Pastoring Pastors (Part 4)
“Have I put the success of ministry over the health and success of my marriage?”
In the first episode of our “Pastoring Pastors” series, Lance Witt, former Executive and Teaching Pastor at Saddleback Church and founder of Replenish, joined us to discuss establishing healthy ministry rhythms, boundaries, Sabbath, and more. In part two, Sandra Stanley shared three key insights on how pastors can maintain humility and a healthy soul throughout their ministry. In part 3, David Ashcraft shared how pastors can stay the course and commit to finishing strong through all the ups and downs of life and leadership.
INTERVIEW WITH JIMMY & IRENE ROLLINS
As pastors and leaders, our own personal health and wellbeing directly impacts the health of our churches. That’s why in the final episode of our Pastoring Pastors series, I sat down with Jimmy and Irene Rollins to discuss their journey with marriage and ministry.
Jimmy and Irene have served in ministry together for almost 25 years. The last 10 years of that was with i5 City Church, which became a thriving church of over 3,000 members under their leadership. Then, about a year ago, they launched a new ministry called TWO = ONE, designed to bring health and wholeness to individuals and create stronger marriages as a result of that.
Join the conversation as we discuss:
- The unique pressures of ministry on marriage
- Reflecting on the health of your own marriage
- How to begin healing from a personal crisis
- Encouragement for your personal and marital health
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. My name is Sean, and I’m on hosting duty today, here with Tony Morgan. Before we get into today’s content, if you haven’t yet, make sure you subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, you’re gonna get tools to go with each week’s conversation, all the resources we mention, and access to our podcast resource archive. You can sign up by going to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast. Tony, I have really enjoyed listening to you in this month’s series that’s designed really to help pastors and church leaders stay healthy. We obviously think that pastors need to lead from a place of health in their ministry. Today is our final episode in the series. So, what are we gonna talk about today?
Yeah, well, we’ve hit healthy rhythms with our time in technology. We’ve talked about healthy practices to care for our souls and then, healthy boundaries so that we can all finish strong in ministry. But today’s topic it’s really about healthy marriages. And I mention in the upcoming conversation, I honestly think this is directly tied to the health of the church, too. I mean, I just can’t tell you, Sean, how many times I’ve gone in helping churches get unstuck, and I’ve helped them with clarifying vision, looking at their ministry strategies, helping to align the team. And I’ve done all that hard work. And then, I’ve looked back after making that investment at whether or not the church really did get unstuck. And I just can’t tell you how many times it didn’t have anything to do with that work. The reason why the church was still stuck is because the pastor wasn’t in a healthy place, or the leadership as a whole weren’t in a healthy place. And specifically, many times that was connected to the health of the marriage. And so as a result of that, I just wanted to prioritize in this series, helping pastors and church leaders get healthy. I wanted to prioritize a conversation around marriage health. And with that, I reached out to Jimmy and Irene Rollins. And first of all, a little bit of their backstory: they have served in ministry together now for almost 25 years. The last ten years of that was with i5 City Church. And that, under their leadership, became a thriving church of over 3,000 members. But, about a year ago, they launched a new ministry. It’s called Two Equals One, and it’s a ministry designed to bring health and wholeness to individuals, and then, to create stronger marriages as a result of that. And in a moment, I’m going to let them describe their ministry in some more detail and specifically how it might serve you in your church. But here’s my conversation with Jimmy and Irene Rollins.
Jimmy and Irene, it’s so good to connect with you, actually a good friend said you need to reach out to the Rollins as it relates to this specific topic. So thank you for joining us on the podcast. And before we get into today’s topic, Jimmy, will you tell us a little bit about your journey in ministry?
