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From Generalist To Specialist: What To Do When You're Doing It All

Prior to planting, my husband served on a large church staff where his roles and responsibilities were clearly defined. To support him and to serve in our church, I simply helped in those areas as my time and gifts allowed, and I enjoyed the benefit of being able to drop my kids in the church nursery while I did so.

Then we moved several states away to plant a church in our living room. The nursery was nonexistent, unless I took my children--the only children in our church for the first year--into a separate room to play. This was inevitably necessary in order to keep them from strumming the guitar along with our worship leader or drooling on my husband while he was teaching.

I’d gone into our church plant with excitement, my head and heart full of plans of how I envisioned myself serving in our church and community. The reality, I realized almost immediately, was that church planting would require me to be a generalist—to do whatever was needed—for the foreseeable future. My grand plans had to be set aside until we added more hands and skills, allowing me to evolve from a generalist into a specialist.

All church planting wives start as generalists. We are children’s ministry coordinators, counselors, graphic designers, web managers, worship leaders, hostesses, and the primary sounding board for the church planter—sometimes all on the same Sunday, with kids in tow. Multiply this work times years of church planting, and it can make for one exhausted woman. I know, because I was one.

In those years, I learned a few things about how to navigate the demands of church planting, specifically how to move from generalist to specialist, or rather how I released ministry areas that enabled me to serve according to my passions and spiritual gifts.

Serve Faithfully

There is no getting around it: you will be a generalist for a time long enough that will feel uncomfortable and difficult for you. How will you respond when you know you need to do something you don’t really want to do? Commit to entering the process of learning a wise, biblical response. God taught me through those years how to serve joyfully and faithfully in areas that I don’t necessarily love and am not gifted for. He can teach you how to serve out of the lavish love and grace He’s served you with, as you submit to Him.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

After several years of church planting and serving in such a variety of ways, I lost track of who God made me and the ways in which I serve Him that make me come alive. I forgot all about the plans I’d made prior to planting, because I was just doing the next thing that needed to get done. Although I was learning to serve faithfully in areas I didn’t love, around year three or four, I also began looking behind and ahead, considering what my ministry “sweet spot” has been throughout the years, and actively releasing tasks and ministries in order to serve in that sweet spot.

Look for Your Replacement

One of the best ways to move toward being a specialist is to release ministries into the faithful, capable hands of those who actually have a passion for them. As you serve and develop a team around that ministry, ask God to show you who those people are and approach them about taking over the team or being your apprentice as you transition the team under them.

Ask for Help

The mistake I see church planting wives often make is being hesitant to ask others for help, sometimes from a sense of guilt or martyrdom. For example, I’ve heard from many church planting wives who serve in the children’s ministry week after week, missing church and fellowship, because no one else is stepping up to do it. After a time, they’ve grown resentful of the people, because no one has noticed and no one has offered to help. In reality, the church isn’t keeping track; they simply aren’t aware and don’t know there is a need. It’s essential to learn how to make needs known and to ask for help.

It is also important to learn to ask our husbands for help. I have asked my husband for help in finding my replacement for certain ministries and protecting me from the unrealistic expectations and asks of church members and even other church staff members.

Learn to Say No

As you’re releasing ministries and tasks with your eyes on the prize, you may face guilt over not doing some of the things you used to do. When our church was tiny, we had all new visitors over to our house for dinner. This was one of the best things we did, and I saw and valued it’s impact. But as the church grew, we simply couldn’t have everyone over anymore. Even though I knew it wasn’t logistically and financially possible, I still felt guilty about it. I told myself I should be able to continue doing everything I’d always done. I had to learn to grow and change as the church grew and changed. I had to learn to tell myself and others no so I didn’t replace the tasks and ministries I’d released with new opportunities that simply weren’t in my sweet spot as a specialist.

At this point in our 7-year-old church plant, I’m finally a specialist. I honestly wasn’t sure this time would come. However, I value the years I spent as a generalist. I learned the lessons that you’re likely learning right now: how to serve joyfully, how much work people do to make a church run, and how to know who I am and how God’s made me. Serve faithfully wherever God has you and keep drilling down toward that specialist season. Because one day you’ll be right where you want to be, and it’ll be a pretty sweet spot.

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