GarnerMeet Travis and Amanda Garner

Travis is the Pastor of Discipleship (he just recently transitioned from being the Pastor of Student Ministries for eight+ years) at Brentwood United Methodist Church in Brentwood, Tenn. and Amanda is a Speech/Language Pathologist. The have two kids—Paxon (age 5), Asher (age 2.5)—baby number three on the way, and Snoop Dawg, their 9-year-old chocolate lab. They’ve been married almost 10 years.
How long have you been in ministry? (i.e. Were you in ministry when you met?)
Travis: I have been in ministry for a little over 15 years. We met 15 years ago, so yes, I was in ministry when we met.
How many churches/positions have you served in?
Five churches in various roles from intern to part-time youth director to full-time youth director to associate youth minister on a large staff to pastor of student ministries and now as pastor of discipleship.
How do you keep your personal life and your church life separate? If you’ve changed your strategy over the course of your ministry, what prompted the separation and how were you able to separate the two lives or at least give them both equal attention?
They overlap quite a bit because ministry is personal. It’s not a job so much as it’s who I am as a person. There is no way to “clock out” of ministry. However, there does need to be separation between the work of ministry and the personal life of the minister. When we were first married without kids, I had the freedom and flexibility to work more: at home, staying later hours at church, going to more extra-curricular stuff, etc. It was no big deal for Amanda to join me at activities or on youth trips as a chaperone as her work allowed. I would routinely bring my computer home and have it out for work stuff most of the night (and even in bed at night, which Amanda loved!)
Over time and as we’ve had children, we’ve had to create boundaries so that I can be more fully present at home and so I’m not just working all the time.
Is your personal life really ever your own? Or do you always feel the need to be “on guard?” In what way?
Yes and no. Most people from church know me as “Travis the minister” more than “Travis the person.” It’s rare for us to go out in public and not see someone from our church, so regardless of where we go, and because ministry is more of an identity than a job, it’s hard to let my hair down. (Actually, it’s hard to let my hair down because I’m bald, but I digress…) However, there’s not really a discrepancy between “Travis the minister” and “Travis the person,” so that’s not that much of a challenge.
I think the biggest challenge may be the perception that other people have of people who are in ministry, that we are perhaps a different class of people who wear clerical collars to mow the lawn and who never sin. In that way, there’s pressure to live up to a certain expectation that other people have of me, when on the inside I’m a normal person with the same kinds of issues, struggles, and temptations.
Another thought is that as Christians, we are communal people—we’re called to live life in Christian community with other people. So, is my life ever really my own? No. We choose to share it with other people.
How does your spouse support you and your ministry? Is he or she your confidant and confessor, or do have someone else for that role, making a clear divide between church and marriage?
Anyone who works in a church knows that it’s not always flowers and happy people holding hands singing “Kum ba yah.” Because of that, I try to find a balance between what I share and what I don’t so that I help my family stay above the fray in the church world.
Amanda wants to be and is supportive of me in my role, and I need her support, but that doesn’t mean I share everything with her. In fact, there are a lot of things that I don’t share with Amanda about my ministry, not because I don’t want to share things with her, but because there are situations and conversations in ministry that are confidential, and I take that confidentiality very seriously. Many times in our marriage, people have shared confidential things with Amanda that they had shared with me because they assumed I had already shared them with her, and she had no idea what they were talking about.
I will say that without a doubt, Amanda is my biggest cheerleader in ministry. I have quit ministry many times at home and she has always talked me out of it before the next day. I also have a covenant group that I meet with regularly who support me in my life and ministry.
Does your spouse play a role in your ministry (i.e. small group leader, trip chaperone, snack supper provider, etc.)?
Amanda: I’m a small group leader and before we had kids, I was a trip chaperone.
Travis: She is a snack supper eater almost every week, but not a provider.
Why does your spouse play the role that he or she does? (i.e. Why does he choose to be a small group leader or why does she choose not to play a role at all?)
Travis: Because I asked!
Amanda: I want to be connected to Travis’s ministry and I consider his call to ministry something that we share, so I want to be involved. Also, I love the youth in my small group and was excited to be their small group leader because of relationships we’ve built with families throughout our years at our church.
