Editor’s Note: This is the first in our short series “Married/Single in Youth Ministry.” Over the coming weeks we’ll profile three married couples and two single folks to get their insights on youth ministry as it relates to varying stages of both married and single life, including no kids, adding kids, and having seen it all.
He is the Director of Youth Ministries at Hilldale United Methodist Church is Clarksville, Tenn. and she is the Director of Youth Ministries at Trinity United Methodist Church in Spring Hill, Tenn. Adam is a May 2012 graduate of the Center for Youth Ministry Training; Carlisle is in her first year of the CYMT program. They’ve been married for eight months and live in Nashville, Tenn. with their French Bulldog puppy, Hurley.
How long have you been in ministry? (i.e. Were you in ministry when you met?)
Carlisle: Adam has been in youth ministry for eight years; I’ve been in it for four. We met when Adam was in high school and I was in middle school, so we were “in” ministry but not working in ministry.
How many churches/positions have you served in?
Adam: I’m in my second youth ministry position. I was the assistant youth director in my first church. Carlisle is in her second position as well: she was an intern for three and a half years at a church in Birmingham.
How do you keep your personal life and your church life separate? If you’ve changed your strategy over the course of your ministry, what prompted the separation and how were you able to separate the two lives or at least give them both equal attention?
A lot of it has to do with setting aside time to “turn it off” when we are leaving work. We let the drive home be a debriefing. Rather than bringing home frustration, we try hard to leave it in the car. We also make a point to set aside time at home to turn off the cell phones and computers, and we make an effort to leave the office when it is time to leave the office. Both of us schedule our Sabbaths to make sure we have time together.
Is your personal life really ever your own? Or do you always feel the need to be “on guard?” In what way?
Adam: As a minister, I am called to be a minister, not as a profession but as a life calling. There is a sense of living above reproach, but that doesn’t mean I walk down the street handing out pamphlets while walking the dog. That also doesn’t mean we can’t minister to people with whom we come into contact on our Sabbath.
Carlisle: I agree with Adam. I feel very called to ministry and I feel like the “minister friend” in my group of friends. I think about what I wear, for instance, not just on Sundays, because I’m always a youth minister, but because I’m always someone representing Christ. Always being “on” can be frustrating at times, but I can also appreciate that it’s part of my life and who I am.
How does your spouse support you and your ministry? Is he or she your confidant and confessor, or do you have someone else for that role, making a clear divide between church and marriage?
Carlisle: Adam definitely supports my ministry. It is immensely helpful to be able to share with my husband the struggles and celebrations of youth ministry and know that he gets it—really gets it! I am a CYMT student, so I rely on my coach to be my ministry mentor. As newlyweds I truly believe keeping Adam as an encourager and not the sole provider of my help and support is really healthy for us. I volunteered with Adam’s youth group when I was in college, so I try to stay in touch with his kids as much as I can. I will always love his youth.
Adam: It’s important to find a line between healthy venting and allowing your spouse to be a load bearer for your ministry. I vent to Carlisle about my daily life and job, but I don’t want her to be a load bearer. I am in a covenant group for that purpose. I do find her to be a great support in ministry to talk things through, to share ideas, to talk strategy, but at the end of the day my most important job is being her husband.
Does your spouse play a role in your ministry (i.e. small group leader, trip chaperone, snack supper provider, etc.)?
When we aren’t busy with our own ministries, yes, we help out! But we’re not regular participants in the other’s ministry since we are both leaders of two youth groups that are more than an hour apart.
Emergencies aside, how do you both handle times when church comes before spouse and/or family? For instance, an anniversary dinner vs. church council meeting?
We’re definitely still learning. We try to have sacred times that the church can’t touch, unless it’s just too big for us to miss. We refuse to give in on those times. We also try to plan far in advance with regards to vacations. Having those times really makes it easier when other times have to be sacrificed. As long as we maintain our sacred time, we do alright if we have to miss it once a month.
Youth ministers travel several times during the year. How do you coordinate your calendars and manage that time apart?
Still learning on this one, too! We share calendars for the summer and we try not to travel back-to-back weeks. We even try to be gone at the same time. We also would love to eventually plan trips where our youth ministries are at the same place. Sharing our calendars is the most important, but we’re really still learning to make this a priority.
Youth ministers (and all of those in ministry roles) are expected to maintain a certain level of belief without doubt, to love their jobs and the kids to whom they minister, and to be happy that they are able to have a job in which all you do is worship God and love kids. How do you and your spouse deal with that “happiness” myth and with the reality that sometimes this is not the job you thought you wanted? That you’re never able to truly leave work at work?
Those are the times we bear each other’s burdens. Sometimes when one of us has had a good day, the other has had a rough day, so we’re better equipped to hold the other one up. To be an effective youth minister you must convey the message you need to display an element of authenticity—you aren’t always happy, doubt is real, kids make you mad, and home life is not perfect for everyone. While most of the world asks us, “Do you even work during the week?”, it’s great to be married to someone who understands and is passionate about the work that DOES happen in between the Sundays.
You lose your Sunday which, for someone in a typical Monday through Friday job, is a family day. How do you compensate for that?
We take Friday as our day off, and we also both take half a day on Tuesdays. It’s not “typical,” but it works for us right now. We’re still living into it.
What other tips would you pass on to fellow youth ministers on balancing your marriage and your ministry?
Adam: There is an ebb and flow and give and take to both ministry and marriage. Many times the struggle is that I am called to be both a minister and a husband. Juggling those two callings is never easy, and it never feels like they weigh out perfectly. Keeping open lines of communication, keeping healthy boundaries at your church, and realizing your can’t be the savior of your entire congregation are very important. When I go home at the end of the day, technically my office hours are over at the church and many things that seem pressing will wait until the next day; however, being a spouse is 24/7. We must learn that our callings don’t call us to compartmentalize our lives but rather learn a healthy flow.
Carlisle: Marriage is hard. Youth ministry is hard. A good day in marriage may be a bad day in ministry. There will be really hard times balancing both, but it is a beautiful process. It is a privilege to be called to youth ministry and an absolute blessing to be married. No matter how many times you have to fight over calendars, your pastor, that one middle schooler, or who will do the dishes, it’s worth it.
Check out the links below for the other articles in our short series “Married/Single in Youth Ministry.”
Married in Youth Ministry: The Newlyweds
Single in Youth Ministry: Her View
Married in Youth Ministry: With a Minivan and a Mortgage
Single in Youth Ministry: His View
Married in Youth Ministry: The Veterans
CYMT is proud to announce the expansion of our original initiative into Theology Together 2.0. CYMT aims to develop a curriculum to be used in local congregations and ministries. Taking what we have learned about engaging youth in deep theological reflection during missional experiences and embedding those processes into congregational youth ministries.
"I hope students come away from my courses with the ability to think more deeply, richly and theologically about their youth ministry practice. I think a lot of what happens in youth ministry happens unreflectively and can be deforming to young people, and my courses are intended to give students a theological framework for evaluating and reforming their youth ministry practice."
Of course, I want students to drink deeply from the academic readings, lectures and discussions, and I want them to be informed by the academics. But more than that, I want them to see that youth ministry is a calling of God, an important part of God’s mission in the world, one that should give them pride and evoke humility at the same time.