Appreciating Each Other's Gifts
The Austin Team Leads Together
It was clear that the girl standing at the church doors with a bandage on her head needed help, but Jathan Austin couldn’t have known how they would grow to help each other. Jathan had just finished his first semester at Ferris State University. He was glad to be home and to come back to his grandfather, Bishop William C. Abney’s, church—Bethel Pentecostal Church. He remembers:
I had come home for winter break and saw this beautiful girl standing at the front doors of the church with a huge bandage on her head. I did not know at the time, but she had been in a bad accident and totaled her car. I asked her name and if she was okay. She said, ‘My name is Cookie, and I need a ride home.”
His family took her home and their friendship turned into courtship. Soon, love, both as a noun and a verb, became their reality. Cookie, also known by her given name, Veverly, moved back to the Chicago area to finish her undergrad degree at Benedictine University, while Jathan transferred to Oral Roberts University to study Biblical Studies.
As the years passed, he said, “I soon realized that Veverly was my wife, and I was simply wasting time in the world of dating.” In 1999, he proposed, and on April 27, 2000, they were married. Eight years later, Jathan was selected and voted in as the Senior Pastor of the church where they met, which is now named One Church Empowerment Center, and Veverly stepped into her role as First Lady.
In many church traditions, the wife of the pastor is the First Lady of the congregation. She mostly supports the pastor with very little say in how the ministry functions. This was the case for Veverly for four years, but in 2012, she joined the pastoral team at One Church Empowerment Center. Pastor Jathan said,
Our roles as pastors are very different but are designed to function as a unit. We appreciate each other’s strengths and have discovered that there are times when the other needs to take the lead.”
Pastor Veverly considers them to have a shared role but not equal responsibility: “My husband allows me to lead with him, rather than just supporting him.”
The shift started three years into her time as First Lady, as Pastor Veverly began to feel a stronger call on her life. She said, “I was not quite sure what it was that God was calling me to, but with the growth of the church and the need for additional staffing, I felt the call, and Pastor Jathan confirmed it.” When asked how this new role differs from that of First Lady, Pastor Veverly said, “Oh my! It’s a different weight. [Pastor Jathan] takes it very seriously. He expects the same of me as he expects of the other ministerial staff.” The expectations are different, and the role she plays now is so much more important because of the tasks she’s called to and expected to carry out.
Pastor Jathan, as Lead Pastor, leads everything pastoral, while Pastor Veverly, as Assistant Pastor, has leadership over the administration, handling the day-to-day management of the church membership and facilitating training, volunteers, church ministries, and especially the women’s ministry. Pastor Veverly said,
Pastor Jathan is a visionary, a person of faith. He dreams it, and sees it,; and I can see it, facilitate it, and put legs to it.”
How powerful it is for a husband and wife to serve together in ministry where one can receive the vision and the other is able to put legs to it. It paints the perfect picture of what a healthy couple in ministry can achieve.
Having her as Assistant Pastor went against the cultural norms of what a First Lady was supposed to be, so it required One Church to stretch. However, Pastor Veverly said, “It wasn’t something we just sprang on the people; rather, we prepared the people, and with their approval and the board’s approval, we sought out wisdom and spent a lot of time discussing this change with the congregation.” The lines of communication remained open, and the congregation came to embrace Pastor Veverly in her new role.
The Austin Team has enjoyed growing together in ministry. They cheer on each other’s successes, but they’ve found that watching each other fail and then learn from their failures has been the most fulfilling. Pastor Veverly said,
One of the things we learned early on is that one of my administrative tasks included correcting people. Pastor Jathan had me doing that, and it shifted me from being seen as the loving First Lady to now serving in this role of tension. Pastor Jathan quickly shifted this, bringing balance between being a pastor and still being able to love the people as I needed to as his wife.”
In addition, Pastor Jathan and Pastor Veverly constantly work at leaving ministry issues at church and not making them the main topic of conversation at home. They are learning to be okay with the fact that they will not always agree on how to address certain ministry issues without creating arguments. Through it all, they are committed to not allowing the pressures of ministry to cause them to forget that they are one team.
So how do these copastors balance marriage, ministry, and family? They don’t. They have found that the idea of balance does not fit their lives. Instead, they focus on being firm about their priorities. This allows them to manage the complexities of their lives much better. Knowing what to focus on when is key for them, and they are learning to do better every year.
In the words of John and Kris Stewart, pastors of First Covenant Church in Worthington, Minnesota, when couples serve together in pastoral ministry, it “is like two wings on an airplane: the left and right wings have the same function of serving to lift the aircraft in the air, yet each must be designed differently to perform effectively.”*
As the Austins continue to serve together in ministry, they realize that they are a unique example of what it looks like to operate in their strengths as a married couple. Above all, they continue to show the power of a union that is submitted to God first and foremost.
* Stewart, John and Kris. “Colleagues at Church and Home: A clergy couple shares the story of their ministry together.” The Covenant Companion, July 2009, pp. 12-14.