How, as the spouse of the youth minister, have you handled the rest of the church that may assume that youth minister and spouse are a two-for-one package?
Amanda: In Travis’s first full-time ministry job, while we were engaged, the pastor’s wife said to me, “Travis’s job is not your job. It’s important for you to build relationships with people outside of his job within the church.” So, I have my own small group and my own Sunday school class that are not associated with the youth ministry. I’ve been on mission trips on my own and volunteered in other areas of the church where I felt called and gifted. So, I guess I’ve handled the rest of the church by being my own person and creating some boundaries around my own time and involvement.
Emergencies aside, how do you both handle times when church comes before spouse and/or family? For instance, your kid’s first soccer game vs. a youth trip? Or anniversary dinner vs. church council meeting?
Travis: We make family a priority. I work hard to put family first (for instance, I drove back home from a retreat to make it to a soccer game and then back to the retreat after the game was over.) As much as I try, though, there are things at home that I might miss. We are both flexible about it and try to keep an eye on our calendar to block out regular family time.
Youth ministers travel several times during the year. How do you coordinate your calendars and manage that time apart?
Travis: We try to meet periodically for “home staff meetings” where we coordinate our calendars. Amanda also has full access to my iCal so that she can see it, edit it, and add things to it for our home life. I usually don’t plan to be gone without first running it by her.
Amanda: Technology has been really helpful during our time apart over the past few years with Skype and Facetime. Travis sends videos of what he’s doing on trips so our boys can see what daddy’s up to and I will send pics and videos of what the boys and I are doing at home.
Youth ministers (and all of those in ministry roles) are expected to maintain a certain level of belief without doubt, to love their jobs and the kids to whom they minister, and to be happy that they are able to have a job in which all you do is worship God and love kids. How do you and your spouse deal with that “happiness” myth and with the reality that sometimes this is not the job you thought you wanted? That you’re never able to truly leave work at work?
Travis: We’re pretty straightforward with each other and we also both have trusted groups of people with whom we can be very honest about where we are in our own faith, work, and home lives. It’s helpful to have people with whom we can share the truth, even when the truth isn’t positive or Pollyanna-ish.
You lose your Sunday which, for someone in a typical Monday through Friday job, is a family day. How do you compensate for that?
Amanda: Typically, Friday is a family day for us. That will change as our kids enter school, and from there we will adjust, as we’re able.
How has having kids changed your ministry priorities? How has the addition of children affected your work/life balance?
Amanda: Having children made us a lot more cognizant of how much we worked and how much we were syncing our identities with our work. Having kids has forced us to take a step back from that.
Travis: Having kids has also made certain aspects of youth ministry more difficult. For instance, attending extra-curricular activities during the week with two small children at home has been a big struggle. The amount of events, concerts, ball games, etc. that I attend has decreased dramatically since we had kids.
On the flip side, there are many great things about raising kids in a ministry setting. We’re not the only people teaching our kids about God, and our kids have a great sense that the church is their church and it’s made up of people who love them and support them as they grow up. It’s been fun to bring them with me for various things in my ministry. For instance, I take both boys to my Monday morning “High School Man Breakfast,” and they’re every bit a part of the group as any of the high school guys who usually attend.
Having kids has also dramatically changed my perspective in dealing with parents. I’m more invested in parents now because I have a deeper understanding for how they feel about their kids and how important their kids are to them.
What other tips would you pass on to fellow youth ministers on balancing your marriage and your ministry?
Amanda: Communicate early and often about everything—calendars, shifts in work patterns from week to week, upcoming trips, events, etc. Communicate openly when it feels like something needs to change (like if one of you is overworking.)
Travis: Remember that your family will only ever get one you. Your church will have other youth ministers, your family will never have another you. More importantly, pray: for each other, for your ministry, for your family.
Check out the links below for the other articles in our short series “Married/Single in Youth Ministry.”
Married in Youth Ministry: The Newlyweds
Single in Youth Ministry: Her View
Married in Youth Ministry: With a Minivan and a Mortgage
Single in Youth Ministry: His View
Married in Youth Ministry: The Veterans