that my greatest ministry was my household, my marriage. I think over the years, we’ve developed the concept that we want our marriage to tell the truth about who Christ is to whomever is looking, whether it’s our son or our neighbor’s kids or our neighbors. We want our marriage to reveal to everyone who Christ truly is. I think that in doing that and trying to emulate what God’s love for his church, the body of Christ, it’s going to show up in how we treat each other. Now, do we get it right all the time? No, but there needs to other people need to see that too. They need to see the imperfections that we have and also be able to witness how we come on the other side of that. For us, that’s huge, because in marriage, sometimes there’s this perception that it’s supposed to be perfect. I’m supposed to have this honeymoon that lasts forever.
Latoya McCutcheon: We all know that that doesn’t take place. Especially with younger couples, I think walking alongside some of those individuals to let them see, “Hey, yes, you fight. You’re going to have battles that arise in your marriage, but coming through that is really going to speak volumes to who Christ is in your marriage.”
Noël Piper: A long time ago, I had a t-shirt that had lines and lines and lines of names of Jesus. I was checking out of the store. When I was leaving, the cashier said, “I like your shirt.” Then I remembered what I had on. I thought, “Oh man, I wonder what I said and if I did everything okay.” That’s what I want is that when people see us and catch us in any moment, that we’re consistent in being honest in reflecting Jesus well, in the way we do everything.