Part Four – Liz on working together in ministry

Part Four – Liz on working together in ministry

Trevor and Liz Sykes tell their story of working together in marriage and in the church (in four parts).

Sometimes a woman is accepted in her church because she isthe woman we know”. This is the story of how Liz came to be accepted as a pastor alongside her husband after many years serving in their church.

Part Four – Liz on working together in ministry

When we began our life together, I was already experienced in church life and leadership so marrying someone who had different expectations could have been difficult, but as with all things, we figured that if God had drawn us together, it would work out.

In the six months before going to theological college in Qld, we lived in NSW near the navy base where Trevor was stationed and enjoyed setting up home and learning to trust one another with our hearts and lives. This proved to be a good decision as the first half of our college time was spent living with other couples and their children. This could have been disastrous had we not worked out our own family values and ways of working together beforehand.

Since I had several years of leadership in my local church before marriage, I thought it wise to let Trevor grow in his life with God and Bible knowledge while I stayed home to support him. Three of our four sons were born in this period.  Even though I had always thought of going to Bible college at some stage, marriage changed my perspective and being a full-time wife and mother gave me a great sense of purpose. The program at the college was rigorous and meant I was often on my own from early morning until after the boys had gone to bed. On Trevor’s return at night, there were times he would stay up even later doing assignments but I was able to be a support and encouragement in what was a hectic schedule. We learnt together as I rehearsed him in preparation for exams, and we had the satisfaction of seeing him matriculate in four subjects, including in logic and Hebrew as well as in his college subjects.

We returned to WA for Trevor to take up ministry in a church plant from my local church, a place where I had taught Sunday school and played the organ. His being a full-time worker plus a pastor made for a busy life and I also contributed by preparing the weekly newsletter and playing the piano. We were young and energetic and thought nothing of having boarders while raising three young children.

Within the first year of ministry at this church, there was a church crisis and Trevor resigned. This was a huge shock and not something we had envisaged, and we soon learnt about church politics and that not all church people are kind or truthful. However, it was a time for us to pull together and rely on God for what this would mean for us in the future.

Before long, a good friend told Trevor to ‘get back on the horse’ and continue in ministry. He mentioned that the church he attended needed someone to stand in for their minister who was unwell. Trevor still had to work full-time and I continued with my music and took on Sunday school teaching again. This appointment lasted several months.

At this time we were invited to represent Christian Mission to the Communist World (now Voice of the Martyrs) and I busied myself arranging itineraries for Trevor to travel the state showing films and speaking of the persecuted church. Again, I stayed home with the family but was always involved with handling the finances for the home and ministry and working in the local church. Trevor also had times away with Aerial Missions flying to isolated towns to preach and share with missionaries in those places. So I continued to be at home, being a prayer and emotional support for my husband.

Eventually, this church called Trevor to be the pastor and we were there for over 35 years, experiencing all the highs and lows of church life and seeing hundreds of people come and go as they were introduced to God and a new way of living. I continued with music, Sunday school teaching, preparing the newsletter and leading Bible studies during the day while the kids were at school.

As the boys got older it became possible for me to be more involved and eventually our accountant advised us to share our salary because I was doing 50% of the work. So I was voted in as ‘associate pastor’, a role strongly needed as the church was involved with counselling many troubled people from difficult backgrounds.

Our church was traditionally ‘conservative’ and there was no thought of my being able to preach or teach Bible studies to groups of women and men together. But over time, with gentle instruction and demonstration of our ‘togetherness’ in ministry, people recognised that we both were gifted in teaching and more opportunities came for me to lead those study groups and eventually to preach. This was pure delight as I had always responded to a Bible passage by thinking through how I would preach it. I loved expository preaching.

There was some opposition to my being involved to this extent, but we continued to love those who had different ways of interpreting the Bible and saw many change their mind over the years (sometimes without realising it). We were always careful to not ‘tread on the conscience’ of those who had different views but relished the time God gave us to work together and be respected as both being senior pastors.

Interestingly, even though the church endorsed our ministry, there was never a 100% vote for us to both be named ‘senior pastor’ as some were more comfortable with having one person at the top and the other being an associate. So, towards the end of our time in that fellowship, we chose to be voted in as ‘elders’ with no person in the senior pastor role. Everyone was happy with that, and we continued in that way until retirement.

Liz Sykes calls herself a much-loved child of God; disciple of Jesus, wife, mother, grandma, mentor, Bible teacher, musician, and retiree (76) who loves being away in the bush with her best friend, husband Trevor.

Part Three – Trevor’s journey into shared Christian ministry. 

Part Three – Trevor’s journey into shared Christian ministry. 

Liz and Trevor Sykes tell their story of working together in marriage and in the church (in four parts).

Part Three – Trevor’s journey into shared Christian ministry. 