Absolutely. Well, I grew up in ministry. My parents just as a young child, my parents were on a board. You know, we were always in church all the time. I mean it was like, you know, church family was my family. And then, my parents felt the call to full-time ministry in 1994, and started their own church. So I grew up. I was in college then, became a college PK, and that church just exploded and turned into just a great life-giving church in the city we lived in. And then, they transitioned out in 2010, and Irene and I took over 2011 as the new senior pastors. And we went through and really relaunched the church into—it was primarily a traditional African American church. You know, we relaunched it to more of a life-giving church, you know, for everyone: non-believers, you know, those who were young in their faith, and it became this diverse expression of church called i5 City. We pastored that for ten years as senior pastor. And then, in 2021, April 2021, we merged with another church in our city so that we could pursue really marriage ministry, Two Equals One, and really investing in leaders, you know, the health of their marriage. And so that is the quick and dirty, fast version.
Well, what I wanted pastors and church leaders to hear, we’re gonna be talking about marriage health today.
But I wanted them to hear that you actually, you’re a pastor, I mean, you got started in ministry. And so as we’re trying to help pastors and church leaders have healthy marriages, there’s a foundation of understanding of what they’re kind of dealing with as they pursue that for their marriages, as well. And Irene, with that in mind, I wanna just kind of go back to first things first here. How did the two of you meet? How did you and Jimmy meet and how long have you been married and maybe kids? Do you have any kids too?
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So we’ve been married 23 years, and we met on the job. So we were both IT technical recruiters, and we met there; it was a whirlwind romance. We literally met. Two weeks later, went on a date. Engaged two months later. Married six months later. So, we don’t recommend it.
She couldn’t keep her hands off me.
But, you know, 23 years later we can say, it’s the best decision we ever made, obviously. And, but it’s been the best seven years ever in our marriage. And, we’ll talk a little bit about that in the podcast, but we’ve got three amazing kids: a 21 -year-old-girl, Kayla. Jaden is 19. And he’s boy. They’re both at SCU, and we have one at home: Maya. She’s 17.
My, my oldest is named Kayla, as well, so we have a connection there.
Yeah. Yeah. All right. So, Jimmy, we’re talking about marriage health today, and I’m assuming, like all healthy marriages, it’s just been bliss for both of you from the honeymoon on. Is that correct?
We struggled in our first year again. I think what we did was, you know, in the first kind of years of marriage and years of ministry, we were focused more ministry than we really were marriage. And so we were planned for a wedding day, but not really a marriage life together. And so there were a lot of, you know, problems that arose and pressures that were there, and kids, and all these different things that were coming at us in a growing church. And because we weren’t prepared, we really didn’t have the tools to navigate all the nuances of a new marriage.
Yeah. And gosh, I wanna share with my Kayla, because she’s preparing for a wedding day, but that advice of preparing now for the marriage, for living life together, that’s critical for sure. Irene, your marriage it’s in a healthy place now, but can you kind of walk us through what that journey looked like for you and Jimmy?
Sure. It was, I think just full of obviously immaturity in the beginning. We were 24 and 22 years old. Didn’t know what we were doing. And we just had a zeal for God’s zeal for ministry and loved each other and thought that would take care of everything. But we quickly found out that what brought us together, all the things that we were attracted to when we were dating—I loved his decisiveness, he was a risk-taker, all of these things—and that, all the things he loved about me began to divide us. And he was annoyed with my strengths, and I was annoyed with his and vice versa with our weaknesses. And I think it just brought such division because we were dysfunctional in our communication. We didn’t communicate well. And so that kind of is the catalyst for everything else going downhill: not dealing with the pressures of ministry, not dealing with leading together well. A lot of pain that came along with ministry, we did not communicate it or process it well,
And all of that ate away at our love relationship. So that was the gist of the dysfunction in the early days. I would add one more thing: all the baggage we brought from our family of origin issues. And wouldn’t you agree, Jimmy?
Absolutely. You had more than me, though.
I will confess; I probably did. So it was just a dysfunctional storm in terms of like we spent 15 years building issues within our marriage together instead of unpacking them and healing them together and getting rid of them. So it kind of boiled down to a bit of a crisis point, and that crisis point happened, I would say three years after we relaunched i5 City. The pressures of ministry were increasing, and we were beginning to unravel and fall apart at that point. Wouldn’t you say, Jimmy?
Yeah. And so, Jimmy, she mentioned the things that attracted her to you. I wasn’t planning to ask you this, but what attracted you to her?
