Tomorrow will mark my family’s one year anniversary in our new home in Phoenix and our new life as church planters. Reflecting on our first year, I can confidently say I did a pretty decent job of serving my wife. I made a LOT of other mistakes in a LOT of other areas, but I did pretty well in caring for my wife. I want to share some of the principles I set in place that protected my wife. My principles were developed to address our parachute approach to planting, but they can apply any time you leave your primary support network to start something new. I hope these principles will be a blessing to other planters, but mostly, I pray they will result in blessings to your wife.
Devote the first 6 weeks to finding Christian friends. I know you want to hit the ground running and focus on evangelism, but, for the long term good of your wife’s heart, devote significant time to build a relational foundation. Both you and your wife will instinctively crave relationships, but, be warned, most people you meet in the next year will come and go faster than you will believe. You need to develop a strong foundation of stable friendships to help keep you grounded during the coming tempests of temporary relationships. Practical Tip: Develop a plan for finding friends. I decided that for the first 6 weeks, I would constantly pursue pastors and Christians hoping to find some families with whom we would click. My focus was on pastors of missional churches, in roughly the same life stage as my wife and me. I literally had a list written before we hit the ground. I pursued the pastors on my list, and we invited them into our home for dinner with no agenda, which was a blessing to them as well as us. Pursue Christian friends!
Share the vision with your wife before anyone else. Church planting is relational work, which is tiring work (at least it is to introverts, such as myself). Your temptation will be to constantly share the vision God has given you with everyone, then come home, exhausted, and assume your wife is still on board. She needs to be reminded constantly why you are there. Do not assume she is still on board – ask her! Let her see your passion. Let your enthusiasm spill over onto her. Keep her fire burning for the mission you have been called to. Practical Tip: As soon as a plan develops to the point you write it down, share it with your wife first. My measurable for this principle is simple – if my wife is ever surprised by a decision I made, I failed to keep her primary in my vision process.
Keep your family first. . . on your calendar. I cannot emphasize this enough. You need to prioritize spending high-quality, focused, and uninterrupted time with your family. I suggest you have a day of the week that is your family day. Pick a day, and then guard it ferociously. For us, we decided to enjoy Family Fridays. Over the past year, during different seasons, we have switched to Monday Fun Days, but we have never let the week go by without a designated day of intentional family fun. Don’t believe the lie that you are too busy, or the needs of the community are too great, or your work as an evangelist is too pressing. God will manage for those 4 or 5 hours without you. Practical Tip: Spend the money and get some passes to a local museum or the zoo that your children love. Take away the decision process involved in “where do we go?” Kids are creatures of habit, find what they like and just keep doing it.
Gently, but consistently, press into the tensions your wife feels about how you allocate your time. This principle should be a humbling, tough process. Because if you are truly loving and serving your wife, sometimes you will have to relinquish your plans for the good of your family. And, if you are called by God and driven towards that call, slowing down hurts! Sometimes you may be tempted to think she is slowing you down, but I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. Really, she is helping you pace. Which I definitely need. Whenever I go running by myself, I literally run half the distance I can run when I run with her. Not because I am weak-willed when running by myself, but because I am too confident in my own capacity. Church planting is about distance, not speed, and you need someone to pace you. Most likely, that person is your wife. Value her as a gift, and lean into it constantly. Practical Tip: Set aside 15 minutes on Sunday afternoon to look at your calendar with your wife for the next two weeks. Decide upon priorities together, and ask her directly what kind of time she and the kids need from you above your family day together.
Shepherd your wife’s heart. What kind of a shepherd ignores his flock in the plains in order to pursue mountain goats on the cliffs? A bad shepherd. Your wife is your most important church member. Be the pastor she needs. Find out how she is responding to the circumstances of her life. Counsel her when she is trying to balance her roles as mom, unpaid staff, and devoted wife. Weep with her when her good friend leaves the church and drops her without looking back. Help her disentangle her frustrations with the process of church planting from the people of the church. In general, treat her like a church member you desperately need to keep connected to the body, because she is and you do! Practical Tip: Establish a weekly date night (ours is a Friday night, at-home date night after the kids are in bed) and focus on asking her questions, and ask her if you can speak to those things. You will be amazed what intentional pastoring will do in your wife’s heart.
Church planting has chewed up and spit out more more men than you would ever want to know when you are planting yourself. When I talk to most people involved in lots of planting, the posture and commitment of the planter’s wife is almost always a factor. That points to a failure of men, not a weakness of women. When Eve succumbed to the lies of the serpent, God called Adam to account. Her failure in the face of trial was Adam’s failure to protect and serve her through the trial.
Your wife is her own person, with her own relationship with God, but your job is to protect her, serve her, and lead her as you walk the path of planting together.