Serving in numerous ministry capacities together, Geoff and Sherry Surratt have valuable lessons and observations to pass along to couples seeking to serve in ministry together.
Marriage is hard. Learning to do life with another human being presents unanticipated challenges that take determined, focused, humbling effort to work through.
Ministry is hard. Much like marriage, it's full of unanticipated challenges, requires a great deal of selflessness, and often comes with little reward.
Marriage and ministry together? It’s a unique calling, yet couples who enter into it seldom receive adequate preparation, training, or even warning!
Geoff and Sherry Surratt have been at both marriage and ministry together for over 30 years and have seen the highs, lows, and everything in between—they've managed to figure out a way to make it all work together. But the Surratts aren't the Facebook ministry couple with perfect hair, perfect skin, and perfect children. In fact, Together isn't a how-to-guide to create the model marriage-in-ministry. It's more like coffee with friends who've been where you are going and have learned some valuable lessons that may help you find your way, together.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Geoff Surratt is on staff of Seacoast Church, a successful and high-visibility multi-site church. Geoff has twenty-four years of ministry experience in churches. Along with his wife and two children, he lives in Charleston, South Carolina. He is coauthor of The Multi-Site Church Revolution and author of Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches from Growing.
As the CEO at MOPS International, Sherry Surratt is excited to work with dedicated folks who trade their lives daily to invest in moms and families. She is passionate about helping women step into their influence and change the world, whether it’s in the office or in the incredibly important role of mom to their kids. Sherry lives in Denver with the love of her life, Geoff, and has two wonderful kids, Michael and Brittainy, beautiful daughter-in-law Hilary, and her two gorgeous grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
My (Sherry's) grandma Thelma was true to the color of her red hair; she was spicy. When her church elected a new pastor, she immediately noted the pastor had a son just a bit older than her fourteen-year-old granddaughter and conspired that we should meet. I found out much later my grandma's best friend, Fleta, happened to have a granddaughter the same age, and the competition was on. Whose granddaughter would be the first to date the pastor's son? For my parents, actual dating was off-limits for a fourteen-year-old, but this didn't stop Thelma. Under the ruse of a weekend with the grandparents, I saw Geoff for the first time, dressed for Sunday church in dress slacks and a white-and-brown Starsky and Hutch belted sweater. I thought he was the cutest thing I had ever seen.
As luck would have it, our church youth groups helped us meet as well. We were both part of the Bible quiz teams (picture a slightly geeky form of Quiz bowl and answering obscure questions about the New Testament), and at a team retreat I actually got the nerve to talk to him. He was a worldly man of fifteen (I saw the wispy evidence of a mustache and knew I was in the presence of a man who shaved) and funny and smart and, oh, so grown-up. I was a goner. I was in love.
We dated for five years (after reaching my parents' requirement of the age of fifteen to date), and I remember sitting in his car on a rainy night when the conversation turned serious. Geoff shared how God had called him to ministry, to be a pastor, and maybe someday to plant a church. With a serious look, he asked how I felt about it, because he wanted us to be in ministry together.
With my heart racing, my mind quickly slid past the ministry part to what I thought he was hinting at. He was saying he wanted to marry me! He loved me! He repeated his question again. How did I feel about going into ministry? I remember thinking: I've grown up in church, I love God with all my heart, and I love you. What else matters? I must have satisfied his question, because on Christmas Day a few months later, over a romantic breakfast at an exclusive restaurant (the International House of Pancakes), I said yes, and Geoff and I became a we.
All these years later we are still on the long ride of doing ministry and marriage. Looking back on that rainy August night, sitting in my car in front of Sherry's house, I (Geoff) thought we'd covered all the bases on what marriage and ministry might be like. I asked Sherry if she wanted to be in ministry together and she said yes. I didn't know it then, but this became the first of many times I got Sherry to say yes to something she hadn't had enough time to completely think through. This led to massive problems later on, but we'll get to that later. All I knew in that car that night was I heard the best yes I could imagine. I had known since I first met this foxy fourteen-year-old that this was the girl I wanted to marry. She was cute, smart, and fall-down funny. She was always the life of the party, and I assumed once we were married the party would be 24/7.
