July 11, 2013

Amie Patrick Talks Church Planting

This wisdom was so good that it's worth repeating...

Amie Patrick, wife of Darrin and mom of four, joins me on the blog today to answer readers' questions and one of my own regarding church planting and ministry. Darrin and Amie planted The Journey in St. Louis in 2001.

First, here's her story in her own words:
God lit a spark in both of us with regard to church planting in college. I was a music major with a lot of friends in the artistic community and Darrin had built relationships with a lot of athletes on campus.  We kept seeing a theme that many of our friends didn’t connect with or feel welcomed in established churches, and started dreaming about what it might look like for that to be different.

Still, I was utterly terrified when God made it clear that we were called to move to St. Louis to plant The Journey in 2001.  I knew that my whole life was about to be completely disrupted and that God was going to transform me in ways that would be more than a little uncomfortable. I spent a year alternately kicking and screaming and desperately clinging to Jesus as the one true and steadfast hope I had. God’s steadfast love and goodness, though, has far outweighed all of the difficulties of planting and pastoring a church.  He has been faithful through every dark and glorious day.

From Rebekah, a reader of the blog:
My husband and our church as a whole are wonderful about not expecting me to do everything, or even MOST of the possibly more typical pastors wife roles. Sometimes, however, that can actually make it difficult to know what I should take on and/or say YES to. Other than asking your husband for his thoughts, how do you discern and decide what things you do or take on at your church?

There are seasons in every church plant for everyone to just do what needs to be done – stack the chairs, make copies, cook a meal, etc. But as the church matures, I think the goal is for everyone, including the pastor’s wife to use their specific spiritual gifts in a way that builds up the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:11-16).

For many reasons, I think it can be particularly hard for the pastor’s wife to move out of the “what should/has to be done” mode.  We are usually painfully aware of where the gaps and needs are and often feel a lot of self-imposed pressure to fix them.

Sometimes, the freedom to do “anything” is scarier than having roles and responsibilities imposed upon us.  Perhaps the most freeing yet scariest question for us is “What do you WANT to do?”

What are you passionate about? What do you daydream about? What energizes you and lights your fire? What would you do if you didn’t feel obligated to (fill in the blank)?

We balk at the question because we know we have some sinful desires in the mix, and what if we’re not hearing God at all, and what if we’re making it all about us, etc. etc. But I firmly believe that God plants those seeds of things that He wants to grow as little ideas in our hearts and minds. There’s a childlike humility in bringing our dreams and hopes to God and risking the disappointment of Him saying “No” or “Not yet”, or facing the fear that He might say “YES!” . It is, after all, God at work in us, and He is certainly able to sort out our longings and desires and gifts in His timing for His glory (Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10).

I’d been dreaming for at least 10 years about publicly sharing my story related to eating and body image issues. Last spring, God made it abundantly clear that the time was NOW, so I taught a 4-week class on how the truths of the gospel can bring life-changing freedom and healing in these areas. I loved every minute of preparing for and teaching that class and was clearly operating in the sweet spot of my gifts. Such a privilege and a joy!

Conversely, I’m a musician, but I haven’t done anything with music in our church for ten years. I’ve had some personal baggage and wounds related to music that needed some time and redemption. I needed freedom to not “have to” serve in that role. In the past year, God’s brought me around to a place where there’s a new and different longing in me to sing and play the piano.  I’m loving music again, and the idea of God using me in our church in that way feels like a privilege and not a burden.

Darrin and I have a lot of conversations about these things, and he’s been my biggest cheerleader when it comes to using my gifts in our church.   We evaluate the “state of the union” regularly, as loving each other well and our children is the top priority for both of us after our relationships with Jesus.  I’m careful and prayerful about what I say “yes” to, as I have tendencies to live in an overextended way. There will obviously be some obligations and necessary roles for every pastor’s wife, and some of these won’t line up perfectly with our passions. But I think our churches benefit tremendously when we honor and cooperate with God’s design in us as we make decisions about how we’ll serve.

This one is my own question, something I struggle with:
There are many days (especially Sundays) when I feel pressure as the pastor’s wife: to talk to everyone, to give my attention to people even while my kids are there at my side, to meet every need presented to me. On those days, I feel frazzled and I find myself speaking to myself what I imagine other people’s criticisms are of me. Does this happen to you and how do you nip that stuff in the bud?

