When I was a solo pastor I learned to understand the “solo” aspect of that title. There were many times I was literally solo or alone—in the office, in ministry, and in worship or strategic planning. As someone with introverted leanings, I was often just fine with that solitude.
However, I quickly realized, and I still continue to realize, that no one in ministry is a lone ranger. We all need others in life, yes, but in ministry too. After all, didn’t God create saying that it was not good for Adam to be alone? Didn’t Jesus send the disciples out two by two?
My wife, Mihee, and I wrote in our book Yoked: Stories of a Clergy Couple in Marriage, Family, and Ministry about being “yoked” together. Among other things, for us being yoked together lightens the load as we share burdens. It binds us to each other and it keeps us together even in those moments when we are the last person the other wants to see. As the hymn proclaims, “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.”
Of course, as we share in the book, being yoked is not always easy or fun. As someone once said, “If you want to learn about self-sacrifice, don’t try asceticism. Try living with other people.” We’d add try being in ministry with other people, too. But we believe that it is ultimately worth it.
In my current call, I have seen this played out as Mihee and I, and also my congregation, share in ministry with other faith communities in our city. We’ve learned that we need not all be redundant in our programing, but as the psalmist says, it is good and pleasant when brothers and sisters come together in unity.
So we’ve begun to share our spiritual meditation offerings with the other downtown congregations, and they in turn have shared theirs with us. Instead of all of us limping along with small turnout and worn out volunteers just so we can offer a Vacation Bible School too, we have joined together to create one that we share with our communities. Our campus ministry group serves a lunch for the homeless as a part of the Episcopal Church’s ministry. In fact, our campus ministry is a shared venture with another Presbyterian Church in town. Our youth group occasionally meets with another one from down the street. Together we have brought in speakers and held workshops for the community with various congregations supporting the event is some way. Recently, we have been yoked together in a joint effort to work with the city to figure out the conundrum in our community that is downtown parking. Resources and energy seem to go a lot further when they are shared; at least, it often seems that way.
These are all ministries and programs that we could have done on our own, as a lone ranger sent out into the Wild West of our community to work for good and justice. But even the Lone Ranger did not go alone. Besides, we have found these ministries are done better and bear more good fruit when done together, yoked in ministry. These other congregations in town are not our competition with whom we fight over members and try to outdo each other with bigger and better packaged programming. Rather they are our ministry partners.
Sure, there are some faith communities that we would rather not partner with, and I’m sure they would not be overjoyed to partner with us. Sure, we all want to do things a little bit differently from one another. That is what gives us our own identity.
Sure, we know it can get messy and frustrating because in being yoked with another you do not always get to do it your way, which is also known as “the right way.” Sure, it means a few more meetings and intentionality. But it also means some of the burdens are shared, the load often is lighter, resources are pooled, we help one another, and we all remember that we are all in this together.
As we are yoked together, we can also recall that we are yoked to God. And that can only be good.
In Yoked, we conclude each chapter with a series of questions that we hope will help the reader connect the chapter to their life and ministry. In that spirit, we’ve included some questions to help connect with this article as well.
- Working in ministry is wonderful, but also challenging. Who have you linked-up with for support and encouragement or to share ideas? How often do you see or talk with them?
- How often do you consider connecting with others beyond your congregation for ministry? What are some potential benefits and potential risks involved? What do you find encourages you to do it? What do you find discourages you from doing it? Why?
- How do you identify the gifts and skills of another?
- How do you make room for them in your ministry or life?
- How do you navigate and negotiate the tricky task of collaboration with others?
- How do you encourage others to make space for the gifts you have? What are those gifts?