Below is an interview with Coletta Smith, founder and coach with Alongside taken from an interview with thecreativelittlechurch.org.
Tell us a little about Alongside – a ministry for pastors’ wives.
Coletta: Being a ministry wife is full of challenges: relationships, leadership, conflict, people that are hurting. Those challenges can make us run towards or away from the calling God has put on our lives. Alongside is about empowering ministry wives to courageously embrace that calling, both as individuals called to this time, place and role and as dynamic partners in their marriage teams.
Why did you start this ministry for Pastors’ Wives?
Coletta: For twenty years, Craig and I served in a church that went through a season of flourishing growth and a season of languishing hemorrhage. While having some wonderful friendships, I spent most of that time essentially alone when it came to someone understanding the complexities of this role as a pastor’s wife. I’ve watched pastors’ wives shrink back and disappear out the back door because they can’t face the expectations. The people and the weight of responsibility that come when she is fully in that trench with her husband.
After God led us to Mission Hills (a much larger church), I realized that the weight, loneliness and many of those other challenges didn’t really change. But now, God has provided a way to meet the challenges, not only for me but for pastors’ wives all over the country and around the world. Each time I lead a cohort of women, I get to wrestle, right alongside them, with the question, “what is my next step in becoming a more dynamic, faith-filled, courageous partner in ministry?” And I’m equipped with new tools as women dig into these hard questions together. As a part of the Mission Hills Association, we provide all of the resources of Alongside to pastors’ / ministry wives, around the globe, for free.
How did you end up a pastor’s wife? Did you always want to marry a pastor?
Coletta: I had never really thought about it. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home but God put in me a desire for Him since I was really little. I came to Jesus in sixth grade and was discipled by my Pre-Algebra teacher, all through high school.
I remember her saying one day, “Coletta, you are going to marry a pastor.”
And I thought, “That’s super-weird. I don’t even know many pastors. And the one I do know – I wouldn’t want to marry someone like him.”
In college, God began to clearly lead me to full time vocational ministry and the clearest path forward was to … you guessed it – China.
As with many times when God leads me, He gives me a vision. A heart for the person He wants me to become, just to get me moving forward. Sometimes that’s attached to a picture or a destination, but I think that’s mostly God’s mercy with my humanness. Once my sails are up and I’m moving and listening, He course-corrects me with His hand on the rudder.
When Craig and I met, we were leading worship together with CRU and discovered we loved spending time together and made a great team. We planned on taking an evangelistic band on staff with CRU, but God had His hand on our rudder, redirecting us. He led us to take a Youth Ministry position where He seized our hearts for students and His work through the local church. I would say that being partners in ministry is something that’s been in our DNA since the beginning. But as a pastor? That part He built into us along the way.
I know you’ve had experience as a pastor’s wife in both large and small churches. What did you see as the main differences?
Coletta: I love great questions – and this is one of them. But the answers are complicated, partly because everyone’s experiences are different. I can really only talk to you about mine.
First, let me give you a little background. Craig and I have served in churches from plants, to flourishing, to declining. Under 100 to over 6000. We spent most of our ministry in one church as it went through all of the phases of health and unhealth.
Then, God moved us and within a month Craig went from shepherding about 450 to shepherding 4500. Definitely some differences, but a whole lot of similarities too.
The biggest difference between being a pastor’s wife in a large church and a small church, for me, is finding my space.
In a smaller church, there are so many needs that it is assumed that the pastor’s wife will step into whatever she’s passionate about, whether it’s Kid’s Ministry or Women’s or Worship.
Now, I know those expectations and the loudness of those needs can be deafening in a small church, and it can feel quite overwhelming to feel like you need to jump into all of them.
The difference in a big church is that all of the things that you are passionate about, those spaces where you “feel God’s glory” working through you, those ministries are all accomplished by full time staff teams. And they have to be to take care of so many people.
But losing that space and that feeling of being “uninvited” is something I never expected. But God has grown me in one great truth – and that is that when I feel like I don’t belong or have a space, that “I have not been passed over, but rather SAVED FOR.” Lisa Terkeurst did a great job of helping me work through this in her book “Uninvited”. And actually, after a few years at Mission Hills, I discovered that Alongside was what God had saved me for. And that’s exciting.
Another difference that honestly surprised me, was the weight of taking care of a large staff.
