By Kelly Carr
Ben and Pat Merold—most folks seldom say one of their names without the other, and that’s just fine with them. When they talk, you hear their love for one another, the joy they feel together, and the immense pride they have about the other’s ministry. One could easily declare that Ben and Pat Merold are who we all hope to be when we grow up!
Ben and Pat share their story of a lifelong love for serving the Lord and for each other.
Jumping into Ministry
The year was 1948. Pat, a freshman at Johnson Bible College in Knoxville, Tennessee, was walking across campus when a sophomore slowly drove past in his 1930 Buick. Pat’s head turned, eyes following the car’s trail. Ever the extrovert, it didn’t take long before Pat found the chance to introduce herself to the driver of this stunning car. The next summer, Pat became Mrs. Ben Merold.
Pat was 18 years old, eyes full of hope and a trust that God would take care of her and her new groom. She didn’t worry about money or what was ahead. Ben was 23, having already served as a Marine in World War II—an experience that admittedly caused him to mature in responsibility yet remain a bit naive socially. A few months before they married, Ben was asked to try reopening a small church in Assumption, Illinois. Neither of them had any trepidation about jumping into ministry as newlyweds.
“Before I met Ben, I always thought ministry meant sacrifice, so I was prepared for that,” said Pat. Though she had gone to college anticipating a music ministry career, she was ready to serve God whatever way he might use her.
“We both had the same idea. You’re in ministry—you’re going to have to sacrifice some things, get out there and go to work. So we did,” said Ben. He doesn’t remember any particular struggle beginning ministry. He just followed God’s call and put in as much hard effort as needed.
They moved to Illinois and transferred to Lincoln Christian College to finish their education. After a couple of years in part-time ministry, they finished school and went on to serve full-time in four other churches over the years. First they ministered in Villa Grove, Illinois, for 5 years and then in Sullivan, Indiana, for 12.5 years, where their three sons spent most of their childhood. In 1969, Ben was asked to go to Eastside Christian Church in Fullerton, California, and the church grew from 300 to more than 3,000 in 22-plus years. Finally in 1991, just before his 65th birthday, Ben said yes to Harvester Christian Church in St. Charles, Missouri. While Pat assumed Ben would preach for several years and then retire, he served for 17 years and still remains as minister at large, offering his consultation and teaching.
“I told Ben they saw us as grandparents,” Pat said lovingly of the Harvester congregation, who were mostly in their 20s and early 30s when the Merolds arrived. They enjoyed that role. Pat said mentoring was her forte, and Ben felt the love and acceptance of the young members, watching the country church take off at a quicker rate than any previous ministry he held. The church topped 3,000 members before Ben stepped down from the lead role.
Pairing Well Together
Marriage over the long haul takes work and compatibility. So does ministry. Ben and Pat have similar passions yet different skill sets that pair well together.
“Pat is very outgoing,” Ben said. “I’m not, so I need her. We meet people and she is the one who instantly establishes rapport with them. She’s much better at that than I am.” Then Ben described a specific example of her magnetic nature: “Pat will always attract young men. I [used to think it was because] she was young and good looking. Now she’s in her 80s and we’ll go someplace, and still young guys in their 20s and 30s talk to her. They talk sensibly to her. They don’t talk junk. She has that knack. I came to appreciate it and capitalized on it.”
“I don’t know about that,” Pat chimed in. “But I’m very proud of Ben and all the things he does. He goes about doing them without a whole lot of conversation about it. I appreciate that. I’m very proud of his preaching. I’ve listened to him for years, and I can’t believe how many sermons I remember.”
Ben recalls the youth groups Pat worked with over the years and the women’s small groups Pat developed into large ministries in both California and Missouri. “I’m proud of Pat as a Bible teacher,” said Ben. “I’m also proud of her as a counselor. She counsels with a lot of women (and some men too). Though there were times I’d be a little upset when she’d be on the phone for a long time with someone. But she does a great job.”
“I say the same about Ben,” Pat responded. “So many ministers call him. There are so many times when practical advice is what they need and want from him. He always gives it, but I notice when he talks that he compliments them to encourage them.” She also loves that whatever Ben says he’ll do, he does. “I think that’s a good quality—he always finishes what he starts.”
Ben and Pat both enjoy calling on people—at least they do now. Ben didn’t like it at first, but he knew he needed to do it and came to love that part of ministry. Calling was where they deepened relationships with the people they were shepherding, sharing in both sorrows and joys.
Loving Over the Long Haul
When asked what advice they would give to young couples entering ministry today, Ben began, “We both have a devotional life, a prayer life . . .”
“But we don’t have it together,” Pat jumped in.
Ben laughed. “We’d probably get in an argument. We learned that very quickly. You have to do what works for you in your devotional and prayer life like that. Accept one another and be proud of one another.”
“Trust God and work on your marriage,” Pat added. “A lot of things that are my shortcomings Ben never brought up to me, but I’m sure he prayed about it. When we were first married, I made vows to myself and God: Never talk badly about Ben. There will be enough people in the church doing that. I also made a vow about kids: I’m never going to tell them that they’re preacher’s kids and can’t do something. While one son did get off track for a while, none of our sons hated the ministry.”
“We were rather eccentric parents,” Ben recalled. “We did things other parents wouldn’t do. I would be preaching a revival somewhere, and Pat would get the three kids in the car and drive to meet me for a milkshake afterward. Then they’d hop in my car, and I would drive them home. The boys loved it. I heard our boys talking when they were older, and they said they enjoyed being minister’s kids. They felt special. They were involved in the community. We lived a little different schedule, but we had fun at it. We still have fun. Pat has a great sense of humor.”
“I was very serious when I was younger,” Pat pointed out. “I didn’t have a sense of humor back then. That’s changed over the years. Ben is easy to live with. He doesn’t demand anything. I couldn’t get used to that when I was young. I thought he’d make requests or demands, but he never did.”
In his humble way, Ben concluded: “I sat down the other day and looked at the words just as in Scripture. In Ephesians it says for husbands to love their wives just as Christ loved the church. I fail at that every day, but it’s still the guiding point. When you love each other, you have fun.”
And there you have it—the secret to decades of a marriage and ministry filled with love. It involves trusting God, holding hands, and still having fun.
Kelly Carr, former editor of The Lookout, is a writing and editing consultant in Cincinnati, Ohio (EditorOfLife.com).