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.