For several years after that night I gave almost no thought to the expectations placed on a pastor's wife. I grew up in a pastor's home, my father grew up in a pastor's home, all my relatives on my dad's side grew up in pastors' homes. It was the only normal I knew. Since Sherry grew up in church, and her family was very involved in ministry, I assumed she knew what she was getting into. The traits of getting Sherry to say yes and then assuming she knew exactly what she said yes to almost ended our marriage a few years later. But we'll get to that later.
After saying yes to marriage and ministry, the next year was a whirlwind. I (Sherry) set about planning the perfect wedding, and my sweet dad smiled a patient smile as he handed over his wallet. Now that we have adult children, I have a better perspective of what must have been going through my parents' minds. Does she know what she's getting into, moving so far away from her family and friends? Has she given any thought to being a youth pastor's wife and what being called to ministry really means?
I didn't and I hadn't.
Two weeks after the wedding, we pulled into the parking lot of our new Houston home with a tiny moving van full of all the stuff in my parents' basement they hadn't yet thrown out. With the help of Geoff's parents, it took us all of thirty minutes to move into our tiny one-bedroom apartment.
We moved in on a Wednesday and it was the first night for me to experience a youth group meeting. None of the students had met me since we had gotten married in my hometown of St. Louis, and they were curious. How did Geoff and I meet? Where did we live and what was our apartment like? The question "How old are you?" made me cringe. I was two months shy of twenty and I realized I wasn't much older than most of the kids standing around me.
Our first weekend was an overwhelming experience. We also worked with the elementary kids on the weekend, so it was hard to meet many of the adults, but many of the parents in our youth group made a beeline to meet me. They were warm and friendly, but I felt as if the look behind their smiles was saying, "Wow, you are young!"
It wasn't long before I was invited to attend my first pastors' wives retreat. I packed my suitcase not knowing what to expect, but I looked forward to meeting some new friends. I was caught by surprise when our first activity, titled Being Alone, came with instructions to find an empty pup tent out of the many that had been set up for us on a hillside. We were supposed to spend the next two hours praying and being quiet. We were told not to talk to anyone else but to stay in our tent and hear what God had to say.
I'm all about prayer, and I'm a fan of getting quiet with God and listening to his voice, but I was nine hundred miles from home, without any girlfriends nearby, and feeling a little desperate. Because I am a rule follower, however, I did what I was told. I sat in my little tent. I read my Bible. I fidgeted. I ran out of things to talk to God about and came to the conclusion that I wasn't at all a spiritual giant like the women who surrounded me in their nearby tents.
But then I heard a rustling next door and I poked my head out. Coming straight at me on her hands and knees was the wife of the district superintendent (queen of the spiritual giants in my estimation), and she had chocolate in her hand.
She whispered: "You okay in here, honey? I thought you might need some snacks!"
She threw some chocolate in my tent and then crawled back to hers.
I thought for a minute I might have seen an angel.
While that retreat was a bit overwhelming and not at all what I expected, I did meet some friends. Some of the pastors' wives weren't at all like me, but some of them were. Margie, the tosser of chocolate, was a pure joy to be around. She laughed loud and often. She often forgot to wear her hearing aids, so it sounded like she was shouting most of the time. But she was an intense comfort to me. She was comfortable in her own skin, and I didn't realize it at the time, but she was encouraging me to discover my own skin and feel at home in it too.
Looking back, I realize as much as my experiences shaped me, so did my expectations. I guess I had pretty typical ones about what marriage would be, especially for someone who had focused on the wedding much more than the being married part. When it came to our life together, I expected marriage to be fun. I expected there would always be enough money. I expected marriage to be an extension of our dating life. We'd go to movies and eat pizza in front of the TV. We'd talk endlessly about our hopes and dreams. We'd be tremendously happy. Sure, we'd have problems (small ones at worst), but we'd know how to work them out.
