August 7, 2013

How To Start Well in Church Planting (Part One)

Yay! It's a new post. I'm not quite back from sabbatical, but I just want you to know that I CAN'T WAIT to share with you what God has shown me this summer. 

I had a great time speaking with Shauna Pilgreen last week at the Send North America Conference in Dallas! The following post (and the two coming after this one) is based on our talk, How to Start Well: Transitioning Your Family Into Church Planting, so some of these ideas are hers. You can find Shauna online at

My friend Shauna and I have a ton in common: we both have three boys that are almost the exact same ages, we both have husbands who did college ministry (that's how we met!), we both have chosen public school, and we both have followed our adventurous husbands into church planting. However, we're as different as we are alike. Shauna lives in the middle of the bustling city of San Francisco and the church she and her husband planted in 2011 meets in a high-rise building. I live in a college town on the East Coast and our church meets in a school. Because of this, the way we approach life and ministry is often different.

If Shauna and I could sit down with every reader of this blog post and hear your stories, we’d find all different kinds of women, families, life situations, churches, backgrounds, and places represented. But we all have one thing in common: we all have great influence in the lives of our husbands and children and churches. And specifically for those who are church planting wives, we play an incredibly important role in the church planting process, and especially in the transition process.

Because we and our contexts are all different, transitioning into church planting is an art that will be unique to your family, marriage, community, and church plant, but we put together some tips and lessons that we’ve learned through our own church planting experiences that can help you in whatever context you’re in.

Shauna: Prepare by developing a love for your city.
Prepare through prayer! God puts the call on our hearts, but it’s up to us to act upon the call. As we act in faith, it’s God who aligns our hearts with the truth, regardless what our feelings might say. Leading up to our initial trip to San Francisco, our team of six wrote a prayer guide. Some prayers were straight from Scripture as, like David, we were telling ourselves to trust in Him. Many were cries for God to do the impossible. We wrote additional prayer guides leading up to our vision trip and our move to the city.  He has the power to prepare your heart and give you a love for the place before you even live there.

If you’re preparing, then be praying.
If you’re praying, then you are preparing.

Prepare yourself by discovering and exploring your future city.
Follow social media. Subscribe to online newspapers and local blogs. Have a city map present. Study the transportation system and the school system. Track the values, the festivals, the voices that arise from what you read and research. The more you can attach yourself to the new culture early on, the easier the attachment process will be when you arrive. Not seamless, just easier.

I remember being in our duplex in Ozark, Missouri after selling our home there in preparation for moving out west. I was propped up on our bed with my laptop and stacks of papers to the left and right of me, researching schools and apartment listings. In my overwhelmedness, I would converse with God often about this given love for my new home while learning all about it from afar. I saw pictures of half-dressed people running marathons and read of radical liberal views. But in God’s gentleness and leading, He was giving me His eyes for the city and His heart for the people.

Christine: Once you’re there, 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 it’s 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 go where people are gathered and you see people you know.

Shauna: Help your children transition
Christine has already pointed out that we should always be learning the culture we are engaging. So whether you are moving or new to your town or have a few years behind you, what are you doing to help your kids engage the culture with you?

Our kids pick up on our emotions. I’d venture to say it’s more so in a place that is unfamiliar to them. Our tensions translate uncertainty to them. Our disagreements as husband and wife convey disorder and chaos. However, our delights become their delights. Our peace flows to their minds. Our faith that is being stretched is modeled to them on the frontlines. The best way to transition them into a life of church planting is to hold their hands. And at times, cover their eyes!

But they receive life-giving lessons beside you. They are the ones who see you give a pack of crackers to the homeless man on the street or speak to the cashier about the new church in town. Tap into their stages of life, their personalities, their adventure levels and embrace their new home together. Participate at the library. Sign up for a sports team. Do things that are normal, like finding that donut spot on Saturday mornings or keeping the tradition of movie and popcorn every Friday night. But as we say in our family, we want our kids to look back when they are older and say, “Thanks, Mom and Dad! We’re grateful you made this decision. We don’t regret any of it!”

Question for you: Now that I think about it, these tips certainly would be helpful for any woman making a transition in her life. What helps you transition yourself, your husband, and your children to a new place?

Stay tuned for more tips on transition in the next post!