I’ve definitely struggled with this one. I’ve absolutely felt like I was at the mercy of what I assumed everyone expected of me and I’ve left church many times feeling like I aimed at everything and connected with nothing.

As simple as it sounds, it took me several years to start practically thinking through the question of  “What’s my role on Sunday morning”?  When I started actually asking the Lord about this and talking through it with Darrin, I saw that had a lot of freedom. God’s not asking me to be more than just ONE member of the body, and the best I can give anyone on any given day enough to be willing and available and even a bit of a mess.  It became clear that much of my anxiety stemmed from deeper people-pleasing issues and feeling responsible for things that were God’s deal – not mine.

There was another deeper fear, too, that has permeated a lot of areas in my life, and it always sounds something like, “You’re probably not doing that right”.  The ugly truth is that I often want to be sure that I’m “doing it right” more than I want to receive and experience grace as I stumble along and depend on Jesus.  It doesn’t seem like enough to just show up and be available. I’d like a checklist to make sure that I’m doing everything right, please. I’m learning to rest in the truth of the gospel with regard to these things. Jesus lived a perfect life on my behalf and died in my place, and my relationship with Him isn’t dependent on my performance, on Sunday morning, or any other time.  

On a very practical level, I’ve found that it just doesn’t work for me to try to connect with people for more than a few moments when my younger children are with me at church.  At best, whomever I’m talking to is getting less than half of my attention, and at worst, my kids aren’t safe.  In our pre-launch days, our then 2-year old daughter wandered off while I was busy talking to someone and we were moments away from calling the police when we finally found her. Lesson learned. I now respond, or even graciously interrupt with something like “I’m sorry I can’t be a very good listener right now - I’d love to connect with you at another time when I can give you my full attention.”  And in situations where my role is to do a lot of listening and interacting, I either get help with the kids or get a sitter and leave them at home.

From Beth, a reader of the blog:
What are some practical things you do to make time for yourself and also time with your husband in the midst of the busy life of ministry?

I’ve been really stubborn and a slow learner with regard to principles of Sabbath and refreshment. My default sin is making an idol out of productivity. At times when I most need to rest or be refreshed, I start scrambling to accomplish and get more done. Frankly, living this way has been sinful and destructive for me and my family.

So the most important thing that I’ve learned to do is to renew my mind regarding what God says about Sabbath and enjoying God’s gifts in my life. I’ve had to repent for viewing rest as an optional luxury instead of a commandment and a gift! (Psalm 127:2; Hebrews 4:9;).  I’ve had to humble myself and choose to cooperate with the limits God has placed on me as a human being instead of continually pushing past

The practical things became easier to implement after that. Some things that have worked for us are:

Darrin and I have a date “lunch” once a week. We kept running into evening conflicts and frankly, were just too tired in the evenings to actually enjoy a date! Regular lunches with some evening dates and time away sprinkled in every so often have worked well for us.  We also have a planning meeting once a week to talk through as many logistics and details as possible so that we can actually just connect on a heart level, laugh and have fun on our dates.  And we put our kids to be a little on the early side so that we have some time to connect and talk before we go to sleep.

We’ve prayed for God to send us safe and healthy people to help with our kids.We don’t have any family in St. Louis, and only knew a few people when we moved here.  Finding the right people has taken time and trial and error, but God has been very faithful to answer this prayer for us, once we actually asked Him and stopped just trying to figure it out on our own!

I’ve needed accountability about taking time for refreshment and fun. My current accountability assignment from a couple of ladies in my church who love me dearly is to schedule a time every week for the next month to do something refreshing that I enjoy and then actually doing it.  When you’re giving a lot of yourself, it’s vital to ask the Lord to help you find activities and people that refresh your soul. It’s been counter-intuitive for me to think of this as spiritual discipline, but I believe that’s exactly what it is.

Everyone has factors that make it challenging to figure out when to take a day for Sabbath rest.  We’ve tried different days, guidelines, etc. to make this happen and some have worked better than others.  Some things that work now won’t necessarily work next year. But we’re still trying.  It’s tempting to just give up on making it work, but learning to view rest as a gift that God graciously gives us is making a big difference for our family.

Didn't you just breath a sigh of relief? Amie's words spoke so much freedom over me. Thank you so much, Amie, for your wisdom and insight.