Separate Identity

For years, my husband & I have joked about how at the National Youth Workers Conventions that we attend he needs to either crash the “Youth Pastor’s Wives” seminar or start a “Youth Pastor’s Husbands” seminar.

While we joke about this, the reality is that being a youth pastor’s husband is part of Doug’s identity. Too often, I fear this role robs Doug of his true identity & instead, makes people see him simply as an extension of me & my role, almost as though he were one of my appendages.

We certainly found this to be true at the first church I worked at where the joke was “Oh – we got two for one with Jen & Doug.”

Despite thinking we knew better, this seemed to grow even worse at my second church. There, Doug was even part of my initial interview process (which should have set off some warning bells, but unfortunately did not). Before long, we realized that it was an unspoken, unwritten part of my job description that Doug be at everything I was at – youth events, worship services, church meetings, mission trips, & the like. Though people consistently affirmed his role as a leader in our youth ministry, the reality is that this became taxing on us and burdensome to Doug. Eventually, it caused resentment to build in both of us toward our church.

When the time came for me to move onto another church, Doug & I were very aware of this problem & wanted desperately to establish more healthy boundaries at our new church. Believing this needed to begin before we even started attending elsewhere, every time I got a question last summer during my job hunt regarding, “What will your husband’s role at church and in your ministry be?” I was careful to honestly say, “Doug loves God & most of the time he loves the church. He enjoys serving with me, but he is not who you’re hiring. I am. You’ll have to ask Doug what he’s going to do. It’s up to him.”

Though harsh, this was an important part of establishing a new boundary for our relationship with the church, a boundary that I think is much healthier for us as a couple, for the church itself, and for our perception of and relationship to the church.

Fortunately, we now attend a church that seems to respect these boundaries & value Doug & I separately – me for what I bring to my role as a staff member & Doug for how he supports me & for his role as an ordinary parishioner in the church.

Though Doug has continued to serve with me on Tuesday nights & Sunday mornings (for which I am thankful & blessed!), at our church now, it’s clear that I am the paid youth worker & Doug is one of many adult leaders that serve in our youth ministry. As part of this, this year, for the first time in our married life, Doug did not go on either of my summer trips with me. Instead, parents & leaders stepped forward to serve in this capacity, freeing Doug to reserve his two weeks of vacation time for our actual vacation to New Zealand and allowing him to enjoy two weeks of summer fun to relax, build planes, & fly them. During my time away, I think Doug went to church once, but not every Sunday. Miraculously, that was OK. At our new church, even though I am expected to be in church on a weekly basis, Doug is not. When he is, he is welcomed, greeted, and thanked – simple things that validate his role as a unique individual & part of our faith community.

At no point has this been more clear to me than it was last Sunday, when Doug spoke as part of our Advent emphasis on vocation. Prior to speaking, our Pastor called Doug directly & asked him if this was something he’d be interested in doing. He did not go through me or expect me to answer for Doug. Then when Doug actually spoke, he was introduced simply as “Doug Bradbury”, not as “Doug Bradbury, our youth director’s husband.”

This allowed Doug to speak about his vocation without fear of how it would affect my work. It also enabled people to see him for who he is – an incredibly gifted software craftsman who loves God & loves me enough to support me in this crazy thing called youth ministry.

It’s that identity that I fell in love with and that I want other people to see & love because Doug is worthy of love – not for who I am but for who he is.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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Jen's Books

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Now Available!

Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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