5 Things I’ve Learned in the First Year of Church Planting as a Wife of a Planter

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Nearly 18 months ago, my family moved back to a city that was dear to us in order to start a new church. Statistically, the city in which we live is one of the most over-churched cities in the south but our hearts were equally drawn to this area for a number of reasons, the main one being that we desired to see something started that was unique to the plethora of churches surrounding us. We knew that living in the belt of the Bible, the belt of religion itself,  despite what is seen on the outside to the human eye, that the need for the Gospel in a religion-saturated area was crucial.  We also knew that what we desired to start would counter the current church culture, causing us to be up agains the odds. Despite the odds,  there was a steady call within our hearts that manifest itself one day after a particularly hard season that we knew we must give heed to.
 Fast forward to now, the month of August of 2017 which marks the first year since the launch of the church we never thought we would plant. It has been less than easy. In fact, it has been painstakingly grueling at times mixed with a sense of beauty and awe in the infinite power and sovereignty of God. Before jumping into a church planting mission, you read about its’ difficulty, but nothing can quite prepare you for what is ahead because each church takes on its own unique set of challenges given the planting team, location and individual markers of the church itself. It is my hope that what you find below will paint a beautiful portrait of the hard reality coupled with the amazing privilege that is had in the beginnings of a new church.  Perhaps this will encourage you to be apart of a church plant or serve as an encouragement in your own current season of ministry or planting. While church planting is one of the most difficult ministry calls that our family has been apart of,  it happens to also be the very thing that has pointed our hearts to the infinite power of God and the endless pursuit of His love for His bride, the Church. We are a very small part of the very big picture of grace He is weaving into this broken world, but everywhere we look, we hear shouts of grace that cannot be ignored. It only takes ears to hear.
  1. Trust in God’s Timing: Church planting is a marathon, not a sprint. We heard this, we knew this but living it is entirely different. This requires a continued surrendering to God and His timing and the active fight against the lie that numbers only equal growth or the more programs a church has, the more people will come. The way to gauge the health of the church is to measure the depth of the Gospel truth embedded into the hearts of those that come and those that serve. The truth of the Gospel will be a natural and powerful filter. A fellow church planter and friend once told us, “you will be surprised at who stays and who leaves.” We had no idea how true this was until we experienced it for ourselves. Don’t let this defer you from your mission and trust that God is working for good in choosing who will be apart of your plant. Change doesn’t happen overnight and the culture in which we live is poisoned with self-sufficiency, comfort and ease. It takes mature believers to be called to a plant because it is hard, selfless and often thankless work. This takes time, prayer, inviting, and waiting for others to join the mission of a church plant. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

 

2. Keep Your Family First: While Church Planting is an important priority, it is not THE priority. There will always be the temptation especially for the planting pastor to work a little more or a little harder while his family silently suffers and there will be the temptation for the pastor’s wife to not put her husband first before her children or all of the other demands for leadership that a new ministry often asks of her and her husband.  We have not done this perfectly and we are still finding our rhythm but what we do know is that this must be a priority. There have been times when we have placed ministry first and it always ends in burnout and relational bitterness. Finding this balance takes a lot of grace and patience as the demands of a new church are constantly changing. On the flip side,  family must not be an idol but it is a garden that needs tending and God will bless the ministry of the church plant when these priorities are in place, with Him being the utmost priority. How can we love and serve and lead others, if we are not first doing that in the home? “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:16

3. You will experience God’s provision in amazing and unexpected ways: This is one of the many fun sides to Church Planting! As planters, you will get to experience God in ways that some people never get to experience. This always results in a deeper faith and awe at who God is. When you go through suffering, you will have these times to look back on as pillars of remembrance. In one short year we have watched as God provided two physical locations for our plant to meet in nearly free of cost! We have watched the Lord care for our financial needs as the ebb and flow of a new church can be taxing on the planting family’s finances. God continues to bring us encouragement through people and families who are joining the mission of our church and their willingness and desire to step up and lead and serve with fresh energy and joy.  “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

4. You will Suffer: This is not an easy one. It’s hard to imagine the suffering you will endure before you have to endure it but one thing you can be sure of is that God will not leave you in your suffering. He promises to be with us and to keep us until it ends. The suffering will be intense at times, it will threaten your marriage, your children, and even your faith. Often times, suffering comes in the form of deep discouragement. Starting a new church naturally comes with a lot of excitement and anticipation in the first few months and after a while, the newness will wear off sometimes allowing for discouragement to settle in. The only real hope and security in suffering is to acknowledge it, embrace it and trust that it is doing a work in you. For the planter and his wife, it is important to be praying and reading God’s Word regularly. It is also important to verbalize your suffering and to allow others to share in it with you. Suffering is a cross we will bear in Church Planting and it will come and go in different seasons. Holding fast to the Lord and not being surprised when it comes is helpful in the enduring. God is faithful and will not let you go even when you think you’ve let go of Him.  “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

5.  Find Gratitude in the Journey: If there is one thing that stands out more than another, this is it. Gratitude is a beautiful, redemptive and practical way to fight all of the discouragement and hardship that can accompany church planting. For our family, this is a very practical tool in cultivating and keeping the joy of the call of church planting before us. Sometimes around the dinner table, we share a few things we are each grateful for. Other times when my husband and I are dealing with some challenging aspects of planting, one of us will remind each other to pause and  remember some ways the Lord is working. And most practically, we keep a family gratitude journal where we jot down the daily gifts that the Lord gives to us even in life’s most mundane moments. We celebrate the big things and the small things always aware that God is writing a bigger story than we can see. Complaining and talking about others who have hurt or offended us, or comparing our church to the one next door only breeds more discontent. Lifting our eyes to the bigger picture reminds us that life and ministry is not about us but about the glory of God manifest in, through and around us.“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

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