After 3 years at Kenmore Christian College, we were found ourselves struggling financially and in consideration of Liz’s mother’s fragile health, we decided to suspend theological studies for the time being and return to WA to re-evaluate our journey from there. I was given an opportunity to be pastorally involved in a small Perth suburban church as a full-time worker Pastor.

After 9 months in that ministry, we experienced irreconcilable differences within the leadership and I felt pressured to resign. I continued my workday employment at Wesley College in South Perth. After a time of wrestling together with where to go from there, I took a clerical position in Belmont which necessitated our looking for a rental property nearby. Before long I was promoted to be the executive position of manager of the costing department of a local hardware supplier.

At the same time, I was invited to do a short-term, stand in ministry, at Belmont Mission Church because the Pastor was experiencing ill health. That opportunity allowed me to continue to exercise my pastoral gifting and calling. Around that time, I was also approached by Christian Mission to the Communist World to be the WA representative. I took up that position after resigning from my executive staff role in the office.

This was where our shared ministry opportunities began to flourish. Liz was an excellent organiser, arranging my itinerary for Mission presentations in suburban and country churches. This sometimes involved me being away for weeks at a time. I also took on mission trips with Aerial Missions to outback regions of WA, again being absent for extended periods which really put pressure on Liz in managing our young family.

For some considerable time, this was how it was – Liz managing all that was required in running the home and family solo. So our mutuality in family life and ministry opportunities grew out of necessity and practicality, rather than theologically. After a couple of years, I felt that I should be more engaged with the family and as I was a teaching elder in our home church, Belmont Mission, I offered to take up a full-time pastoral role. This was accepted and so began our 35 plus years at that church which was re-named Belmont Christian Fellowship (BCF).

Belmont at that time was a very low socio-economic area and we were mainly reaching people who came from that location. It often meant we were dealing with drug-affected individuals and families, people with mental illnesses and other social ills. We were challenged by people being demon-oppressed, and sometimes even demon-possessed, which demanded a full arsenal of spiritual weaponry. While Liz didn’t have an official role in the church, we shared everything, because it seemed the most natural thing to do under the circumstances.

In the Navy I had been living in a male-dominated world, sometimes sharing small spaces with multiple men so when I married, Liz was my closest companion and confidante. That wasn’t about to be changed for us in the ministry setting. Also, I soon recognised the depth of her own spirituality and spiritual giftedness, which included pastoral care and biblical exposition. Our church at that time was very conservative theologically which required us to accept that what worked for us at home was not readily accepted in our church community or leadership group.

Our church was also part of a fellowship of churches that adhered to a very conservative theological position, so while Liz and I modelled mutuality we did not feel comfortable pushing it on people in our congregation or leadership. Besides, we had not yet explored a Biblical legitimacy for what we were experiencing. That came later when we came across the organisation, Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE). We read whatever we could get hold of on the subject but it was not until many years later, perhaps in the last 10 years of our ministry at Belmont, that I began to confidently but gently articulate what we so passionately believed.

This bold step was not without some personal cost because some of my ministry colleagues, both within our church and the fellowship of churches to which we belonged, began to distance themselves from us. While difficult, we respected that these brethren were opposing something that appeared to them to be a violation of their conscientiously held position. We continue to respect that to this day, as many feel strongly that they are protecting the biblical mandate for the definitive roles of men and women.

In 2002 we sold our family home and moved to Warnbro on the south coast. This enabled us to take a round-the-world trip including attending a conference of CBE in Miami, Florida. We came away from that conference invigorated and committed to the ongoing work of this mutuality mission. Years later we attended another conference, this time in St. Louis, and were seconded to manage their newly formed blogsite, the ‘Scroll’. We facilitated that worldwide audience until it progressed into Facebook and Twitter some years after.

In the latter years of our ministry time at Belmont we were able to gently persuade our people that Biblical Equality was an authentic biblical position and that it was also a more desirable and God honouring choice. That led to changing Church Constitution to read that ministry was spiritual-gift based, and not gender-based. By this time Liz and other gifted women, were finally able to share in pulpit ministry and lead mixed-gender Bible studies. We also appointed three female Elders to manage the ongoing ministry of the church beyond our retirement.

In our retirement, we continue to be available for encouragement and counselling for previous members of Belmont Christian Fellowship and other contacts in WA and beyond.

Trevor Sykes had 35 years ministry together with Liz at the Belmont Christian Fellowship, leading significant change towards mutuality in ministry. They also represented Christians for Biblical Equality in WA during the later part of those 35 years. In retirement Trevor enjoys swimming and snorkelling in summer and bushwalking in winter.

Read the conclusion to Liz’s and Trevor’s story in Liz’s final The Together Project blog coming soon.

Part Two – Liz’s journey to mutuality in marriage

Part Two – Liz’s journey to mutuality in marriage

Liz and Trevor Sykes tell their story of working together in marriage and in the church (in four parts).