I think when I think back it was really out of an unhealthy soul, if you will. I would say number one, I thought she was attractive. Right? Yeah. And so I think I was drawn to her beauty. But I think, you know, growing up with my family of origin, I had a very strong mom, and I was actually looking for, at that time being unhealthy, someone who was not strong. And, you know, we found out that later that that was masking control issues within myself. But you know, if I go back and think about it, it was really like I was attracted to the fact that she hadn’t found herself yet. I was attracted to the fact that she let me make all the decisions. I was attracted to the fact that she didn’t know really who she was. And because of my undealt with trauma and family of origin issues, that became a recipe for disaster.
Yeah. So, Jimmy, I think sometimes we assume our marriages and our ministry as pastors and church leaders they’re disconnected; however, I’ve seen—and honestly, it’s been way too many times—that the health of the marriage can directly impact the health of the church. Do you agree with that?
Yeah. I think the health of the marriage is the foundation for the health of every area in our lives, whether it be physical, spiritual, mental, even social health, and emotional health. And I think scripture, I mean, when we think about the value of marriage—all the way back in Genesis: be fruitful and multiply, have dominion, subdue—like the only way to fruitfulness is through a marriage. Like the only way to multiply is to fill the earth is through a marriage in the context of marriage. And so we understand that the enemy is after marriage because he understand that that is the foundation even of the church. When we think about how scripture pairs, you know, the bride of Christ and the church, you know, and then our natural bride. And I think that when we think about those things, the importance of, you know, keeping this healthy, the importance of keeping this the main thing. So I think ministry, it’s not just in competition with ministry, or it’s not just a healthy marriage equals a healthy ministry. I think a healthy marriage equals a healthy life.
Yeah. Yeah. And again, I’ve been in ministry, what? Close to 25 years, a little more than 25 years.
And as I look back at all of the challenges that I’ve seen, as far as pastors, maybe making over time some poor choices that led to destruction in their churches, if I trace that back, many times it started because their marriage wasn’t in a healthy place. And I just think because of that, it’s funny, you know, I help churches all the time think about vision and ministry strategies, and how do we reach more people for Jesus, and how do we help more people just take their next steps towards Jesus? And the reality is I can do all that work and help churches have all the answers and all the right strategies for those areas of what it is to lead a church. But if the marriage is not healthy, the church won’t be healthy in the long run. So, that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to include this as a key topic in the series that we’re doing this month to help pastors and church leaders. And, Irene, I’m curious, do you think for ministry leaders that they have unique pressures on their marriages that they experience that maybe people outside of ministry don’t necessarily experience?
Absolutely. And I think one of the pressures is kind of leading from the question you just asked, like the pressure and reality, the enemy is attacking our marriages you know, heavily because this is the best gospel message we can preach to our church is the unity and health of a marriage. So when we lead out of the marriage, this is one of those things I wish I had known back then, leading out of a healthy marriage is preaching the gospel to our churches. And so the pressure of that alone, that’s what we’re presenting to the church. And so when we are unaware that we are supposed to invest in that, take care of it, and put boundaries around it to protect it so that we can lead out of this healthy place, we are walking around almost just allowing the enemy of free for all at our lives. And then, we put the work of ministry first, and then, we display as if that’s the most important thing to our churches. And then, they begin to model that. And then what we experienced was we saw for years ministry growing, but marriages were falling apart.
Like, something is wrong with this picture. This is not the gospel. This is not why I signed up for this. I wanna model the life and love of Jesus, not, you know, seeing people’s families falling apart and, you know, ministry thriving. That’s just not the equation we were thinking that things would land as. So it’s just, yeah, marriage over ministry. We used to say to our church and kind of model it this way, “The Rollins five before i5.”
Our church was called i5 City, so we were like, “The Rollins five before i5.” So Jimmy would be preaching a message on Sunday, and he’d be like, “Hey guys, my son has a soccer game. I’m not gonna be hanging out in the lobby today. I’m gonna preach this message, and I’m gonna be out the door because it’s Rollins five before i5.” And people began to pick up on that. And, you know, we definitely saw a transition in the overall health of our ministry.
