Six months into our first pastorate, I had a real “aha” moment. I didn’t even know it, but I realized I was trying to play a part, and it wasn’t going well at all. I felt empty and lonely.
Our daughter, Kelley, was about 6 months old. She was crying all the time, so I was always sitting in the back at church. I remember I was sitting back there on a Sunday night with Kelley. It was a sharing and testimony time, and I just shared what I was experiencing. It’s imprinted on my memory. When I said, “I realized I have to be real. I have to be myself.” Women in the church started approaching me differently after that because I started being myself and being more relaxed. That was a key turning point for me as a woman with insecurities.
In the same way, as a family, we tried to live very open transparent, authentic lives. We viewed ourselves, and tried to help our church family view us, as just another family. We don’t have it all together, and sometimes it’s crazy; we’re just like you—trying to figure it out. I found that people relate to that. So when our kids were terrible, or when things weren’t as picture-perfect as we would hope they might be, it was okay. They never are. We said, “This is who we are,” and people really responded to that. It gave our kids a lot of freedom.
I think the joy of church planting as opposed to pastoring an established church—especially if you’re in a pioneer area—is that the expectations for the pastor’s family are very different. When people are becoming Christians and coming to church, they don’t really have that baggage of what a pastor’s kid is supposed to act like or how the wife is supposed to play piano. We never had to ever have the conversation with other people that they’re regular kids, and the church loved them like family when our extended family was far away. At one point, I remember Kelley said, “I just realized I can’t do anything wrong in this town because I have so many parents.” She was joking around, but at the same time, wherever we lived, they had a real sense of family in any church that we’ve been in. People cared about them and invested in them. That was huge.
We had discussions together that we’re doing this because we’re a Christian family. We’re following Christ. We don’t want to live our lives the way we do because we’re the pastor’s family. We want to live our lives this way because we follow Jesus. Honestly, our whole family was doing church planting. Our kids were out meeting neighbors, and they came and helped us set up on Sundays—that was just part of their lives.
Moving was probably the hardest part for the kids. And I have a tendency, especially with my children, to try to fix everything. I want everybody to be abundantly happy all the time. (My family teases me about that.) I remember at one point in the middle of a move, God just said, “I’ve got them in this move.” I needed to be a parent in that and correct them and help them be respectful of God and what He’s calling us to do, but I did not need to fix the heartaches. I needed to give them to God, and He would walk with them and help them. He even gave our daughter a dream one night. It was after a tearful evening not wanting to move, and she came into our room and described this crazy dream, and she said, “I just realized that as long as we’re all together, we’re going to be okay.”
A couple years ago, I was with a friend, Diana, and we were visiting a church plant in Toronto. Diana, who is very sensitive to God’s voice, said something to the planter’s wife. She said, “Oh, you know, this is such a great opportunity you’re giving your kids.” And the woman got big tears in her eyes. It was what she needed to hear. Since then, I’ve tired to encourage church planters’ wives—especially if they come from a large church where they had many programs as kids—you’re not robbing them. It’s a great opportunity.
Jeff will say things like, “Church planters’ kids go off the rails less than pastors’ kids,” and I don’t know if that’s true, but I do think it’s a gift. Nothing is fool proof, and you don’t go into church planting planting with the primary goal of raising good kids, but that’s the path God had for us. I think about the hard times and the incredible times, exciting steps of faith and terrifying steps of faith, and our kids have been part of that.
Published October 11, 2016