A healthy church planting wife exists in community with God, His church, and others in a genuine, biblical way.
“We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8 (HCSB)
When God began awakening my husband, Kyle, and I to the idea of church planting, I felt immediately certain He was calling Kyle to plant, lead, and pastor. At the time, he’d been serving on staff at a large church in Texas for eight years, and his passions, gifts, and experience seemed perfectly suited for this grand new adventure.
But what about me? I wasn’t sure I had what it would take. I also didn’t know what to expect or what planting would mean for me and our three small boys. My husband, I knew, would preach, lead, evangelize, and raise support. But what was expected of me? What was I supposed to do as a fledgling church planting wife? Did I too have gifts God could use? These were among the many nagging questions I carried with me into the first few years of church planting.
We’ve now lived in Charlottesville, Virginia for over a decade and continue serving at the church we planted. As I meet with new church planting wives in our city—a great joy of mine—their familiar uncertainty regarding their roles eventually rises to the surface. They want what I myself had wanted: a checklist, a battle plan, a formula—anything to assure themselves they’re on the “right” track and an asset to God, their husbands, and the church plant itself.
I tell them what I wish I could go back to the beginning stages of church planting and tell myself: it’s not about what you do. Certainly, you will serve, help, and lead in countless ways. But being a church planter’s wife is not a role with a set job description; attempting to formulate one will only frustrate and condemn you. Rather, your focus in church planting must be on engaging an authentic relationship with God and with others. Out of the overflow of these relationships, ministry opportunities will come, and they’ll be as specific to you as the individual God’s created you to be.
Your goal in church planting, then, is intentionally cultivating authentic, relational connection in every sphere of your life.
Mark of a Healthy Spouse: Authentic Relationships
In addition to the time, love, and attention you give your marriage and children, if you want to be a healthy church planting wife, you must intentionally cultivate three primary relationships: your relationship with God, relationships with people in your church, and relationships with friends both inside and outside the church.
As a church planting spouse, the most important relationship you have is with the Lord. You must tether yourself to Him, returning to Him daily through prayer and Scripture reading, filling yourself up in His love for you, and preparing to pour out onto others what you’ve received from Him. John 15:4-5 communicates why this is vital for all believers but especially so for those ministering in His name: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” You can’t and won’t endure in church planting apart from intimate connection with God, but in gulping His refreshment each day, He’ll enable you to persevere in church planting and the Christian life for the long haul.
As you cultivate an intimate relationship with God, the Spirit grows in you a supernatural love for others. His love working on you, in you, and through you produces genuine care and concern for the people He brings into your local church body. However, love in the name of Jesus is also intentional. You must intentionally engage people in your church by getting to know them and their needs, looking for ways to meet those needs, and helping them discover and utilize their spiritual gifts. You won’t be close friends with everyone, but your goal is to be authentically open, available, and honoring to all you encounter. Paul gives voice to our goal: “We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us” 1 Thessalonians 2:8 (HCSB). You may not lead the children’s ministry, teach, or lead worship, but if you genuinely love people, you’ve done well.
As you walk with the Lord and others in genuine love, you will draw other women to you. In addition, your position and influence in the church plant provide you countless opportunities for ministry-based relationships—women who need counsel, for example. Gladly pour yourself out as the Lord leads you. However, you must also make time and space for authentic friendships with other women. Friendships are distinct from ministry-based relationships in that they are mutual, life-giving, and provide you space to be a person rather than merely the pastor’s wife. Friendships involve both a pour-out, pour-in dynamic and are vital to your emotional health and well-being as a Christian and a church planting wife.
Potential Pitfalls if Authentic Relationships Aren’t Cultivated
Before discussing how you can cultivate these relationships, let’s first consider what potential pitfalls you’ll avoid by intentionally pursuing authentic connection with God and others.