Part Two – Liz’s journey to mutuality in marriage

Like Trevor I am delighted to contribute these posts about our life together, firstly as a couple and then in our joint ministry life. In contrast to Trevor, I grew up in a Bible-believing home but with older parents and no siblings. This may have helped to make me the serious child I was, although my mother said I could be quite naughty! She was often unwell and I was never sure if she would survive some of her strokes and heart turns. My father was a caring person who had no thought of acting as the ‘head of the home’ and I watched him care for my mother and do much of the housework at times as well as holding down full-time work.

In later years I too had much responsibility in the home but still found time to be active in the local church when I left school and worked in a bank. In all my responsibilities at the church I was not aware of being treated differently because of my gender. I thought of myself as a Christian person who had many opportunities to serve God and share my faith.  The only time I realised there could be limitations for me as a woman, was after marriage, but that is another story.

I had the idea of training as a nurse so I could go overseas as a missionary, but Trevor came into my life and my life went in a different direction. By the time I met him I had seriously committed my life to God and was prepared to remain single if that was what God had in mind. However, one Sunday this remarkable young man turned up at church to hear our minister speak. Trevor had heard this guy speak at a youth camp in South Australia some years before and was impressed, so although he was stationed in Fremantle in the Navy, he found his way to South Perth that day.

We only had a few conversations before Trevor was off on another trip and I bought some Christian books to occupy him while at sea as there was no Christian fellowship on the ship. On his return to WA, Trevor was transferred to NSW and since I was the youth group leader, he wrote to me when he arrived at the new base and we continued writing for several months – long letters – sometimes 20 or more pages – just sharing what we were doing and getting to know one another.

All this while, we were not seriously considering a future together, but after a time we realised that God had brought us together to share our lives and couldn’t imagine not continuing the friendship. Finally Trevor had a few days leave so came across to WA where we spent time together and confirmed that this friendship was something special from God. This was the beginning of our adventure which has now spanned 55 years.

So, after 2 months, more letters and an engagement ring arranged by mail, I boarded the train to NSW where I stayed with folks from the church Trevor was attending. While in NSW, Trevor applied for an early discharge from the Navy in order to go to Theological College in Qld and was granted the release from his commitment, 4 years earlier than his original contract. Because Trevor left the Navy early, he could not take leave, so we married earlier than expected in order to have some time together as a couple before travelling to Qld where we had arranged to share a house with another couple from WA.

When we began our married life, we determined to allow God to shape our relationship rather than copying our parents’ experiences or reading books on how to have a Christian marriage. Having believed that God had orchestrated our union, we trusted him to show us how to live together as a couple and later as parents. With the Bible as our guidebook, we learnt the ‘one anothers’ of Scripture and found we could trust the Holy Spirit’s work in each other to convict us of wrong or hurtful attitudes toward each other. Perhaps because we were living in another state far from our families, we were able to forge new paths and ways of doing life together with God.

We learn to ‘speak the truth in love’ and to pray together when decisions had to be made, not moving ahead until we had consensus. We figured that if God could not direct two people to come to agreement, how hard it would be to encourage our church community to decide issues. Because we had many years with little income, we also learnt to rely on God for our weekly, rent, food petrol and household expenses. Living like this meant that when money, arrived we knew how it was to be spent because there would always be an immediate need which God had supplied.

Since we were each other’s best friends, we were able to stand by each other when troubles and trials came and not blame the other person but pray together to see how God would show us the way forward. This was helpful when we opened our home to four young men who needed somewhere to stay. They remain firm friends. Our own four boys learned to have compassion for those not as fortunate as ourselves and we are thrilled to watch as through the years they in turn have cared for others and shared their lives with people from all walks of life. For 12 years we were able to have my mother live with us after my father died and thanks to a generous interest-free loan from friends, we built a full granny flat to accommodate our grandma. Again, we supported each other in this endeavour and our boys learnt more life lessons.

From time to time, people would ask how we managed our marriage with respect to ‘who was in charge’ or ‘who had the final say when decisions had to be made’. We could always reply that God was in charge and that we didn’t have to have a ‘boss’ in our home or either of us being solely responsible for the spiritual life of our family.  We have always considered our life a merger of two individuals becoming one, without losing our distinct personalities, gifts and abilities. Our key verse which we often share with others approaching marriage, comes from Colossians: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven you.”

Now in our later years, we are so grateful to God for our love and companionship as we face old age with the confidence that God will continue to direct our way and continue to provide all we need.

Liz Sykes calls herself a much-loved child of God; disciple of Jesus, wife, mother, grandma, mentor, Bible teacher, musician, and retiree (76) who loves being away in the bush with her best friend, husband Trevor.

Read Liz’s story and Trevor’s sequels in future The Together Project blogs.

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