May 12, 2015

For Church Planters: How to Help Your Wife in Church Planting

When my husband and I first considered that God might be calling us to plant a church, we attended a church planting conference, and I looked around at all the other women and felt that they must certainly not be feeling all that I was--fear, uncertainty, and doubt, among other things. Now that we’re on the other side of a church plant and I have the opportunity to interact with other church planting wives, I understand that those feelings are common, and that we all tend to have similar responses to the church planting experience. What are those responses and how can church planters help their wives navigate the church planting process well?
Common Response #1: Intimidation
A church planting wife may have a picture in her head of the ideal woman for this role, and, in her mind, she is not that woman. She may feel confident about husband’s abilities and calling but uncertain about her own. Looking at the task ahead in church planting is to her like preparing to climb Mt. Everest with insufficient equipment: it is daunting, intimidating, and overwhelming, and she doesn’t know if she can do it.

What can her husband do?
The church planter does well to recognize that church planting appears daunting to his wife because her role is so open-ended and unclear, and she’s trying to figure it all out. Her husband should not only draw her attention away from the larger goal (climbing Mt. Everest) and on to more manageable goals (What is our next step?), but he should help her find her sweet spot in the church plant. Study her, and help her study herself: What areas of ministry give her energy and life? What areas drain her and cause her to wilt? Challenge her to do those things that she’s good at, and help her see how God is using her as she does them.

Common Response #2: Fear
Church planting is characterized by chaos, lack of structure, unanswered questions, and instability, the very things that most women fear. Although she wants to obey the Lord, a church planting wife may struggle at times with fear over the future, finances, and her children’s well-being.

What can her husband do?
In response to fear, the best thing a husband can do is listen without defense. He must be patient and gentle with her, willing to talk through the struggle with her, but also always encouraging her to trust in God’s provision. He must not only use his words but his actions, knowing that his trust of the Lord will encourage his wife’s faith as well. 

Common Response #3: A Need for Distinction
Church planting can be all-encompassing for both the church planter and his family. The opportunities for ministry and relationships are endless, the church gets the bulk of the attention, and it seems that people want or need something from the church planter every minute of the day. A church planting wife may at times feel “church exhaustion”: a desire to talk about something other than the church and a craving for her husband’s attention. She rightly desires her husband to keep a healthy distinction between the church and their marriage.

What can her husband do?
A church planter does well to remember that the church is the bride of Christ and that his own vow is to his wife. A church planter who lays this foundation in his heart and mind will trust Christ to sustain His bride, will not be swayed by a false definition of success, and will keep his marriage and family as a high priority. He will cultivate a marriage not centered on the church, and he and his wife both will enjoy the benefits.

Common Response #4: Discouragement
A church planting wife cares as much about the church plant as her husband, and like her husband, she experiences discouragement when things aren’t going as planned. She also wants her husband to thrive and tends toward discouragement when he is downcast.

What can her husband do?
The church planter often knows the inside stories of how God is moving in the church and in the community. He can create an atmosphere of celebration and encouragement in the home by sharing victories with his wife, talking about God’s goodness using tangible stories, and even forwarding emails of encouragement that he has received. Invite her to share in the reward of faithful work.

In the end, church planting is a fast-track sanctification process for both the church planter and his wife. The church planter shouldn’t protect his wife from that sanctification by trying to rescue her from any and all difficulty. Instead, he should pray for her, and, while loving and caring for her, encourage her to look to the Lord for everything that she needs. That is ultimately the best thing he can do for her--and for himself.