Probably the most dangerous of all: I expected Geoff to make me happy. But not just happy. Gloriously happy.
Had I ever told Geoff I expected all of these things? Well, really, why should I have to? Isn't that what marriage is all about? Having tons of fun and making the other person happy? That notion is so pregnant with unrealistic expectations we'll have to save it for another chapter.
Not only did I have big expectations for Geoff, but over the years I've realized I had unspoken and unintentional expectations about ministry as well. I expected being in ministry wouldn't be all that different from the way I grew up going to church. My dad was a board member and Sunday school superintendent. As a kid, I ran wild in the church halls while my parents were in choir practice, found the stash of candy in the children's church closet, and was generally a church brat. I knew the rhythm of weekend services: Sunday morning and Sunday night church, Wednesday night youth group, and Thursday morning women's ministry. But what I had never given a moment's thought to was the stuff a pastor did during the week, the actual ministry part.
The families in our church had lives that got messy. Kids ran away from home. Teenage boys slept with their girlfriends. Dads got arrested for drunk driving and ended up in jail. Moms decided they'd had enough and walked away. Growing up in church, I would hear prayer requests and watch as my mom and dad would lend a hand with food or money and even a bed for folks who needed a place to stay. But now it was different. The families in our church came to Geoff and me with their broken, heartrending circumstances. And they wanted to know what to do next.
One Sunday afternoon, a teenage girl sat with us. As tears rolled down her cheeks, she told us her nineteen-year-old husband was having an affair and had left her and their baby girl. As she asked us what she should do, I remember thinking, Holy cow, I don't have the first idea of what you should do. I felt too young and too naive and too embarrassed. It began to dawn on me that by saying "I do," I had also said yes to a certain level of responsibility I had never considered.
I expected married life to be me and Geoff, not me and Geoff and the church. It felt like church seeped in everywhere: our conversations, our thoughts, our schedule, and even our bedroom. Our weeknights, weekends, and holidays were no longer our own. We had Wednesday night youth service and Friday night parties and New Year's Eve all-nighters. Holidays now turned into a source of stress. We couldn't visit my family until after Christmas because we needed to be at the church for Christmas Eve. Easter weekend took a huge amount of planning for an Easter egg hunt and an exhausting weekend of multiple services. The Fourth of July was a church picnic day. Geoff and I hadn't been married very long when I had the wistful thought, I wonder what it's like to be normal and have a normal holiday?
A normal holiday for me (Geoff), growing up in a pastor's home, was a church service or a church picnic. Family vacations were almost always trips to the denomination's annual national conference. I didn't resent church dominating everything about our family life because it was the only family life I knew. All of my friends went to our church, so church events were a chance to hang out with my friends. When we went to church conferences, we always stayed in a hotel with a swimming pool, which was heaven to a ten-year-old from Denver. My parents were always too busy at the conference to pay attention to me, so I swam, ate junk food, and did pretty much anything I wanted for five days. What's not to like about that kind of normal?
It took several years to realize that a life dominated by church activity wasn't ideal for a young wife and eventual mother. I think my first clue came at an all-night New Year's Eve party when our son was two months old. Sherry had to balance pretending to have fun, keeping an eye on eighty teenagers, and finding a place to nurse our son away from the prying eyes of adolescent boys. I thought: Hmm, that's probably not ideal. Oh well, she'll be okay. This was not my finest moment.
I (Sherry) was completely naive and expected people in church to always be nice. I was lucky to grow up in a family where the pastor was someone you prayed for and respected because he was the pastor. I'm sure my parents had disagreements with what went on in the church, but they very wisely didn't talk about it in front of me. I remember as a young child spending the night with my grandparents and hearing my grandpa pray out loud as he did every morning: Lord, thank you for sending us our pastor. He's a great man of God, called by you. Use us to love him and his family well.
