April 25, 2014

Fighting Exhaustion in Church Planting (Question Series)

I love to talk with church planting wives. And I get to next week at Exponential! Is anyone going? I'd love to see you in one or both of my sessions on Wednesday or meet up to say hi.
I love to talk with church planting wives, because I love hearing stories of what God is doing all over this globe, and I love encouraging women to use their influence well. The truth is that most church planting wives feel alone, and they need a reminder, just as I do, that what we do matters because it is seen by God.

I won't get to see most of you at Exponential, so I recently opened the floor on Facebook and Twitter for questions about church planting and ministry. I'm not assuming that I have all the answers, but I am assuming that the gaps in my attempts can be filled in by your hard-won wisdom in the comments section. I'll continue answering questions in the posts to come, so feel free to drop one in below.

Here's the first question, and it's a really great one:

Q: We are so new to this plant (1 1/2 years in), yet I have hit a wall of such dread, discouragement, and exhaustion. How do you manage to get beyond surviving and overcome the doubt that this is where God wants you? I battle wanting to run and do something as far from ministry as possible. My soul is empty. 

A. I remember rounding the corner from Year 1 into Year 2 and feeling completely spent. I had prepared myself that church planting was going to be difficult, but I didn't estimate just how difficult and how exhausting it would be. The problem, I discovered, is that we had hit the ground running and had run at a pace that we couldn't maintain over the long haul. At that point, I remember searching for "burn out" on the internet and resonating with every single symptom.

It wasn't just physical exhaustion, it was also spiritual and emotional exhaustion. You described it as dread, discouragement, and wanting to run away. I felt as if I had absolutely nothing left to give, yet as a church we were only getting started. Something had to change for me, and it sounds like something needs to change for you.

I would encourage you to consider the pace at which you're running. Are you cramming too much into your weeks? Do you have margin? Are you and your husband enjoying each other and making time to be together? Are you spending time as a family away from church people and church-planting related activities? If life is all work and no joy, you are running at a pace that can't be contained and something needs to change. God does not ask us to do something at the expense of our sanity. He seems to indicate that there is joy and an abundant life for all of us, church planting wives included.

One thing that stands out to me in your question is doubt. If you were sitting across the table from me, I would ask you this with love and gentleness: Is it doubt that you're supposed to be church planting or is it a desire to get out from under the calling of church planting? I would ask you this because for the entire first year of our church plant, I questioned why we were doing it, not because I hadn't heard from the Lord originally, but because it felt too hard to me and I wanted to give up and go home. In reality, it was too hard for me, and God used that season to teach me to depend on Him in my everyday life. Perhaps that is what He is doing with you. Release yourself to Him and His will for you. Kill the idea of a Plan B. Your commitment to obedience and God's call on your life will help ease some of the dread and wanting to escape.

In many ways, you may desire to be rescued, but no one can do these things for you. Your husband can't confirm your calling to church planting in a way that will change your heart. Your church isn't going to make sure you have margin in your life. And no one can truly fill your empty soul except for the Lord. I would encourage you to consider carving out a day to rest and hear from the Lord. Tell Him how you're feeling and let His encouragement wash over you. And then keep going back to Him each day for the fuel you need to thrive instead of survive.

Year Two, the year you're in, was the year that we began to wrap our minds around pacing. We studied ourselves more and discovered what we're gifted for (and what we're not) and what we can handle (and what we can't). We put margin in our lives that hadn't been there in Year One, and my husband and I made sure we had time together. We laid foundations that have shaped the rest of our church planting years, and it's made all the difference. But I tell you this: you will never stop needing to depend on the Lord to help you thrive. Start now, and do it well.

I've actually written around these topics before. See also:

When You Want to Run Away

On Ministry and Pouting (Paul Struggled Too)

Engage (A Lesson in Contentment)

Sabbath Rest: Where Can I Get Me Some of That?

No Need for Discouragement

Readers, any wisdom to add to my answer? Any questions for me to tackle?