Yeah. It’s interesting that you put it that way. Way back when in ministry, when I first got started in ministry, my pastor, we were chatting about our roles. He was probably trying to coach me on, “Tony, you gotta figure out what your role is on this team.”
But I started asking questions, and I was curious to hear from him what he perceived his role to be as the pastor at the church. And I wanted him to kind of outline what he thinks his job description looks like. And he said, “Well, the first thing on my job description is I’m a husband to my wife. And the second thing on my job description is I’m a dad to my kids.” And then, he started getting to all the things that I would’ve expected a pastor to have on the job description. And back then, I was young and naive. I was just thinking, “That’s not really part of your job.” And then, the longer I’ve gone in ministry I’ve realized he was absolutely right. Those things were critical to him pastoring a healthy, thriving church. So yeah. Thank you for giving us that reminder. All right. So, Jimmy, let’s start to get on the solution side of this. What are some practical, next steps that pastors and church leaders should consider to protect or grow the health of their marriages?
I think the first thing is really doing an internal, you know, self-check evaluation of, you know, where is my marriage? You know, what comes up for me when I think about my wife? You know, what comes up for me internally when I’m processing our love connection? I think questions that we need to ask ourselves personally is, you know, am I more passionate about my staff meeting every week, but not a date night every week? You know, am I more passionate about the size of the kids’ ministry that I have, or the size of ministry that I provide to my own kids? And what we really do is help people think about those questions and answer them from a very honest place so that they can assess, “Wow, I’ve neglected some things.” And I think, you know, what we’re learning is if you’re winning at the wrong thing, you’re losing at the right thing.
And this church world perpetuates “fastest-growing church,” you know, count numbers and what is success. And so when you get to these questions, the final questions you’ll ask yourself is have I put the success of ministry over the health and success of my marriage? So the first thing that I think every leader should do is ask themselves some very hard questions before you go to counseling. Before you go to coaching, before you get accountability, let’s work through these questions. And ask yourself questions that, you know, is my wife a piece of furniture? You know what I’m saying? Like I think a lot of guys was like, you know, “Here’s my wife. Oh, she plays keyboard, or she leads worship.” Do people see her as a leader in our church or do they just see me as a leader in our church? And I think that are we doing ministry together as a family, or am I doing ministry and then my family’s doing life outside of that? And so I think just taking a very introspective, internal, you know, view of yourself and being honest with yourself.
That’s so helpful. Irene, some of the folks that are listening today, pastors, church leaders, they actually may be in the middle of a marriage crisis, and maybe there’s no one other than their spouse that knows that. How does the healing begin for that person?
I would say, “Don’t ignore the cracks.” Don’t ignore the cracks because eventually those cracks are going to turn into crisis. And, you know, the building will implode; the marriage will implode. And when Jimmy and I found that when we were in crisis, we had to acknowledge where we were. That we were broken. That we were in crisis. That we were hurting. And here’s the thing. I think it’s hard for church leaders to acknowledge and admit that we, too, can have crisis and breakdowns. And so we had to get honest. So the first thing we did was reach out for help with pastors. Every pastor should have a pastor. And we had a pastor that we reached out to for help, got honest with, and said, “Hey, we are in crisis.” I was abusing alcohol at the time, medicating my pain, medicating my resentment of the pain and hurt that I had not processed properly from church people.
We talk a lot about how our congregations get hurt by pastors, but we don’t talk a lot about how pastors get hurt by the sheep sometimes. And I didn’t have healthy boundaries at the time. I was medicating with alcohol without knowing it; it kind of crept up on me. And so I think I would say, “Get honest. Reach out for help. And then, reflect on, are you using something right now to medicate the pain?” That crack could end up imploding and destroying your family, your ministry and everything, and hurting a whole lot more people.
