September 16, 2013

An Open Letter to Church Planting Pastors

This summer I stood in front of a room full of church planting wives and took questions. Every question broached betrayed some level of desperation, concern, and anguish, and most were about their pastor-husbands. How do I encourage him? How do I handle my own concerns when I see how much pressure he's under? How can I best help him when I feel so needy myself? 

But one woman I will never forget. As soon as her hand shot up, she started crying. What do I do? I feel like my husband loves the church more than he loves me. 

It's hard for pastor's wives to let others see them cry, especially in a room full of people that we assume are a whole lot better at this role than we are, but she let it all out, desperate for help. Every woman in the room cried along with her, because we know that feeling. We all know what it feels like to compete with the church plant. We all know what it feels like to realize that, at some level, we've had to sacrifice ourselves and our marriage for the church. We are the first to feel the effects, church planters, when you cave to the pressure of success.

As church planting wives at that conference, we were stuffed into a corner room in a shopping-mall sized megachurch. The rest of the church was filled to the brim with church planters, church planting strategists,  megachurch pastors, and leaders of all types. I wanted to run into the hallways and rooms, gathering the men to come and hear what their wives were saying, because I hear this woman's sentiment far too often. I think learning about strategy, leadership, and ministry paradigms is vitally important, but, church planters, do you consider how you can treasure the resource that is constantly at your side?

Church planting is difficult work because it's all-encompassing. The lines between home and ministry are so blurred that it's easy to lose sight of what appropriate boundaries are and what emotional and physical health looks like. Church planters, not a wife in that room cried because we don't understand the pressure you are under or because we have unrealistic expectations of you. We feel the pressure, albeit different pressure, as much as you, and we care about your success probably more than you do.
We love you, we respect you, and we sincerely want to be a help to you. Although we are not a resource just to be used to further your ministry, we are your best resource for life, family, and ministry.

We are your helper, yes, but we need your help, too. We need your understanding and listening ear. These are the things we need you to hear from the perspective of your wife:

Your vow is to me, not to a church. The church is Christ's bride and He promised to sustain her. I know this is a difficult line because church planting truly does require a lot of your time and energy, but I also know this is more of a heart issue for you. Do you recognize and acknowledge by how you live and lead that this is Christ's church and, therefore, Christ's responsibility? Because if not, you will become a slave to success and, as your wife, I will reap what you sow.

I need you to set healthy boundaries and priorities. You teach our church what they can expect from you. If you answer the phone every time it rings, they will call you at all hours with needs and requests. If you make exceptions on your Sabbath day, they will expect to be your exception. The way you handle boundaries not only speaks to our church, but it also speaks (loudly) to me. When you turn off your phone after work so the kids and I can have your full attention, that speaks value and honor to me. When you set aside money and time to take me out on a date, you are speaking love to me. I need these things. Speak louder to the kids and I than to our church. Our church will hear the echo anyway.

I want to help you. I am not afraid of the sacrifice and hard work church planting requires. I want to be a part of your success. But I do begin to resent it when you expect me to carry the heavy burdens with you without giving me time, attention, understanding, and appreciation. Help me help you by showing me appreciation and attending to my needs.

Church planters, can I say it again? We know your job is hard, and we know this is an important calling God has placed on your life. We simply don't want to be overlooked or left behind in the process.

For further encouragement regarding your wives, church planters, please watch this video: 

Stay tuned for my next post in which I talk with my husband about what our church planting husbands need from us!