Replanter Wife: Dealing with Expectations

By Jena Marie O'Brien

I turned to my husband holding back tears and asked “Can we just lock the door? Can we move to an overpopulated area where I can blend in and not be known? Where I can go to church on my terms and do ministry on my terms? Be friends with those who are like me in every way? Can I just focus on my kids and family and not worry about anyone else? I am over the hard parts of caring for people.” Thankfully, my gracious husband looked at me and said “I know the feeling, but you know that’s not what we are called to do.” No, we are not called to that. Not just because we are in full time ministry, but because we are followers of Jesus.

We have seen so many beautiful things in our 3 years as a replant in Baltimore City. We have seen God’s power and faithfulness in what He is doing in the church. When I look back I see His hand in the midst of every detail. When I stop and remember I see so much fruit. I have seen people fall in love with Jesus. I have seen people be released from bondage of unbelief and fear; and it is beautiful. We have seen baptisms, and people experience the love of God for the first time. We have seen people understand the importance of discipleship for the first time and we’ve seen people giving themselves for the sake of discipling others. There has been SO. MUCH. JOY.

But at the same time we have also experienced some hard things. We have had people walk away from our church. Some have left because of hurt. Some didn’t feel connected, they didn’t feel pursued. Some didn’t like the music or my husband’s style of preaching. Some didn’t agree with our beliefs. Some didn’t like how small it was or that it was in a traditional building. Some even walked away because we desired for them to be known and in community, but they didn’t want it. In a normative sized church – each loss carried a lot of weight. I have walked alongside my husband in this and have witnessed the highs and lows. I have seen him wrestle. I have seen him strive for the souls of those walking away. It has taken a toll on us, on me. More than I realized.

I prayed when things didn’t go as we planned. I truly thought I was trusting God with these things. When someone left I felt sad but then felt a great sense of comfort in God’s sovereignty.

But one thing I’ve learned in my brief time as a wife of a replanting pastor is the need to be mindful of “little foxes”. Those foxes that Solomon talks about in Song of Solomon 2:15.

“Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.”

One small thing here, another small thing there built up and led me to a dark season of discouragement. Women I had committed to disciple were choosing dinner plans and shopping over gathering together. Some people had constant complaints about not being connected and then blind to the attempts we made to reach out. Three times over the course of 5 days I got an email or a text sharing with me about how I let someone down. By the end of December, I was weary. I was done! I was so discouraged. I felt angry. Disappointed. I was so consumed by the disappointments and the hard things in ministry that I could not see any of the good fruit. None of it. I was so focused on what was going wrong because I felt like it was all around me and closing in. I was in a rough spot. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t know I was so close to this crazy moment of wanting to walk away from it all for the sake of pursuing comfort.

In the midst of my craziness, I cried out. I begged God to change this season. The Holy Spirit started to work on my soul. He began to reveal to me where I had been led astray. Not where other people had gone wrong. Not where the system failed. Not where Satan was working in their lives. But what happened to my heart. Where I let Satan get a foothold in MY LIFE.

I love seeing women growing in their commitment to Jesus. I know God has called my family to live in community with others and I know that God is using the local church to fulfill His mission. But what happened is that I was so focused on these GOOD things, such good things, that without realizing it I slowly took my eyes off of Jesus and fixed them onto the good work of ministry. C.S. Lewis says “You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can second things only by putting first things first… from which it would follow the question, what is the first thing?” [1]

I lost my first love. I was not loving the Lord with all of my heart, strength and mind. (Matt. 22:37/Deut. 6:4-5) Of course this is the first thing not just for those I disciple but for me. I would have told you that this was true. I love God.

Then why? Why would I been feeling so discouraged? Because the reality of it was that, like Jennie Allen has said, “we have traded being with Jesus for doing things for Jesus.” I have been a follower of Christ for several years. I know the importance of being in the word and needing Jesus. But Satan had worked hard to slowly… very slowly, to reorient my priorities.

Instead of leading and living from the overflow of my heart, so in tuned to Jesus, I was leading from a place of disappointment & frustration. I was so disappointed that I was angry. Though, this is not what I knew at the time, only after this season of repentance and reconciliation was I able to realize it was anger. Things weren’t going the way I wanted. I couldn’t see fruit. I started drawing my eyes away from the giver of life and fixed them onto people around me. People matter. It’s why we left the comfort of an established church in the south to move to Baltimore. But they should NEVER replace Christ as our first love.

By God’s grace, He has brought me out of the season the disappointment. Not that there aren’t times of disappointment, but I am now able to take those and lean into the Lord. If we are so focused on Jesus then we know that all the things that He has called us to are HIS responsibility, we are called to be faithful.

Reflecting on this, I realized that I had expectations of myself, of the church and of God. I believed I was doing the good work that we are called to do, therefore we would produce good fruit. I believed that in doing this that I would find joy and satisfaction in serving. Silly right? I would have said the same thing, except I didn’t realize that it was a slow shift of my focus. This might not be the season you are in, but we need to be aware.

[1] C.S. Lewis, “First and Second Things,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Eerdmans, 1994), p. 280.

Published July 6, 2017

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Jena Marie O'Brien

Jena-Marie is the wife of Brad O'Brien, a replant Pastor in Baltimore City. She is a stay at home mom of 3 little girls, ages 6, 4, 2. Jena-Marie grew up in Richmond, VA before moving to Durham, NC where she met and married Brad. Brad has worked as a Pastor in a Megachurch, as a Church Planter and a Replant Pastor, therefore Jena-Marie has experienced the joys and the trials in each context. She recognizes that being a Replant Pastor's wife has its unique challenges and has a passion to share what God has taught her to encourage other wives.