So don’t ignore the crack, get honest, reach out for help, and get accountability. And pastors hurt, too. We go through trauma. I had a bunch of PTSD I hadn’t dealt with. I had a bunch of processing issues with the way I dealt with pain in my emotional world. And I was medicating it in an unhealthy way, and I almost lost everything as a result. And I thank God we reached out to pastors who helped me get to rehab and get the help I needed. And so now it’s the anthem of my life. I’ll spend the rest of my life telling pastors, “It’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to get help. And you’re gonna have to work on your marriage and yourself for the rest of your life. So get ready.”
Yeah. Yeah. So, Irene and Jimmy, both, if you wanna speak to this being honest, revealing the challenges that you were facing, finding help, finding healing, and then being able to share that, to tell that story, has that hindered your ministry or strengthened your ministry?
It’s a hundred percent strengthened in our ministry. And honestly, when we, you know, as pastors, you know, as leading a church, what other people would deem successful, you know, took a year off. And Irene went to rehab, and I had to work on my physical health. I would a balloon to 420 pounds, and Irene is dealing with alcohol addiction as senior pastors. And we took time off. It was actually what we thought was like gonna be the end of ministry actually was the beginning of ministry. And it even helped us to get to the place where we were to walk away from leading a church so that we could help others who lead church ministry. And so we think that honesty—I understand as being a pastor, you think that, you know, getting real is an occupational hazard. You know, telling someone that you’re struggling is an occupational hazard. Well, it all depends on who you’re talking to. And I think we wanted to provide now a safe place for pastors to talk to that’s not an overseer, that’s not a board member, that says, “Hey, we need to get this right, and work on this.” And so, you know, Irene always says it this way, “You’re, you’re definitely hurting someone if you’re hiding something.” And most of the time that person you’re hurting is yourself and your spouse. And I guarantee, you know, that you cannot, pastor, if you’re listening to this right now, if you’re watching this right now, you have not been a hundred percent effective. And you may have had successes. You may have had, “Man, I’ve gotten through,” you may have, you know, said, “Man, but things are working.” I’m telling you on the other side of being accountable and honest and vulnerable and transparent, there is a thing called freedom. That you don’t have to hide anymore. And there is safety, and there is God’s presence in just being free enough to share: I’m not okay.
Yeah. And, Jimmy, wouldn’t you say, it’s like, you have an enjoyment of ministry you didn’t even realize you could have.
Because you’re healthy at home and that pressure isn’t leaking into work.
And then, you know, I recently, there’s an issue that I’m seeing in the body of Christ that’s really concerning me right now. And I’m reminded of when Jimmy and I were challenged with it. When one of you is the senior pastor, and there was a season where we didn’t lead together, Jimmy, you were the senior leader…
. . .at the church. And I was hurting. I was either going through a depression, postpartum depression, like things of that nature. And it’s like the role, I think we get it wrong that the church has to be the main priority. And I see so many couples do that. And it’s so painful to the spouse, and it feels almost like a form of betrayal to the marriage.
It’s like, I married you, and now you’re leaving me to go take care of the church yet you’re leaving your home, you know, uncared for. And I see that over and over, but I’ve recently seen some healthy models where just like you, Jimmy, you did this for me. We stepped down; the church kept going. The church grew. We did it in a way where we kept our privacy for what we were going through.
Because we dealt with it early and it didn’t have to be broadcasted on the news and in newspapers and online. We dealt with it privately before it dealt with us. And during that time, our overseers brought in pastors to preach. Our executive pastor took over, and we got healthy. And Jimmy was able to be present for me, present for my children. And that spoke volumes to me that I was the number one in his life. And that I think brought healing just tremendous healing to our relationship. So I just wanna encourage pastors and leaders that the church will still go on. It doesn’t belong to you. It’s God’s responsibility. He’s made you responsible for those people who share your last name.
All right. So, Jimmy, you mentioned this earlier, but this is your ministry now is helping folks experience healthy, thriving marriages. So tell us a little bit generally about your ministry and then more specifically about the opportunities that you offer for leaders in the church and maybe explain some of those specific solutions that you have available.
