August 31, 2012

Changed My Tune

I'm welcoming Caroline Saunders to the blog today. She offers us both a "new to ministry" and a student pastor's wife's perspective, which I'm sure many of you will relate with. If you would like to guest post like Caroline, I invite you to read my writer's guidelines and submission details.

When I was 16, my boyfriend, Luke, said, “I’m going to be a student pastor someday.” I remember thinking that the student pastor profession didn’t quite sync with the antics of the guy I had come to know. The youth pastors I knew were calm, kind, and sweet. Luke was opinionated, strong-willed, and bold. Everything about him seemed ironic: He once set an entire field on fire with a firework and was later excited because he could use it as a sermon illustration.

Either way, I figured it didn’t matter much because he was going away to college, and then we’d break up.

Only we didn’t break up. He followed me to college, and we were married as soon as we graduated.

Somehow, I ended up being a pastor’s wife, and I’m pretty sure I never meant to sign up for that. I always knew I was called to minister to high school girls (my sense of humor is right on par with theirs), but God surprised me in the way he made that call a reality. Despite the clear calling and equipping, ministry sent me into a tailspin.

Plenty of things made me grouchy at the beginning: the church (and sometimes Luke) didn’t understand our need for alone time, Luke’s cell would ring at all hours, weekend weddings and SEC football games weren’t an option if they meant missing Sunday… the list went on. I found people relying on me for more than I had to give, and I lived fearful I would let them down. At the same time, I was resentful because they assumed I owed them my time and energy.

As whole-heartedly as I had sought God throughout my life, ministry sent me into crisis. I remember feeling disgusted by the sound of a guitar coming in mid-prayer—everything seemed contrived and manipulative. Where were these ugly thoughts coming from? Even though I loved Luke and often enjoyed the work we did together, why did I have a heart of stone?

There wasn’t a moment when it all came together. I kept expecting God to use a lightning bolt experience to shatter me to pieces. But He didn’t come that way—He came like a gentle breeze. (1 Kings 19:11-13)

I felt the breeze through the generous advice of more experienced pastor’s wives. I remember Donna Gaines telling a group of us to be on the lookout. “Sometimes people will try to influence you so that you will influence your husband,” she cautioned. She gave me a pad answer that I still use (with a smile) to this day: “You’ll have to speak with Luke about that.”

I felt the breeze when we realized that ministry is best done by establishing boundaries and taking the time to enjoy our relationship as a married couple. He makes us rest. (Psalm 23:2)

I felt the breeze when I said goodbye to pride. I always wanted to be the wise one with all the answers, and I worked hard to keep up that image. Rather than wearing myself out to provide answers and support I often couldn’t muster, I realized that my purpose is to point to the Lord, not have it all together.

I felt the breeze when I witnessed my girls—the girls I had poured into for so long—need me less and less and seek God more and more.

I felt the breeze when I began to view myself and others the way Jesus viewed them. “He had compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). I need to be dependent on my shepherd, and I also need to be generously compassionate towards other sheep. I think the purpose of our student ministry is to point people to Christ while wholeheartedly seeking him ourselves.

If you were wondering, I’ve changed my tune about something else, too: Luke is the most amazing student pastor I’ve ever seen. He’s relatable, funny, decisive, and unafraid to preach truth. It’s clear that God designed him for precisely the work he’s doing, and I am privileged to stand by his side. (And the sermon illustration about the field he set on fire is pretty good, too.)

Caroline Saunders serves alongside her husband, Luke, at The Orchard Fellowship in Memphis, Tennessee. She teaches Writing to 8th graders at Briarcrest Christian School. Since she’s almost constantly around 13 year olds, her outlet,, is pretty important to her well being.