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 is “the 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.