Now, I know what you are thinking. When we were at a small church and I’d hear someone talk about difficulties with having a large staff. I’d find myself rolling my eyes and thinking, “Yeah, poor you. At least you have staff. Craig and I are the only ones that show up to get the work done – and I’m not even paid.”
But that was on a grumpy day.
The reality is that there’s just a constant, low level frustration with staff issues. It’s like having a church within a church. You have to take care of your staff and make sure they are ALL healthy so that they can equip the rest of the Body for ministry. But getting 100 people, let alone their families, all healthy and in the right spots is super hard. And feeling personally responsible for their happiness with the organization – not realistic. Figuring out how to navigate fostering friendships and pouring into the spiritual health of staff while “sleeping with their boss” is complicated.
And I guess a huge difference that we have to acknowledge is the disparity between resources of a small church and a megachurch.
I remember well dreaming of what we would do for a Christmas series stage set and then going to Home Depot and trying to shrink that dream into a $100 budget. But I guess that’s why Craig and I are so motivated to make resources available to smaller churches. You are reaching people that we can’t, but we want to help make it easier.
The Creative Little Church specializes in small church ministry. What do you see as the greatest needs of pastors’ wives in small churches?
Coletta: Finding that “thing” – that place where you sense God working through you, that place that invigorates you. And then realize that you will not spend all of your time there.
There will be babies to hold in the nursery, chairs to set up and take down, and meals to prep for people who are coming to dinner. But if a ministry couple can work together to make sure that you are doing a little every week of that thing that fills your soul, it will keep you going in the things that don’t.
Sometimes it’s hard to find that “thing” on your own. We often have a hard time seeing where God is moving in our own lives, how we fit into His purposes. That’s why being in a group with others that have a similar calling on their lives is so helpful. We often hear God speak through the voices of His people.
There are a lot of blogs out there for pastors’ wives. What makes Alongside unique in its ministry to pastors’ wives?
Coletta: Well, we produce some good resources that specifically tackle the challenges and sticky points of being a ministry wife. But that’s not REALLY what we’re about.
We’re about inviting ministry wives to join us in Cohorts. These are small groups of ministry wives, led by two seasoned ministry wife coaches. They meet for one semester, online, and have four guided intentional conversations that really cause us to wrestle with those things that prevent us from fully engaging, on a heart level, in this ministry God has put us in (or this marriage, for that matter).
We create these spaces so that each ministry wife can discover how God has uniquely prepared and equipped her to be where she is – so that she can walk forward in confidence, knowing that she is uniquely her.
And while we talk about some of the challenges that come with ministry, we ALWAYS bring it back to “how do you see God moving in this?” so that we focus on Jesus and not on our circumstances.
Although some pastor’s wives say that their husband is their best friend, many feel neglected and 2nd to the church. How do you encourage those who feel 2nd?
Coletta: That’s honestly a tough question. It’s tough because there are different causes: is he legitimately off in his priorities? Or is she easily miffed and demanding? Is it because they aren’t a team or because he’s obsessed with his career or the church? Either way, I’d want her to know she’s not alone.
If I’m honest, I’ve felt this way too. Sometimes it’s been because I’m being selfish – and other times it’s been legitimate. But there were several things that got me through that phase.
The first is realizing that it probably won’t last forever.
Coletta: Sometimes it’s related to an especially stressful season at the church, when it feels like he doesn’t have anything left for me by the time he gets home. When you’re in it, it feels like it’s lasting forever. But take some time to remember a season when you didn’t feel like that. For some, that may be pretty hard. I get that.
Then, don’t give up on drawing closer to him.
Coletta: We can’t change their behavior. But we can pray for them (sounds trite, but how many times I have tried to change him without praying for the Holy Spirit to work!). I often want to handle my needs myself, because I don’t want to be another burden or hurting person he feels like he needs to fix.
But I’ve GOT to talk to him.
He says he’d much rather me talk to him about my needs when they are just tugging on me instead of waiting for them to be overflowing and causing a meltdown. He says this EVEN WHEN we’re in the midst of the most stressful seasons of leadership.
So try again. Pray. And try again.
Most pastors wives declare they are not the typical pastor’s wife. Do you think there is a typical pastor’s wife these days? What have you seen?
Coletta: There is nothing “TYPICAL” about how you fulfill this calling God has uniquely and specifically put on YOUR life! This idea that pastors’ wives play the piano and run Bible Studies is outdated.
When I dig into this comment with most wives, it turns out that the expectations they are feeling are coming more from inside their own hearts than from other people.