The first pitfall you’ll avoid is identifying yourself primarily as a worker for God rather than a worker with God. Without an intimate connection to God and a deep, abiding embrace of the gospel of grace, we stand apart from God, attempting to prove ourselves, earn something from Him, or do great works in His name for our own honor. We may begin to think we can manipulate the work of the Holy Spirit through sheer effort to save people, change hearts, and grow the church. We quickly forget we’re dependent children. Burnout, bitterness, and apathy will soon follow. By cultivating your relationship with God, you more likely will avoid this pitfall.
The second pitfall you’ll avoid is exceptalionism. As a church planting spouse, you have a unique position, ministry, and vantage point. You know things others don’t know. You may be called upon to do what others aren’t called upon to do. You have influence and opportunities that others don’t. You have a unique calling on your life that many, including those closest to you, may not ever fully understand. However, any time we use our uniqueness to excuse ourselves from love, service, engagement, and sanctification because we are too “different” and convinced “no one understands,” we’ve moved into exceptalionism. Exceptalionism leads to disengagement, self-imposed loneliness, pride, going through the motions, and the feeling of cultivating everyone else’s community without enjoying it yourself. In cultivating authentic relationships within the church, you’ll more likely avoid this pitfall.
Finally, by cultivating authentic relationships, you’ll avoid the pitfall of believing you’re above sanctification or receiving the care and ministry of others. You’re not outside the Body of Christ; you’re an important yet singular part of the Body. You’re a sinner and therefore must also be a persistent repenter and forgiver. You’re a disciple, both edifying and needing the edification of others. By cultivating friendships, you’ll engage in relationships that challenge you spiritually and provide secure places for you to reveal your needs and vulnerabilities.
Authentic relationships don’t happen overnight. They take intentional effort and grow in depth and fruitfulness over time. It’s important, then, that you consider how you’ll cultivate your relationship with God, the church, and other women as you begin church planting.
Strategy #1: Plan how you’ll stay connected with God.
In order to stay intimately connected to the Lord, develop a regular routine of Scripture reading and prayer.
Scripture reading and prayer have become consistent necessities in my life, but for many of my adult years, studying my Bible was neither consistent nor a felt necessity. I wanted to want to do it, but I struggled with motivation and desire. Part of my struggle was that for most of my Christian life, I approached God and my Bible from a legalistic perspective, simply checking a task off my daily to-list.
Two things changed this practice for me. First, I came to understand the gospel more clearly. I learned spiritual disciplines are not a means to get something from God, like His approval. Because of what Christ has done for me, I'm already a securely loved daughter. Instead, I practice spiritual disciplines to make myself available to Him, because I can only hear, know, and understand Him as He reveals Himself to me through His Word.
The gospel is not something that comes naturally to any of us; it must be externally proclaimed to us over and over again. We must go to Scripture for a daily reminder and reset around the gospel.
My second point of transformation in relation to Bible reading was church planting itself. I was rocked by the demands and struggles accompanying church planting, and I felt an overwhelming need for an anchor. I knew my anchor was Christ, and as I searched for hope in the Word and consistently found it, I began craving it like I never had before.
This shifting occurred for me when my children were small and we were fledgling church planters. I recognized that if I was going to have consistent reading time, I would have to get up earlier than them. This was a huge obstacle for me, because I love my sleep. But a few things helped. One, I invited my husband to get up early with me, and he did. It's since become our routine; we don't even think twice about it now. Two, I began associating certain things with that time: warm coffee, a special place in the house, cozy slippers, a cute journal and pen. It sounds silly, but sometimes that was what got me out of bed in the cold darkness of winter. Finally, and perhaps most important of all: I trained my children to stay in their rooms until a given time. Now that they are older, they’re invited to join my husband and me in the living room for quiet Bible reading.
Over time, I've seen the fruit in my life of consistently studying God's Word. Any time I'm tempted to give up my routine, I recall the many benefits knowing God through His Word brings to the believer's life. The fruit of reading Scripture is not immediate, but Psalm 1 tells us that a person who consistently meditates on Scripture will be like a tree planted by rivers of water that brings forth fruit in its season. I don't want to give up. I don't want to neglect what can produce that kind of fruit.
