By Sara Shelton
BOSTON – “Being the wife of a church planter can be difficult. These women are living away from their families and their networks of support in new places where they know few, if any, other people. At times, the feelings of loneliness and isolation can be overwhelming. But they’re doing such important work for the Lord. And that’s what keeps them going.”
If it sounds like Gayle Butler is speaking from experience, it’s because she is. She has served alongside her husband, David, for more than 40 years as he pastored and planted churches in four states. Just last year the couple made the leap into a new area of ministry as David took on the role of Send City Missionary in Boston, one of 32 Send North America cities where the North American Mission Board (NAMB) has concentrated urban church planting efforts. Together the couple works to support church planters and their families as they plant their lives in the New England area.
“We feel so privileged to have the chance to work alongside church planters,” Butler says. “Helping them grow, partnering with other churches, developing and supporting their ministries—that’s the heart of what David and I do here. And we know it’s the work God has called us to do in this specific time in our lives.”
The Butler’s move to Boston was more of a marathon than a sprint. She met and married David while the two were in college. They moved to Louisville, Ky., as he pursued a degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. After working at a church in the city for several years, they moved to Knoxville, Tenn., where David pastored Sevier Heights Baptist Church. It was there, some 30 years ago, that the couple first set their sights on Boston.
“We worked closely in Knoxville with a young man who worked for Campus Crusade for Christ,” Butler recalls. “He was transferred to the Boston area. David and I decided to visit him there. Unexpectedly, the city really captured our hearts. From that point on, we started considering how God might use us in Boston.”
With Boston in their sights, the couple decided to pursue the idea of moving to the area to serve. But after seriously exploring the possibility, they did not feel the time was right to move.
“We went back to Boston and instantly felt God telling us, ‘Not now. Not yet.’ He was asking us to wait. Even though we were disappointed, we put our plans on hold in obedience to God’s leading.”
The Butlers returned home and waited on God to lead them. To their surprise He lead them back to Kentucky where David planted and pastored a church. All the while the couple continued to visit Boston, waiting each time for God to give them a resounding, “Yes!”
It would be another 21 years before they heard that reply to their prayers.
“We moved to New Hampshire in 2009 for David to pastor a church in Concord,” Gayle explains. “It was a precious time in our ministry. Five years later, God unexpectedly opened the door for us in Boston.”
That door came in the form of an offer for David to be the Boston Send City Missionary from NAMB president Kevin Ezell. With the timing finally right, the couple moved to Boston in the fall of 2014. Now serving full time in the city, Gayle has found a specific calling to minister to the wives of church planters.
“Our church planters are not just coming to plant a church in Boston; they are planting their lives as well,” Gayle explains. “They are in it for the long haul, and so are their wives. These women are stakeholders in their ministry, too, and I want them to feel just as supported, encouraged and appreciated as their spouses do.”
Gayle is working hard to build a sense of community among pastors’ wives in the Boston area. She hosts regular events to bring them together, including an annual luncheon in partnership with NAMB every spring, summer picnics and date nights around the city. She is currently planning a weekend getaway at a nearby beach where Kathy Litton, NAMB’s national director of ministry to pastors’ wives, will attend to lead the women. Her hope is that by creating opportunities for the women to come together, they will not only find friendship but also encouragement and support.
“These women are all facing the same unique challenges that come with church planting. I make myself available to encourage and walk with the ladies, but there’s something so powerful about allowing them to speak into each other’s lives. They know exactly what one another are going through, and, because of that, can offer specific words of encouragement and prayer. I’ve really seen these women develop precious and God-centered bonds through their shared experiences in Boston.”
Butler hopes that the women serving in Boston alongside their husbands will embrace the calling to the city that God has given specifically to them.
“If I could say one thing to the wives of our church planters, it would be this: God has called you and placed you here. And because of that, He’s going to give you everything you need. He’s going to be present with you every step of the way. Even when you aren’t sure how it’s all going to work out, He will be faithful. I know because I’ve been there. And He’s certainly been faithful to me!”
To learn more about church planting in North American, visit namb.net/sendme. Explore ways to connect in Boston at namb.net/Boston. And to learn more about ministry to wives involved in church planting, visit flourish.me.
Sara Shelton writes for the North American Mission Board.
Published December 11, 2015