Within moments of meeting Jessica Schmerse, I turned pea green with envy. Early in her marriage, her husband Mark and she took several months to hike the Pacific Crest Trail–a trail stretching 2660 miles–all the way from Mexico to Canada. Just what would I do for an opportunity like that???
The journey prepared Jessica and Mark for their next partnership: co-pastoring a church. Here’s what Jessica has to say about the challenges of working alongside her husband as co-pastors.
Jessica, tell me about your role as assistant pastor.
I oversee first impressions—the ushers, greeters, and assimilation. I also oversee the local and global outreach and big church events. I’m involved with small groups and discipleship, but some of that is integrated with Mark, my husband’s, role as senior pastor. We’re still a small church, so technically I’m responsible for a lot of different areas.
What’s it like to pastor alongside your husband?
There have been several “big lessons”—like the fact that communication is huge. We have to communicate and set boundaries. He’s more likely to come home and talk about things at work, and if we aren’t on the same page, if we’re frustrated, we just can’t leave it at work. When we first got married, we shared a job, an office, and a car, so we had to learn how to communicate. There are times when it is frustrating, times when it goes great, and times it is really hard and I think, “Maybe I should quit.” Sometimes it gets blurry as to whether I’m a staff person or a wife because the lines blur a lot. Ultimately, its fun because we get to share so much of life together.
What are the big challenges in your ministry?
Learning to work with Mark in different situations and do it effectively, but also discerning what my gifts and passions really are. I feel like I do a lot of things well, but there’s not one I really get out of bed for. A lot of women face opposition, but that’s never been an issue in my life. I grew up in a family that told me I could be anything I wanted to be and then I went to IWU, where professors believed in me. I never realized women in ministry was a problem till I saw people wrestling with it in college. I’ve always been at churches that have been really supportive.
Younger women e-mail me and ask questions that I can’t speak to. They’ll question if they are called to ministry or if they should be in ministry and ask me how I dealt with [the limitations put on women]. I never really had to, I I have to use theoretical examples.
What’s been your biggest victory as a pastor?
Pouring in to other people. I’ve had some really amazing experiences mentoring people through college even up till now. Two of the girls I’ve mentored—one is a pastor, a church planter, and another is just starting her MA through IWU. I’ve also achieved several personal goals and what God has called me to: getting ordained, getting an MDiv, and working in ministry.
And while there have been frustrating seasons, it’s rewarding to work alongside Mark. I consider it a victory that we have been able to work together as closely as we have and still have a really great marriage. We work together in so many capacities—it would have been easy to give up if we were different people.
How would you encourage other women who are considering a career in ministry?
I would encourage them to study the different passages related to women in ministry, mostly so they can feel at peace about their calling (if they do have congregations that question their call to ministry) and so they feel comfortable being able to answer them.
If they have the time and they need, going to school and seminary is always valuable, especially if you don’t have a lot of Christian background. Find a church willing to invest in you and get experience—get involved in churches—there are some things you learn more doing it than reading about it. Try to get an internship at a larger church, so you get exposed to what could be.