Regardless of where you are in your church planting journey, chances are you know how essential your wife is to this process. You may have been in established ministry prior to church planting, but this is a whole different ballgame. In the church planting world, your wife is your partner, your sounding board and your counselor who offers spiritual support and encouragement.
In many cases, she is also the church hospitality coordinator, the preschool/children’s director, the small groups coordinator and more. And these things I’ve mentioned are on top of the unbelievable task she probably has just simply of being a wife and mother. Needless to say, you would not be able to plant this church without your wife’s support.
What tends to happen is that wives give and give and give until they wake up one day to complete exhaustion and burn out. Her soul has shriveled from neglect. Unfortunately, I have seen it often and it is heartbreaking. These are women who are incredibly gifted and unbelievably strong both in their faith and their resolve. These are not women who crumble easily in the face of fear or trouble. Yet, church planting can break us down and we are unconscious of it. We keep pushing through challenges, determined to not let the enemy win but ultimately, our pushing through masks what is actually taking place in our soul.
There are several issues that lead to soul distress
- Busyness. Planting a church is an unbelievably busy job. It requires your wife to be “on” all the time…at the grocery store, at the park, at the school, at church. On top of being “on” all the time, she also is probably hosting activities, dinners, etc in your home several times a week. John Ortberg explains it this way in his book Soul Keeping: “Someone said a long time ago that if the Devil can’t make you sin, he will make you busy, because either way your soul will shrivel.”
- Pain and criticism. Like yourself, your wife will also be subjected to pain and criticism along the way. It hurts when we’ve invested in people and they choose to walk away from the Lord. It hurts when close friends leave our church. The enemy uses that pain and criticism to pull our souls further, and further away from the Lord.
- Isolation and loneliness. When church planter wives are asked about their greatest struggles— isolation and loneliness are always at the top of the list. More than likely, your wife is living far from family and close friends. If you have children, then she is surrounded all day long by little people with little interaction with adults. She pours into many constantly but rarely has anyone to pour into her—which is just her hard reality.
- Unrealistic expectations. There is no way your wife can be all things to all people. She was not created for that. But, it is incredibly easy for the enemy to convince her of that and that little lie can create an immense amount of soul distress.
So how do do you encourage your wife to care for her own soul throughout this journey of church planting?
- Give her the space and freedom to be honest. As much as your wife is your sounding board and trusted counselor, she also needs that from you occasionally. Give her the space and freedom to communicate her hurts, her pains and her exhaustion. Allow her to share reoccurring struggles. She may just need you to listen or help uncover some solutions.
- Enable her to get away for spiritual refreshment. Yes, you have a full plate, but creating time for you wife to get away is essential. Finances may be an issue, but talk to partners, or your Send City leadership about opportunities for this. Even once a year can make a huge difference in her spiritual health.
- Evaluate your expectations. What has God genuinely called your wife to do? She cannot possibly fill in every gap. Get to know her strengths, her giftings and her passions, and equip her to serve in those ways. Will there be times that she has to take on a role that is not necessarily her strength? Absolutely! That is part of the planting process. But ultimately, make sure that what you are expecting of her is fair and God-given.
- Find resources and encourage her to pursue them. Your wife may be so incredibly busy that she doesn’t even have time to pursue help. Help her connect with ministries like Flourish or with other church planting wives or female leadership in your city that can pour into her.
Ultimately, a church plant depends on the Lord. It also depends on the planter’s ability to lead, to gather, to disciple in the Lord’s strength. Yet, it is undeniable that it also depends on the spiritual and emotional health of the planter’s wife.
I encourage you planter, in the midst of shepherding the hearts and souls of those in your ministry, do not neglect to shepherd your wife’s soul as well.
Published May 9, 2017