Church planting wives are as different as the churches we're helping to plant. We're gifted differently, we have different family and life situations, and we come from different backgrounds. But we all have one thing in common: we all have great influence in the lives of our husbands, our children, and our churches. We play an incredibly important role in the church planting process, and especially in the beginning.
Because we are all different, transitioning into church planting is an art that will be unique to our families, marriages, communities, and church plants. However, there are things I learned in my own transition from established church to church plant that may aid you as you plant, in whatever context you're in:
First, study the culture (and never stop studying!)
When we moved into our new home in our new city, I distinctly remember hanging the last frame on the wall in our bedroom, sitting down on the bed with my husband, and saying, “What now?” We felt pretty overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start.
You may face this same moment, when the logistics are completed, you’re settled, you’ve been praying and preparing for this moment, and now you’re ready to jump in and start this church. The new culture and the complete unknown can be intimidating. So when you look at each other and say, “What now?”, here’s your “what now”: start studying the culture. You’ve grown to love the city in your preparation time. Now you need to find out what is at the heart of this city. What makes it tick?
You start as an outsider. Your goal is to become an insider.
Although it takes time, you want to become an insider as quickly as possible, because what does an outsider do when they look at a city? An outsider evaluates and compares. For the first few weeks and even months as an outsider, you may notice all the differences between this new place and where you’ve come from. You may notice its faults because you’re looking at it from an outsider’s critical eye. Your job is to become an insider. Insiders love their city! And becoming an insider starts with learning your city.
Becoming intimately acquainted with your city is an antidote to what I call “culture days”. Culture days are where you revert to being an outsider. I had many of those days in the first year: roads changed names three times and weren’t formed in a grid, the first winter I wasn’t prepared with the right clothes and we didn’t know how to salt our driveway, people didn’t look me in the eye or say hello, the cost of living was higher. What helped? To consider what I knew about my city that I loved.
To become an insider, answer these questions: Where do people gather? How can we (or the church) gather where they are? What are the rhythms of the city? If you have children: What do moms do here? Participate in the typical rhythms of the city. What does this city love and value? How can you, without comprising the gospel, join in these values?
There will be a point when you realize that you’re becoming an insider and it will be a joyous day. A local will invite you into their home. You will recognize a retail worker on the street and know where they work. You will go where people are gathered and you will see people you know.
Make connections with people in your community.
Church planting, when you boil it down, is all about relationships. It’s not about strategies or models or locations or worship leaders or signage. It’s about meeting people, building relationships with them deep enough where, if they are not believers, you know their stories and their false idols and you earn their trust so that you can share the entire gospel with them. With believers, it’s about building relationships deep enough where you know their stories and you can speak grace into their lives and disciple them and become family with them.
There were many times in our first year where we tried to do outreach events and they flopped. My husband and I learned quickly that church planting, especially in the closed-off culture we live in, would happen one relationship at a time. We had to alter our preconceived notions of what we thought church planting was going to be like and commit to putting in the hard work of starting and maintaining relationships.
Because God starts a church with people and it grows one relationship at a time, you have to figure out two things and both of them require you to be an initiative taker.
The first thing you need to figure out is this: How am I going to meet people? Consider where people are gathering and go there! And when you go there, strike up conversations with strangers. When we planted, our kids were 5, 2, and 6 months. I went to Chick-fil-a and sat in the play area or to the park and struck up conversations with every mom around me. It’s easy when they are in your life-stage because you know what they’re thinking about and how to talk about things they’re thinking about.
Figure out the questions to ask and use them over and over and over. Also figure out the questions that lead to deeper conversation. In our town, everyone is transient so a typical question is “How long have you lived here?” and “What brought you to the city?” That enabled me to share about my husband’s job and our church and ask questions about their spiritual background in a totally natural way.
Join clubs or organizations that connect you with a group of people that you’ll see regularly, things like sports teams or the PTO or a book club. Go meet your neighbors. If your neighborhood or apartment building has community parties, go to them. Get to know the people at the places you frequent most, like coffee shops, grocery stories, the post office, etc. Coach sports teams or help your husband coach them. The point is: go, do, and talk to anyone and everyone. Be friendly and don’t be afraid to be “weird” or awkward. Sometimes it will fall flat, but sometimes you will have a great conversation and make good connections.
The second thing you need to figure out is this: How am I going to develop deeper relationships with the people I’m meeting? Invite them to spend time with you. Invite them into your home! There is nothing like hospitality to take a relationship to a deeper level. Serve them in some way. Figure out ways to naturally turn conversations to spiritual matters.
Deal biblically with inevitable difficulties.
Church planting is difficult and we all kind of expect that, but we don’t often expect just how hard it will be for as long as it will be.
There are some difficulties and challenges coming your way. You will have opportunities to doubt, fear, and even want to give up. You will experience opposition and spiritual warfare, which will primarily target your marriage. Satan will look for ways to divide you two and cause you to resent your husband. You will experience exhaustion. You will come face-to-face with your insecurities. You may deal with disillusionment or bitterness. You may face discouragement if and when your life and church look differently than how you imagined it to look.
Yes, these are challenges, but these are all very good things because they cause us, if we let them, to trust God, to let go of self-sufficiency and depend on Him. They teach us perseverance and endurance, and how to serve sacrificially without looking for anything in return.
Because you will face difficulties and challenges, make this your motto: Difficulties will come. I won’t be surprised by that. Instead, I will embrace them. In 1 Peter, Peter says it is a blessing to suffer for Christ. When you embrace the difficult parts of things and move forward in faith, God will shift your whole world. You will experience Him as faithful and worthy of anything you go through. You will gain His perspective on life, faith, church, and ministry. So expect them and embrace them.
Cling to Christ.
In church planting, you learn quickly that the gospel holds you in your city. In the beginning, no one cares that you are there and no one would care if you left. People may not be stampeding to the door of the church and there may be very little results for your labor.
What holds you there? What enables you to have another conversation or another Sunday morning or another family over for dinner?
It’s not your husband and the fact that this is his calling, because he will disappoint you at some point, and what if he’s just as discouraged as you are? It’s not the church you came from or the team that you’re there with. It’s not obligation because obligation gets tiring very, very easily.
It’s the gospel. It’s Christ. It’s His calling on your life and your commitment to Him. It’s that you know that the power of the gospel is able to transform lives and cities. It’s the future reward of the fruit that comes from the gospel.
So your commitment to Christ and to His gospel is your anchor in everything you’ll do as a disciple, a wife, a mom, and a church planting wife. Nurture this relationship you have with Christ. Know God intimately, because all of ministry flows out of this relationship. You will quickly wither up and die if you are not connected to the sustenance that comes through God.
He loves you and He will sustain you and give you everything you need for what is ahead.