This article about our Pastor Date Nights was written by Aaron Wilson for LifeWay’s employee newsletter.
One of Mark Dance’s jobs at LifeWay involves dating his wife.
These romantic evenings usually include flowers, fine dining, and a shared conversation with at least 50 other couples in ministry.
Mark is the director of LifeWay Pastors. This year he and his wife, Janet, will host more than a dozen Pastor Date Nights to help leaders develop healthy marriages and tackle questions specific to couples in ministry.
“Vocational ministry is the only profession on the planet that requires people to win at both work and home,” Mark says. “We host these Pastor Date Nights to help pastors and their wives accomplish both.”
LifeWay has hosted more than 30 Pastor Date Nights so far in cities around the country and even in Canada. This year, the event will visit more than a dozen new cities as far north as Maine. The growth of this event has been explosive—especially considering Pastor Date Nights were started just three years ago as an experiment.
“In 2015, I hosted six pastor roundtables, which were panel-led conversations about how pastors can get and stay healthy,” Mark says. “But it occurred to me the pastor’s greatest advocate wasn’t in the room.
“So I decided to try a different version of the event by inviting pastors’ spouses. We had no idea it would be so well-received.”
Time for questions
The popularity of Pastor Date Nights is driven by a formula that involves free food, child care, and the opportunity to ask confidential questions to a panel via text messaging.
“That’s probably the most significant part of the whole thing,” Mark says. “The wallflower in the corner has just as much a voice as the extrovert on the front row.”
Before sending in text questions, couples check their kids in with provided child care workers. They then enter a dining area set up as a date atmosphere with music playing in the background. Round tables invite guests to mingle and develop new friendships as dinner is served.
“After about 45 minutes I’ll introduce the panel, which consists of Janet, me, and typically two other couples in ministry,” Mark says. “I let them know we’re not here to talk about growing the church but about growing them personally. We’re here to help them get healthy and stay healthy.”
Pastors and spouses can submit questions to the panel anonymously using a Google Voice number. Because each panel has different hosts, no event is ever the same. However, the Dances have come to expect certain questions.
“We get questions about the expectations of a pastor’s wife and how to protect children from church conflict,” Mark says. “Couples ask about counseling boundaries, how to distinguish between preaching preparation and devotional time, and how to practice Sabbath as a family in vocational ministry.”
Mark says it’s a blessing to tag-team these questions with Janet, who’s not only a minister’s wife of 30 years but also a pastor’s kid.
“Janet brings a lot of street credit,” he says. “Pastors and their spouses want to finish strong one day with a healthy marriage and family. It’s helpful for them to hear from someone who’s been in the game for awhile and is still in the game.”
And Janet is glad to be available for the spouses.
“It’s important for these women to have their questions answered candidly by people who understand them,” she says. “[Being a pastor’s wife] is a life with unique challenges as well as blessings. A pastor’s wife is very hesitant to share among people who don’t understand this life.”
The Dances first realized the impact of Pastor Date Night when a pastor’s wife approached Janet after the first event they hosted. The wife shared her husband had been counseling other women in the church one-on-one and was receiving texts at home from one of them. She’d submitted a confidential text to the panel asking for their input on the situation.
“We made a bold but compassionate stance on that,” Mark recalls.
The wife shared afterward that her husband repented and apologized after listening to the panel’s advice.
“God used total strangers to save a marriage that night, I believe,” Mark says. “If LifeWay employees were to pray for one thing for LifeWay’s Pastor Date Nights, may it be that God will use them to strengthen and save marriages.”
Date nights = One LifeWay
Pastor Date Nights have also become an example of One LifeWay at work. When Mark hosts an event, he checks to see if the city has an assigned LifeWay church partner and a LifeWay store nearby. If so, the church partner and store manager are invited to the event to get to know the local pastors and spouses.
Francis Trascritti, North Central church partner, and Malcolm Spencer, manager of the Cincinnati LifeWay Store, were able to mingle with ministry leaders at an associational dinner that had spawned from a recent Pastor Date Night.
“It was great to get to meet these pastors and hear their stories,” Spencer says. “I told them we’re in this together.”
Trascritti feels the same way.
“I’m thankful for the way LifeWay’s team of servants was able to work together unselfishly in a way that made a difference,” he says. “We truly showed to be One LifeWay in this effort, and none of this would have been possible unless we worked together to respond to such a great need.”
LifeWay also uses Pastor Date Nights to introduce pastors to new LifeWay resources by giving away CSB Bibles, commentaries, WORDsearch downloadable cards, new books, and other resources. Nothing is sold at the events, but they often serve as an on-ramp for LifeWay resources because of the relational trust that’s earned.
“There are two questions people want to intuitively know about you,” Mark says. “Can you help me? and Do you care about me? If we can answer those two questions in two hours on a Pastor Date Night, that’s where customer loyalty is rooted.
“These events are a way for us to tell pastors and spouses, ‘We love and support you.’”
Written by Aaron Wilson, associate editor of LifeLines.