Last week I was asked to speak at an event for church planters along with their spouses and launch teams in greater Columbus. The topic I was supposed to speak about was how I survived being married to a church planter.
As I prayed and reflected on our journey over the past seven years, I decided the goal is not just to survive- but to thrive. While you may not be able to relate to church planting, I believe some of the truths that got us through can apply to many other areas of life. Yours may be something like “How I survived…”
- Parenting Teenagers
- Managing work and home
- A serious health issue
- Or something totally different
So here are the five things the Lord brought to mind in reflecting on our journey –
- Patience in the process
The decision to plant a church came gradually in my husband’s heart. It wasn’t something he always thought he would do. He would talk about it now and then and one day while driving through the countryside in a small town where we traveled to buy organic beef, I questioned whether this town might need another church. He jumped right on the possibility that I might be on board with church planting and began exploring more by taking an online profile and talking to his boss (our senior pastor) about it. While we didn’t end up in a little country town, we did eventually gather a team and plant a church.
Once God confirmed the call to plant, my husband was ready to move forward. However, everything took longer than we thought it would. Most church planters are spiritual entrepeneurs so they want everything done yesterday. In the waiting we learned valuable lessons about prayer and the need for training.
I remember going to a church planting conference and hearing them say, “Risk is the coolest.” At the time, I thought, “No, security, safety, and knowing how everything is going to turn out is the coolest.” Looking back, I see that they were right and I was wrong. Risk is the coolest and learning to dream big requires patience and trust in God as we see that He is often more into crockpot speed than microwave mentality!
2. Lifting up pain to God
I expected planting a church would have lots of challenges. We had heard that 3 out of 5 church plants don’t survive. I wondered if we would struggle with finances, people showing up at services, finding a place to meet, and our kids adjusting to new schools. We found our pain came in unexpected places.
I can relate to the story of Moses. He saw God bring the plagues and part the Red Sea and then he sent out 12 spies (his right-hand men with oversight of around a million people) to check out the land. Ten of the 12 came back discouraging the people to obey God and believing the battle was too tough to fight. I think Moses knew there would be hardships, but I doubt he expected them to come from his co-laborers and leaders.
When conflict came among our closest friends and ministry partners, I felt deeper pain and sadness than I’d ever known. I couldn’t eat or sleep for days. I wanted to turn in my resignation as a church planter’s wife and say it was just too hard. It was through this experience that God was teaching me to lift up my pain to Him.
Whether we have pebbles, rocks, or boulders, the Hebrew word for forgive is nasa – “to lift up”! God builds strong spiritual muscles in us as we lift up our pain to Him.
3. Changing our ministry measuring rods.
It was so hard not to gauge our church planting success on how many people attended services, the number of people in small groups, how many visitors came on any given Sunday, the frequency of criticism, and how much money came in the offering.
When services were low, the budget tight, and families left the church, it was so discouraging. Through the process of the last few years, God has been teaching me to change the questions I ask.
Instead of, “How did we do?” we are asking “Who are we becoming?”
Instead of, “How will people like our decisions?” we are asking, “How would God have us respond in this sitation?”
Seeking God’s favor and putting down our measuring rods has personally given me so much freedom to love and serve the church with less expectation.
4. Personal spiritual fitness
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul told the believers at Corinth to run the race to win. He compared their spiritual fitness to the physical practices of an athlete in the foot race of the Isthmian games held in Corinth every other year and second only to the Olympics. Athletes have coaches, continually repeat exercises, and persevere when they are tired and weary.
Sean and I have found that we can’t lead others any farther than we are in our own spiritual fitness. We must be coachable and listen to the correction and encouragment of others who have gone before us. We ask ourselves, “Are we praying, studying, and developing relationships with those far from God as much as we hope those who attend our church will?”
We wouldn’t have survived and certainly not thrived in church planting without running our own race with spiritual disciplines in place.
5. Remembering the why
Church planting has brought our family a lot of joy, but also fiery trials. I’ve heard it said, “There is no pain like church pain.” Its true. So why do it? Why take risks and pour your life into starting a church? Because the gospel is worth it.
The apostle Paul said this in Acts 20:24, “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”
We align with the New Thing Network which is ravenous about church planting. They talk about the model of:
- New believers
- New Leaders
- New Churches
The why is important. Paul said the gospel was worth giving up his rights to be able to share. We serve a God who loves people so much He sent His own Son to die in order to restore relationship with them. That is the good news of the wonderful grace of God – and my life is worth nothing if I don’t expend it sharing that message with others!
Church planting is how we feel called to do that. For you it may be something totally different. But in your calling, I pray that God might speak to you about patience in the process, lifting up your pain to God, changing your measuring rods, personal spiritual fitness, and remembering your why. Then you can thrive rather than just survive the calling the Lord has put on your life!