Like many spouses who supported their partners through schooling, I was thrilled to finally see the end of a long, hard season. My husband Ben had just graduated and was now moving into his first full-time ministry job. That’s when reality hit me: This is going to make me a “pastor’s wife”.
And then I did one of the worst things you could possibly do: I drove to the library and checked out all the books I could find on being a pastor’s wife. I needed to know what this new role was going to look like – I needed a “What to Expect When You’re a Pastor’s Spouse” type of book. Something to show me the ropes, help me see what would be coming and get me prepared for this new life.
Now, these kinds of books are probably much better than they used to be. However, at the time, what I found basically said now that I’m a pastor’s wife it means that my marriage, my family and every area of our lives would be under stress, overworked and on the brink of collapse.
Church planting has its unique challenges and is different than leading an existing church. There can be lots of meetings at your house, financial risks can weigh heavy, social pressures that can linger, there are millions of details to think through, etc.
Planting a church does put you to the test, but it hasn’t been all doomsday and horror. It’s true that it hasn’t been easy, but it hasn’t been exactly what I feared it would be either. For me, it has been rewarding, life-giving, beautiful AND it has been challenging, difficult and draining.
Church planting has been rewarding, life-giving, beautiful AND it has been challenging, difficult and draining. Click To Tweet So, being intentional about self-care during this season has been a lifesaver. There are many things I know now that I wish I knew then. Here are five vital things that supported and sustained me as we stepped into church planting and ministry roles:
1.Find a support network outside of your spouse
There are those rare people who aren’t in ministry who know how to listen and ask appropriate questions without judgment or quick fixes. However, being able to talk with others who are in the same role was crucial.
Regularly chatting with other pastor’s spouses helped to normalize everything I was feeling, thinking and experiencing. It’s easy to feel alone and like you’re the only one going through this. Talking with others opened up a sense of mutuality and gave me a sense of “I’m not the only one.”
If your spouse is the only one you talk to about the highs and lows of planting it won’t be enough. You need others who can listen, be there for you, say, “Yeah, me too.” and pray for you. Look for this kind of support… take some time to find others.
2. Schedule regular date nights
“One of the best investments you can make into your marriage is a weekly date night.”
That was the best marriage advice we ever got; it has also been the hardest advice to implement. On a pastor’s salary and with no family nearby, it was hard to imagine how this would be possible. Eventually, we found an older teenager who loved kids and made it a regular part of our week.
Being able to connect, be present with each other, and have fun together has been a marriage saver. Our kids got the opportunity to see that Dad and Mom love spending time together. And honestly, I was a better mom once I got back because I wasn’t so stressed!
There are so many creative resources for date nights out there, but even if it’s simply sitting on the porch with some drinks- it will be worth it. If once a week doesn’t sound doable, give once a month a shot.
3. If you have kids, take them on Daddy/Mommy dates
Kids remember the time you spent with them. The little conversations. How you were present with them. The intentional quality time. It shows them that they are important and special.
These kinds of connection can help you weather any storm. I remember my Dad taking me out to McDonald’s for ice cream with great fondness.
Invest in quality time with each kiddo: Coffee dates, go out to eat, see a movie, walk to the pond to skip rocks, etc.
4. Invest in coaching
In church planting, you will probably quickly discover that you give a lot. You pour out in so many areas and in so many ways.
Here’s the thing: if you only have an outflow and no inflow – you’re in danger. Having an inflow to sustain the outflow will save you from running on empty and drying up.
When we have both an inflow and outflow, we have a natural dynamic that brings life. We are giving and getting, being filled and passing it on, investing and receiving – this is how we become like the spring of eternal life Jesus talks about in the gospel of John. Living and loving like Jesus is marked by being filled AND giving it away. Find someone to invest in you.
5. Remember the success or failure of this church plant is not up to you
Repeat that. Now repeat that again. You may even want to tattoo this on your forehead so you can read it in a mirror every time you are struggling to believe it.
It’s so easy to fall into striving, feeling like it’s all up to you and your spouse, pushing yourself beyond your physical and emotional limits, etc. When we live out of this kind of performance-based mentality it always weighs us down. It will never bring the easy yoke that Jesus spoke of in the gospels.
We are partners with a living God who is alive and active in us and through us. The life to which we are called is one of partnership with a loving, willing, and powerful God who chooses to use his people to bring healing to the nations. He is the initiator and finisher; you can release the church plant to Him.
Church planting is a unique call that involves the whole family. Supporting spouses and kids throughout the process is essential so that they can all thrive. I pray that these few suggestions help you be supported and sustained through this enriching and exciting season!
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