by Carol Alwood
There is not a lot written about what it looks like to support your husband in ministry, especially if your husband is a church planter. What is the wife’s role in such a huge undertaking? Maybe you’ve thought about the importance of your calling, or maybe you have just coasted along without really thinking about what God has called you to do.
Whether you have given it much thought or not, after your husband breaks the news to you that he has received a calling to start a new church, it is you as his wife, who can make or break what happens next. Over the past 16 years, I have heard and observed many different reactions to this news. Some wives are thrilled, others are devastated, while a few are ambivalent.
To begin with, I can tell you what I did twelve years ago when my husband first announced his calling to begin a new church in Bellingham, Washington. There I sat on our solid green couch (yes, we were obsessed with forest green in the 90‘s) in our one bedroom apartment next to an easel filled with words and ideas that could become the name of our new church. My husband’s face was filled with hope and anticipation, and my response was, “I’ll give you three years. If after three years you aren’t earning a paycheck, then that’s it.” That’s probably not the reaction he was looking for. I’m happy to share that after three years when he was barely earning a paycheck through the church, God had shown me the value of what we were doing through enough saved souls, even miracles, to encourage my husband who wanted to keep going. Twelve years and four church plants later, I’m still supportive.
Before I continue and you make the mistake of thinking it has been an easy road for me and my husband in planting churches, let me give you a window into our church planting lives. We have experienced seasons of plenty and want, with the seasons of want lasting much longer than the seasons of plenty. We have been betrayed by people we did ministry with whom we thought were our closest friends. Since the year 2000 we have moved twelve times for a variety of reasons. We have endured slander, disappointment, pulled funding, and the closing of one of our church plants during the worst housing crisis and recession where we planted. We have been criticized for going down a path that has not been financially stable or lucrative, and my husband has even been chased down the street by a clown carrying a hatchet (don’t ask). However, we have continued our church planting journey since the year 2000 so the gospel could be preached and because church plants attract new believers in a way that existing churches cannot.
Why have I remained supportive through this list of hardships? The first answer is that as a believer I know that troubles are to be expected. Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)
The second part of my answer is the knowledge that God is faithful no matter what. He has blessed our lives and there is no other place that I’d rather be than in His will for our lives. Pursuing the American dream is quite void compared to living on the edge in ministry with a front seat to the miracles that God is working in people’s lives. He has taken care of us through all our trying circumstances, and I trust Him. God has answered some prayers so quickly, the response may as well have been audible. He has provided friends who have been as close as brothers and sisters, food, places to live, funding in the exact dollar amounts we have prayed for, opportunities to direct numerous drug addicts to the Lord, and much more.
Not every wife chooses to be supportive. In one particularly disturbing conversation I had with the wife of a new planter, she referred to her husband’s church as “his thing.” Obviously, this particular ministry never got past the first informational barbecue in their neighborhood. A husband needs his wife’s support when starting a new church. As women, we may know this, but the question arises, what does it look like to be supportive?
The answer to this question could fill books upon books, but for just a moment, I want to help wives think about three things related to the calling you have received.
Embrace your calling as a church planter’s wife.
If your husband has been called to plant a church, then so have you. Take time with God and allow Him to work on your heart about this new calling. Get close to God in the best way you know how. Journal, pray, talk to God, read or listen to scripture. I love going to a remote area for walks so I can talk out loud with God. One particular walk with God has really defined my life’s calling, when, in college, I asked God to help me marry a man who I could be in real ministry with. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t get much more real than being in the trenches of church planting. Be honored that God has asked you to take on this role. Allow him to use you and stretch you because you are the clay and He is the potter. Remember Jeremiah 18:6: O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
Be honest with your husband about what you can and cannot handle.
Many times starting new churches means having frequent events in your own home. You will have to clean your house, make food, prepare a place for wild children to entertain themselves (things will most likely be broken), and be prepared to minister to the people who walk through the doors of your home. This can be an amazing blessing, but there will be times when it feels like more of a burden. My advice is that when the task becomes more of a burden than a blessing, make some sort of change. Meet at a pizza parlor in their private room, hire a babysitter, make meetings half as frequent, or order take out and have everyone pitch in to pay for the meal. Rather than become bitter, think through the problem and find a solution. Recall James’ exhortation to believers to let our “yes” be yes and our “no” be no. James 5:12 says, but above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. If you say yes to a dinner party, do it with a glad heart. If you say no to hosting a particular event, don’t feel guilty about it. Give yourself rest time so that you are ready for the next event you will say yes to.
Know that God is the lead planter of your church.
It’s easy to develop pride when your husband is the lead pastor of a church, especially when people follow him and love him. If you have pride in your husband’s role, then you will most likely feel like the first lady of the church and develop certain expectations around this role. Resist the temptation to see yourselves in this way. Christ is the head of the church, and Jesus sets a very clear example for us as the greatest servant of all. Knowing that Christ is the head planter not only reminds us to be servants, but it also can allow you to have peace in Him. Know that success rests on His shoulders, and so does slow growth. None of our church plants have started the same way. Some have grown quickly with nearly three hundred at the first service, while others have limped along with more people on stage than in the folding chairs at the church’s inception. Our job is to work faithfully, pray continually, and sleep at night peacefully, knowing that God is in control. When you allow yourself to do this, you will not feel the urge to excessively praise or criticize your husband for how the church is doing.
No matter what place your church plant is at, whether you’re in the middle of boxing up your house to head out of state and start the journey, or whether you’re three years into it and bogged down by hurt and hardship, as wives, the best thing we can do is have a grateful heart that God has entrusted us with this very specific and challenging role. Focus your eyes and hearts heavenward, and take each step forward knowing that Christ is waiting on the other side.
Trust Jesus, the lead planter of your church because He already knows what happens next, even when we don’t.