And I don’t want you to neglect it either, because if you are to persevere in faith, church planting, and ministry, it will be because you have tethered yourself in relationship to God and His Word.
Strategy #2: Connect Your God-Given Gifts to the Church
As you consider an authentic relationship with your church plant, picture a funnel. In the beginning stages, your experience will be similar to sitting at the widest point of the funnel: you’ll be called upon to do many things, some of which will be completely outside your skill-set and comfort zone. You’ll engage most, if not all, people and ministries within the church, and you’ll engage the community around you. In this stage, you’re a generalist—filling in gaps, taking up tasks, leading ministries, and helping where it’s needed.
Some of what you’ll do, you’ll absolutely love, and it will feel authentic to how God’s made you. Some, however, will feel like heavy burdens, disconnected from your spiritual gifts and passions. Being a generalist not only sanctifies you, teaching you to serve with joy when choice is limited, but it also gives you the opportunity to “taste-test” many parts of ministry. You may find a surprising gift, passion, or interest you didn’t know you had in your first few years of church planting. Pay attention, learn yourself, and acknowledge what sets your heart ablaze, because, over time, you’ll begin moving from being a generalist to a specialist. You’ll have choices on how you want to connect your authentic self to the needs of the church and how you’ll use your gifts to sharpen and edify others. You’ll one day find yourself in the narrow part of the funnel—your sweet spot.
One challenge many church planting wives face in their relationship to their churches, especially in the “generalist” stage, is managing and juggling all the demands, needs, and responsibilities of family life, work life, and church life.
In my relationship to our church, one specific skill I’ve had to learn is knowing when and how to say no to invitations, opportunities, or needs that aren’t central to what God has called me to do. You’ll need this skill as well. For example, as you learn yourself, what you can legitimately handle in your stage of life, and home in on what God would specifically have you do to serve others, you’ll learn you simply can’t do it all. How do you say a gracious no?
My rule of thumb is taking time before saying yes or no. I need time so that I can take it to the Lord and give Him space to lead me—another reason why an intimate walk with the Lord is essential. I also need time to discuss it with my husband, who often seems to know me better than I know myself and offers excellent advice about what I should do or not do.
Strategy #3: Engage Deep Friendships
Finally, it’s vital that you develop the skills of initiating and engaging others in community, conversation, and friendship. They are skills that can be learned and honed, so set your mind to practicing them from the get-go. Here are a few places to start:
Initiate. Become an initiator, whether it’s stepping forward to greet a new visitor as they enter the church gathering or it’s inviting a neighbor for a walk or to coffee. Initiate conversations that go deeper than small talk. Initiate spiritual conversations. Initiate sharing details about your own life or what you’re learning in the Word. Initiate invitations to your home, to small groups, or to whatever the church is doing. Be a “there you are” person rather than a “here I am” person who waits for others to go first.
Make time for friendship. Learn to distinguish between ministry relationships and friendships, and make sure you schedule time with friends in advance of the church calendar or other ministry commitments. You may feel weary of planning one more thing to do or even guilty for taking time away from your family, but an early morning coffee or an afternoon walk with a friend, is food for the soul.
Practice vulnerability. Vulnerability is the key ingredient that takes a friendship deeper. Vulnerability also feels risky, especially for the pastor’s wife. Take time to discover who the faithful, trustworthy women are around you, and then practice vulnerability with one or two. Test the waters, so to speak. They may not respond perfectly, but if they point you to the Lord and pray for you, you’ve perhaps found a friend and a treasure.
Remember: church planting is not about what you will do; it’s about how you will love. As the apostle Paul says, “If I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). The good news, church planting wife, is that we can’t manufacture love. God gives us His perfect love and strengthens us to love others as He has loved us.
You are loved by God. He goes with you into what He’s called you to do and will not leave you to your own devices. He’s created you and will use your specific gifts and abilities in your specific church plant. And He will use the very people you go to serve to grow, edify, and sanctify you.
Go and make disciples. And love big.
This article is a chapter I contributed to NAMB's free ebook, Five Markers of a Healthy Church Planting Wife. Download the ebook here.