Vested in Our Leaders: Accelerate Group
By Don and Sue Wilson
Accelerate Group was born out of a desire to encourage and support ministry couples. Many times, over our years in ministry, we went to conferences that offered resources and encouragement to pastors about how to be more effective in ministry, but rarely did a conference encourage us together as a couple.
With Accelerate Group, we wanted to offer couples a way to see what ministry looks like from their spouse’s perspective, while providing an opportunity for each mate and couple to voice their needs—not only in ministry, but in life. Statistics that indicated large numbers of pastors were leaving ministry during their first two years broke our hearts. We felt God calling us to do something to improve those numbers.
Pastors’ wives seem particularly isolated in the crowd that is their church. Many struggle to find a friend they consider trustworthy. Most have difficulty articulating their loneliness to their spouse. A pastor’s wife can feel as though there is another woman in her husband’s life, and that “woman” is the church. How can a wife complain about the many hours her husband spends “doing ministry” without feeling a sense of guilt?
“I have been in ministry alongside my husband for 36 years,” said one pastor’s wife. “There have been many hard times through the years, with very little support from anyone other than our parents. We feel so blessed and cared for by what Accelerate has done for us. It feels like the floodgates have been opened!”
Connecting Ministry Couples
The more we minister to couples, the more we become aware how lonely they often feel. Our goal is to connect couples to others and provide them with resources to help them do their jobs better. We do this by providing several safe environments and special opportunities.
Conferences: Accelerate Group designs conferences that are unique to each set of ministry couples; each grouping is allowed to set the discussion agendas. During the first few hours of each conference, men and women share areas for which they desire feedback.
Most sessions include “couple time,” when spouses share their hearts during the discussion time, while also hearing advice and encouragement about those important issues. But we also utilize same-gender groups. We’ve found it helps deepen relationships when women can talk about issues with other women—and the same with men. This in turn helps the marriages because both spouses realize they aren’t the only ones dealing with these issues and their mate isn’t deliberately being obstinate; he or she simply doesn’t see the world the same way.
“My wife and I were able to get away and find a safe place to share with other couples that were going through similar ministry challenges,” said one pastor. “It was nice to have access to mentoring couples for three days. It was nice to be able to set the agenda as couples through our questions. This made the session times highly practical and relevant.”
God’s work in these couples becomes apparent even in seemingly random acts, such as choosing a table, which become unique opportunities to meet others who are experiencing similar struggles or life issues. As an example, at one of our conferences, two couples at a table discovered they were adoptive parents and were struggling with the unique difficulties that come with that role. Another time, a couple going through a particularly challenging time in ministry began conversing with another couple at their table that had been through something similar, and the second couple offered advice and encouragement.
A pastor’s wife said, “One private conversation in particular stood out because it was another wife who could understand exactly, spiritually and emotionally, what I was talking about when discussing a unique challenge I have as the wife of a pastor. It’s encouraging to know I’m not alone in what I experience and feel.”
Holy Land Trips: A natural extension of Accelerate Group’s ministry is providing an opportunity for ministry couples to visit the Holy Land to experience the biblical world upon which so much of their ministry is based. Visiting where Jesus walked and taught gives couples a new depth of insight into the Bible and a new enthusiasm for their ministry. We’ve seen God work in couples’ lives on these trips.
“When we were at the Garden of Gethsemane reflecting on where we wanted to be in five years, I felt God lead me to have a very courageous conversation with my husband,” said one pastor’s wife. “I felt God tell me that with knowledge comes the burden of knowing more than most but also the truth that our world is broken, even in Christian community. All that to say we are good—in fact, better than good. [My husband] came back recharged and seeks joy rather than letting Satan steal joy by whispering lies in his ear.”
Connections: In addition to the conferences and trips, we also work to connect pastors with pastors and their wives with other pastors’ wives. This effort seeks to reinforce the fact that they are never alone! A pastor’s wife said, “Just knowing I have a solid circle of support when needed gives me courage that I can do this!”
We’ve found that couples in one stage of life often are in a perfect position to help younger couples find perspective and inspiration to trust God and go the distance.
Unique Challenges of Ministry Families
The pastor’s family is unique in many ways. Their lives typically are under constant observation and scrutiny. Many who watch the pastor’s family feel compelled to comment on behavior that does not meet their expectations.
Consider whether you would introduce someone as “my plumber’s wife” or “my attorney’s wife.” No, you would likely say something such as, “I would like you to meet my friend, Kathy.” And yet the pastor’s wife typically is introduced as “my pastor’s wife.” Over time, she is made to feel she is an extension of her husband rather than the daughter of a King!
Some pastors try to protect their wives from difficult times, people, and details at work, but that can make the spouse feel as if they are being shut out. Pastors and wives would do well to remember they are partners in life and ministry. Partners do not need all of the details of what is happening at work, but they will feel more like a partner if they are asked to pray for their spouse and the difficult situation. Our indwelling Spirit means we don’t need all of the details about something in order to call out to God on behalf of our spouse when they face difficulties.
One reason for starting Accelerate Group was the obvious loneliness we found among pastors’ spouses. We know from our experience that the pastor’s marriage has a huge impact on his overall ability to lead well.
Our intent is to provide a safe place for pastors and their spouses to share struggles and find encouragement. It is our belief that this ministry can “accelerate” the following formula: Healthy marriages = healthy pastors = healthy churches = kingdom impact.
Don Wilson retired in 2017 as founding and senior pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley, a multisite church in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. He and Sue founded Accelerate Group, a nonprofit organization created to encourage and support pastors and their wives. Sue blogs at www.suespaperthoughts.blogspot.com and is the author of As the Fog Lifts, available at Amazon.