January 4, 2013

Tricia Lovejoy on Lessons in Ministry

Well, you better prepare yourself because you're about to get a whole lot of wisdom and encouragement from a seasoned pastor's wife today on the blog. Tricia Lovejoy, wife of Shawn Lovejoy and mom of three, joins me to talk about church planting and ministry life. Shawn is the Lead Pastor of Mountain Lake Church and Tricia is a freelance writer and blogger. She leads the women of her church in an environment called Girlfriends, and she mentors Pastors’ wives across the country.  You can connect with Tricia at SharpenHer.com or Flourish.me.
Q: There are definitely different stages of church planting (pre-plant, first year/1-200 people, 200-500 people, and 500+). You and Shawn have been through all of them at Mountain Lake. What have you, as the pastor’s wife, found to be the essential lesson of each stage?

A: God never puts someone into a leadership position fully ready to take the job.  It seems He prefers on-the-job training.  A quick look through Scripture proves my point: Moses, Jonah, Peter, Paul....the list could go on.  These men were not ready for the tasks they faced, but God equipped them nonetheless, and He taught them many lessons along the way. 

I can relate.  My husband and I planted our church in 2000.  We had never been in a “lead position” before, we were new to our community, and we had no core group.  In short, we weren’t ready to face the challenges before us.  Well, we thought we were, but that was just young bravado talking.  The truth is, God taught us essential lessons at each stage of church planting that not only equipped us to handle future challenges, but also shaped our character.  Let me quickly share a few:

Pre-plant stage: Our very first Small Group was an utter flop.  18 people committed to come.  0 showed up.  ZERO! We felt like failures that night.  But, God taught us an important lesson:  Accept disappointments, not defeat.  In other words, we determined from the start that although failures would come, but we could not give up.  Too much was at stake.  That determination has held us steady in ministry for years since. 

First 2 years of Church Planting: The planter and his wife must be strong ministry partners and strong marriage partners.  Don’t neglect either role. A healthy relationship between the pastor and his wife is critical.

Years 3-5: As goes leadership, so goes the church.  If you want a vibrant, healthy, growing church, the ministry team must be vibrant, healthy, and growing spiritually.

Years 6-10: The wife of the pastor has influence!  Use it!  Encourage the ministry team. Counsel people regarding faith and family.  Brainstorm with your husband about ministry, messages, staffing, and future plans.  God has given you this role....use it for the good of His Kingdom.

Years 11-13: Never exchange “who” you are in God with “what” you do for God.  Titles, recognition, and status mean nothing.  The only thing that matters is integrity before God. 

Q: You get to speak with countless pastors’ wives and church planting wives. What are the overarching issues you’re seeing among ministry wives today? What do you say to encourage or challenge women in these issues?

A: Names and faces change, but the issues do not.  Most Pastors’ wives I speak to struggle to find meaningful friendships and to find ways to balance family and ministry.  Here is my general response to these issues:

1. I can attest that having close friends in your church (as the pastor's wife) is tricky. My suggestion is to have lots of friends at different levels, i.e., some you laugh with, some who make you think, some you lead, etc. Some friendships will be more casual; others will be more meaningful. And, if along the way you find the perfect BFF who can be all of those things, grab her up and treasure her! But if you never find the perfect BFF, at least you'll have a treasure trove of friends to enjoy. In addition, cultivate relationships through websites designed specifically for PW’s.  Talking with other women in ministry often puts life in perspective.  My favorites are: Flourish.me, Leading and Loving It, and, of course, my own blog!

2.  Forget the myth of balance!  I’ve never been able to give equal time, energy, and love to every area of my life.  My goal is to be fully engaged wherever I am.  In other words, when I’m with my family, I am fully “wife and mom.”  No other agenda has my attention.  And, when I’ve scheduled time to focus on ministry, I give it my all.  The key to being fully engaged is SCHEDULING.  Plan your work, and work your plan. 

Q: How do you encourage your husband when he is discouraged in ministry? How do you encourage yourself in the Lord when you are the one who is discouraged?

A: More than anyone else around him, our husbands need to hear US say things like, “I’m with you no matter what. I know you the best, and I love you the most.” They need us to keep them focused on living out God’s purpose for their lives, not on the voice of the naysayers. Our encouragement means more to them than a thousand pats on the back by well-meaning friends. Here are a few ways I cheer my husband on:

1. After each of our worship services, I’m waiting backstage for Shawn.  He looks at me while he’s taking off the mic and I know what his eyes are asking: “Was I clear?  Did I make sense?  I need your feedback.”  He’s not asking for a pat on the back.  He really wants the truth.  And, I give it to him.  But, I always build him up and encourage him.  It takes quite a lot to do what he does, and I understand that having a support system around him will only make him better.

2.  I stand with Shawn in the lobby after each of our services.  Don’t get me wrong....I want to be there to hug necks and pray with people.  But, my husband needs a partner, too.  Sometimes the ministry of “presence” is encouragement in itself.

3.  I celebrate his accomplishments.  Anniversaries of big days at MLC, achievements in our community, a spiritual win.....whatever it is, I enjoy celebrating with him.  My husband is a pretty driven guy, so helping him slow down long enough to enjoy the ride is a pretty healthy thing!

4.  I protect our day off together.  We have some pretty good talks on these dates....leaving us both refreshed and ready to tackle another week.

As for handling my own discouragement, Shawn does for me what I do for him. He is my partner in every way.  God often uses him to speak wisdom into confusing or hurtful circumstances in my life.  But, without fail, the way I battle discouragement is by reading God’s Word and journaling my thoughts.  I have stacks of journals chronicling my journey with God.  I only have to look back over what God has brought me through in the past to gain hope for my future. 

Thank you, Tricia! Readers, what did Tricia share that you resonate most with?

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