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.