Absolutely. And I’ll say that all of this what I’m about to share about Two Equals One, which is our ministry, started from us just being in a place of freedom. Me, you know, our testimony being 150 pounds lighter than, but emotionally lighter, spiritually lighter. And then, Irene now six and a half years sober. That’s where this came out of Two Equals One is twoequalsone.com. And what we do and what we are excited about is coming alongside pastors and leaders to really help them get healthy to help them answer some of these questions that we’ve talked about. And so we do that in various ways; we do staff intensives, where we can come in and be a part of, you know, a church staff. We do regional intensives with smaller, you know, if you’re a smaller church, you know, how do you get a part? How can we afford that? So you can get a bunch of churches together, and we can do that with your team. And then, we’re really excited about 2023; we’re gonna walk with several groups through a year. So we’ll probably have three groups of 10 or so people of similar influence, and we’re gonna walk with them through a year. We’ll have an in-person event. And then, we’ll do, you know, monthly, or weekly, probably biweekly coaching calls. And so it’s still evolving because so many people are reaching out, and it’s like, you know, they’re saying, “Well, do you offer this or do you offer this?” And we’re like, “Maybe we should.” And so now what we’re doing is they can go to our website, www.twoequalsone.com, and you can even put in there and just get ready to sign up for a coaching group.
Very good. And we will share the website in our show notes, as well, so that people can find that. But, any final thoughts that either of you would like to share to encourage pastors and church leaders when it comes to their marriage health?
Yeah. I say, I don’t care how long you’ve been married. There’s always something you can be working on. There’s a statement we say in recovery, “If you’re not working on your recovery, you’re working on your relapse.”
So I believe that we are always going to be doing the work to improve and grow in our relationship with Christ and our relationship with our spouse and our relationship with ourself. So get emotionally healthy and work on your marriage. And that’s the best gift you’ll give to your churches.
I think for me, just a closing thought, is you don’t have to hurt in silence, you know, you don’t have to suffer in silence. I think a lot of senior pastors, especially men, there’s just this pride of, “I’m not, I don’t have it all together, and what if people find out?” And I’ll just let you know, I’ve just come to understand that God’s strength is perfected in our weaknesses, and maybe we need to boast more about what we’re weak in than what we’re strong in and really lean into the presence of God to help bridge that gap. And so I just wanna encourage you. Like, you’re not weak because you’re weak. You’re actually strong when you can admit the areas that you’re weak.
Well, Tony, I loved hearing just the vulnerability from both of them as they talked about the ups and downs of both their ministry and their leadership. So what stood out to you from the conversation?
Well, what stood out, and I think it was Irene that first said it, but then Jimmy confirmed it. I mean, you really can’t find healing unless you begin with honesty about your weaknesses and your need for help. And certainly I’ve seen that, Sean, in my personal life when it comes to issues specifically around anxiety and how that’s impacting my mental, emotional, and relational health. I can’t just try to tackle that on my own. I need to be vulnerable and honest about that. And then, I need to find help. And then, related to that, they said it: you can’t do this on your own. You’re gonna have to look outside of your marriage to find people that can give you coaching and guidance so that you can find healing and find health again in your marriage. And they said it, and I concurred completely because I’ve seen this time and time again: a healthy marriage will make you a stronger leader. And ultimately, if your goal is to have a healthy, thriving, growing church, it’s gonna really begin in many ways with your marriage relationship. And so I hope you’re hearing their vulnerability on this topic and recognizing this is an area really where all of us, we have to continue to prioritize health in our marriages if we want to experience health in our ministries. And again, if you want to learn more about Jimmy and Irene and their Two Equals One ministry, we’ll include their website in the show notes.
Well, Tony, we’re wrapping up not only this episode but also the series today. So any final thoughts?
Yeah. Again, I’ve really enjoyed the series, which we offered as a gift to pastors and church leaders to help you lead from a place of health in your ministry. But, next week, we hope you’ll come back because we’re gonna be launching a brand new series it’s called Signs You Need to Restructure. And it’s all about helping pastors tackle the staffing and structure challenges that they’re facing in their churches. And needless to say, Sean, staffing is one of those topics that I just have some things that I feel like I need to say to pastors because no one else is saying them. And with that in mind, I hope you’ll tune in next week for the beginning of this important new series.