February 6, 2013

Backstory to the Book

Southwestern Seminary recently interviewed me about why I wrote The Church Planting Wife. I wanted to share it with you because it tells a little more of our story and what led me to write the book for women like you. Blessings on your day!

What made you decide to write this book?
When my husband and I planted a church in 2008, we attended church planting conferences and read countless resources, but none specifically spoke to me as the church planter’s wife. I wanted direction and help as we approached the church planting process. Then we actually planted the church, which is an immense undertaking, and my want for resources turned to craving. I love reading and learning through reading, so I read books that encouraged my faith, such as missionary biographies and books about spiritual warfare. All along, however, I longed for a book that addressed the specific needs and struggles that I had as a church planting wife. I started my blog out of that longing, knowing that others might benefit from my experiences, and the book followed soon after.

I write my blog and I wrote this book out of a desire to encourage myself and other ministry wives to joyfully embrace our unique calling.
Of all the wisdom you offer in your book, what two things do you hope readers take away from their reading?
I hope that readers will long reflect on the truth that God wants their hearts rather than any obligatory service to Him. Because the book focuses on this, I hope readers allow God to search and try their hearts and root out anything that keeps them apart from Him and anything that hinders their love of and ministry to people.

I also hope readers remember the church planting wife’s “job description” that God reiterated to me over and over through the beginning stages of our church plant: “Follow Me, serve your family, love people, and practice hospitality.” In church planting, it appears so much more complicated than that, but it’s really quite simple.

Your blog, which pre-dates your book, largely focuses on grace. Why is grace so important for a minister’s wife, and in particular, for a church planting wife?
The ability to impact others, build a church, change hearts and lives, disciple others, implant the gospel, heal broken marriages, or any other work of ministry can only be done by God. The fact that He invites us into the process is a gift of grace.

I feel strongly that ministers and their wives must continually know their utter need for God and His grace. How else can we share it with others? I have found that only as I acknowledge God to do the work of ministry through me, only as I know my need for the gospel everyday, am I able to fulfill God’s calling on my life.

On my blog, I don’t give women a list of do’s and don’ts for ministry or prescriptives to implement in their own contexts. I want to speak at the heart level, reminding them of the reasons why they do what they do. I want to give them grace.

What has been the most God-dependent moment for you and your husband between the day you began dreaming of church planting and today? The most rewarding moment?
Every stage of church planting has provided a fresh opportunity to depend on God. When God called us to plant a church, we had so many unanswered questions: Where? How will we finance this? Who will be on our core team? How will this affect our children? God answered each one in spectacular fashion.

The fears and questions at that beginning stage were almost easier than the ones of doubt and uncertainty in the first year of the church’s existence. At the end of year one, we were asked to leave our meeting place on the Friday before our biggest Saturday outreach yet. We went ahead with it, having nowhere to invite people to join us for church other than the tent in the grocery store parking lot we used for the outreach. That Sunday, a humid, rainy August day, we closed out our first year with 31 soggy people under the tent. My husband came home that day and said, “I feel like we’re starting over.” It was a sobering anniversary. Was this church going to make it? It’s something we asked almost everyday, a kind of uncertainty that is extremely difficult to live in.

Those moments in church planting happen quite often. That continuous uncertainty refined my faith and taught me how to depend on God without any of the crutches I have had in our previous ministries. I praise God that He removed my crutches!

I can recount so many rewarding moments: The first time we were invited into a local family’s home. The first time my husband was asked to officiate a wedding in our new city. Marriages restored. Salvations. Fruitful discipleship relationships. Baptisms. An alcoholic freed from addiction. The city inviting our church to serve thousands at the local July 4th event. A lady in the community who saw our church there in our church shirts and said, “You guys are everywhere!” Serving the school where we meet. And perhaps my favorite moments: communion Sundays, days where I look around at a collection of people that I love that are together because of what God has done. It is an incredible joy.

In your book, you include several interviews with other church planting wives. How has knowing other women who have the same calling as you been helpful in your journey?
Knowing other women in ministry and church planting has been immensely valuable. Church planting wives have an instant understanding and connection with one another. We know what other wives are facing and how much encouragement and support they need in their ministries. We know how tired they are and the weight they carry as they seek to support their husbands. We share with one another the words, helps, and truths that we need in our unique callings. There have been many occasions when I have a specific question or situation that I have taken to other church planting wives, and they’ve spoken just what I needed.

What is the number one thing you wish someone would have told you before you and your husband began your church plant?
Pace yourself for the long haul. I think everyone who church plants expects it to be difficult but at the same time believes that, because they are obediently following God, the road will be smooth and they will experience explosive church growth within the first year. In fact, church planting is difficult work for a long period of time, much like an ultra-marathon. Our church is growing and our community impact is happening one relationship at a time, which requires time, effort, energy, and lots of hard work.

I can pace myself only when I know and trust that God provides the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7). This truth—that we are sowers but God is the grower—has been essential for me as a church planting wife. I can rest and rejoice knowing that God is responsible for His church.

Throughout your book, you describe how church planting takes a toll on even the strongest of marriages. What can a husband and wife specifically do in their marriage before and while beginning a church plant to avoid potential dangers?
Going into our church plant, my husband and I had what I believe was a strong and satisfying marriage. We had many safeguards and priorities in place that worked for us, such as a weekly date night and regular time away together.  We also had served in ministry together for seven years, working well as partners.

Church planting has been a huge stressor on our marriage. My husband felt so much pressure as the lead planter to succeed and provide for his family, pressure that I likely don’t fully understand. That pressure ate at him for the first year or two, and I felt that I was losing him to church planting. The nature of church planting is that it threatens to overtake your entire life, and I struggled with this. Although I knew God had called us to do it, I struggled with resentment at what my husband’s vocation required of me. At the height of the most difficult time, I just wanted to be “normal” and live a “normal” life.

To add to the difficulty, we moved far from our friends and family to plant the church. All of our safeguards—date nights, time away, rest from the work—went away temporarily because we didn’t know anyone who could babysit our children. We quickly realized that we needed to do whatever we could to have time together where we didn’t talk about church, and we reinstituted these safeguards as quickly as possible. Thankfully, our marriage continues to be strong and satisfying, some of which we attribute to the sanctifying process of church planting.

To those who are entering church planting, I would encourage them to have sacred time together each week where church is not the main topic. I would encourage them to communicate constantly about ministry expectations, discouragements, and victories (even if they are small). I would also suggest that the husband reiterate constantly by word and deed that his marriage and family are priorities over the church.