One Sunday morning, after wrestling with fifty active (code word for pain in the butt) elementary kids in children's church, a mom marched up and stood two inches from my face. Confident she was going to tell me how much her daughter Melissa loved the Bible story that day, I gave her a big smile. But her Melissa had lost her hair bow, and mom wasn't happy and wanted me to find it. Right. That. Minute.
I was unprepared for the strong opinions and the need for people to tell us what they didn't like more often than telling us the things they did. I didn't realize the other women would share their opinions about who I sat with in church, what I wore, and how I did my hair. It hurt to find out even people we considered friends complained to others about how we did ministry.
Looking back, I wish we had sat down early on with a married couple who had more ministry experience. They could have helped with my perspective and helped me to see where our expectations were unreasonable. It would have been great to have another pastor's wife tell me it's going to be okay if there are people unhappy with the way we are leading ministry or not agreeing with our decisions or not liking my husband. I needed someone to tell me to not give in to pleasing everyone. Maybe then I wouldn't have gotten my feelings hurt so easily and felt like such a failure when I experienced the very normal things in ministry that everyone in ministry experiences.
Along the way I've been able to talk to other pastors' wives who have shared their stories of bumps and bruises and with pastors who have talked honestly about what they've learned. It's been fascinating to hear the stories that sounded so painful but actually turned into great moments of learning and healing. It made me think about my own experience as a new pastor's wife and the things I've learned along the way.
First (and this was huge for me), I've learned I have to admit I didn't break it and I can't fix it. A wise pastor friend told me awhile back that many times we see the problem only at the point after it's become desperate. We weren't there when their child first started going off the rails or when the marriage hit the first rough patch. It's usually a problem that has been months or years in the making, and all of that pain and mess isn't going to be fixed in a few conversations. How true.
It's tempting to have a quick and perfect solution to a broken relationship or family fracture, but I don't. And I shouldn't. I'm not a professional counselor, and it doesn't help anyone if I pretend I am. While they may expect expert advice, I need to focus on what I can uniquely do, which is to listen and love and pray. Early on I would take on others' problems as my own. I would feel bad when I didn't have an answer, and I would take on the burden of worry, feeling responsible for ending their pain and their disappointment when I couldn't. It wasn't helpful to them, me, or my marriage. I learned I needed to right-size my expectations for myself. I can be a wise listener and point them to Jesus. And that's about the end of what I can do.
I've also learned I need to pay attention to what I'm paying attention to, which are the voices in my head. My parents' expectations and how I was raised has a huge impact on what I tell myself today. Growing up, I was expected to get good grades, always be polite, and whenever there was a church event, I was expected to be there. This is fine and good, but it doesn't always translate into being a pastor's wife. You can't be at every event. You won't always perfectly plan that gathering or get an A in every relationship. Sometimes you are going to drop the ball or disappoint someone or not bring your best self to a speaking opportunity. So be it. The only perfect standard to achieve is the one in our heads, and it's a bunch of baloney.
Somewhere along the way I realized I was expecting myself to make it all okay for Geoff. I didn't want him to be disappointed when a family quit the church. I didn't want him to have to worry about who would teach that Sunday school class after the preschool teacher quit. I didn't want him to sweat over the finances when we lost two major tithers. I found myself going to ridiculous lengths to satisfy my own dependence on his happiness, trying to fill every hole in the church myself and talking him out of feeling sad or disappointed. After years of trying to manage my angst and what I thought was his, I realized my worry didn't help his challenges.
Excerpted from "Together"
Copyright © 2018 Geoff and Sherry Surratt.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 We're Expecting, 1,
2 Calling Card, 21,
3 Together Separate, 37,
4 Together Alone, 55,
5 Balancing Act, 73,
6 The Fishbowl, 87,
7 Pressure Cooker, 105,
8 Church Chat, 117,
9 Healthy Change, 131,
10 The Second Act, 151,
Conclusion: What We Wish for You, 167,
About the Authors, 177,