Every pastor’s wife thrives when she is able to find that path that God created for her to walk.
I think the heart behind “I’m not the typical pastor’s wife” is really “Don’t put expectations on me. Let me do me and you worry about you.”
The thing is, I think most of our congregations really just “expect” their pastor’s wife to love them. That’s what they long for. That means that she’s accessible and willing to do some life with them.
When that happens, the rest – like the piano and Bible Studies – doesn’t matter much.
Tell us about the Alongside cohorts? How do they work?
Coletta: Alongside cohorts meet for four months, once a month via zoom. Each cohort has eight ministry/pastors’ wives and two seasoned coaches who guide the conversation using questions that help us wrestle with the deeper heart issues of being a ministry wife.
Each ministry wife is also encouraged to meet 1:1 with one of the coaches for a time specifically focused on her, her walk with the Lord and her challenges.
We encourage all ministry wives to do the Embracing Your Calling Conversation series first, as it lays the groundwork for the others.
There are other Conversation series, with new ones being developed and piloted all of the time. For more info, visit us at alongsidepastorswives.com/cohorts
What would you say to someone who is considering joining an Alongside cohort, but they are still on the fence?
Coletta: Finding others who get you and share the same challenges that come with being a pastor’s wife doesn’t come naturally.
By nature, it’s a role that means your life isn’t like everyone else’s. But God doesn’t intend that we do it by ourselves.
If you are nervous about jumping in, that’s Ok. I get it. You really don’t have places where you can truly be “you” and the idea that this might be just that, is a little scary.
But we’ve made the commitment short. 4 times together. 2 hours each. Try it. You might just find a kindred spirit…or some courage poured into your soul.
What is your future vision for Alongside? Do you have dreams to see it expand its reach?
Coletta: Yes … yes, we do!! So we’ve gotten so many pastors’ / missionary wives coming to us that are serving in other countries that we’ve created our first Global Partner Wives Cohort; it’s being piloted this Fall. I’m excited to see what God is going to do with this door He has opened.
When you get to know me, you’ll see I’m someone that loves to jump into the deep end of the pool. We’ll be doing that (prayerfully and Lord willing) in a new Podcast and Youtube channel set to launch sometime this fall (2021). This will expand on many of those conversations that are had in our cohorts. Also give ministry wives a way to process the complicated when they might not have anyone to talk it through with.
And finally, many denominations and movements already have relationships with their pastors’ wives – they just don’t have the materials and the structures to minister to them intentionally. Many have support groups that pray together, which is wonderful. But we can help them care more intentionally by training coaches from these denominations / movements to incorporate Alongside in how they take care of their ministry wives. They get trained, use our content and platforms and have access to all of our resources. It’s awesome to see the Lord use the relationships He’s already put in place through those movements, but with more consistency, useful tools and purposeful conversations.
If someone wanted to become a coach with Alongside, is that possible? How would they do that?
Coletta: Absolutely! We’re looking for ministry wives / pastors’ wives that have been in ministry for awhile and maybe have some scars to prove it. Our coaches are trained to be great question askers and listeners and able to bring Biblical clarity to complex situations.
I’d love to set up a zoom call and get to know anyone interested in becoming a coach with Alongside. We’ll also talk about our pipeline process and see if it’s a good fit for you. You can reach out to me at Coletta@alongsidepastorswives.com
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, when you were a brand new pastor’s wife, what would it be?
Coletta: Coletta … find a pastor’s wife mentor. Isolation and loneliness are going to be very familiar companions for you. This will help attack them. So pray for this older woman. Look for her. Ask her. When this is in place, the Lord has a relationship that He will use to help you navigate many of the other complexities that will come down the road. If I told you now the stuff you are going to have to deal with, you’d run for the hills. But if you commit, as much as you are able, to having someone like this in your life, you’ll have much of what you need.
How can we pray for you and this ministry?
Coletta: The Lord knows how scattered I can be. How I have a million ideas I want to jump on. So pray that God establishes my path and directs my feet so that I know just what He wants us to focus on right now.
Pray that I would grow in my experience of His delight in me – that’s something I’m pressing into right now that doesn’t come naturally.
Pray for our team of coaches as they all get ready to lead their cohorts starting in August. We have 15 of them, doubling from the spring. So pray that God would knit our hearts during our few Coach’s Calls that we have together so that we can support each other in the work He’s called us to.
And pray for some specific needs that I have – for a media specialist, a prayer coordinator, and another content writer. Thank you! Thank you!