Most of my posts are about exercise and its commonalities with following Jesus. Today I’ll come clean on the hardest workout my faith…my trust…my hope has endured to date. That is: my experience as a church planter’s wife.
Today, I’m linking up with Christine over at Grace Covers Me as she releases her book, The Church Planting Wife: Help and Hope for Her Heart, and collects heart stories from church planting and ministry wives.
Christine wanted other women to share how church planting has changed them. And, although in order to share all the ways this grueling, difficult process has changed me I would also have to write a book, I’m going to do my best to summarize in the way that I love best. I will compare it to exercise.
I teach spinning. If you’ve never taken an indoor group cycling class, let me assure you that the first time will probably get your attention. The seat hurts. It takes way more effort to get that wheel around than you expect. The resistance can be heavier than you’ve ever experienced on another bicycle. I often have athletic people (even marathon runners) who come in confident that it will be “no big deal” for them to participate. They are well-conditioned, yet, at the end of the class they look beat, tired, and a little surprised that it was so difficult. (That is if they can make it to the end of the class–many leave early, sometimes limping!)
This was me when it came to church planting. I thought I was conditioned for it. I studied. I listened to podcasts, read stories, and went to conferences. I grew up in the church. I knew what a pastor’s wife did. She looked great, she had a lot of people over, and she could always be seen smiling and nodding. She made sure the pastor’s clothes matched and the church foyer was decorated. Her children looked cute and acted sweet (at least on Sunday mornings). She made great casseroles for every pot luck. And, in many cases, she had a special talent for singing.
I was ready…well, except for that singing part…(I was prepared to adjust that part of the vision. I don’t sing unless a radio beside me is blaring.)
Sure, I knew it was going to be hard. That’s what everyone told us at least. But, deep in my heart I was sure that their hard was probably different than my hard. My pride fooled me into believing that I was somehow better equipped…that I would not struggle as everyone else had. I thought I was strong…that I was ready. But, then someone put a 50 pound barbell in front of me and told me to lift. I bent down to attempt and I couldn’t get it off the ground.
What happened? Well, we didn’t grow a megachurch in six Sundays. We didn’t have a line of 100 people (or even 10) waiting to get in on that first “launch” Sunday. We didn’t have someone just “give us” an awesome place to meet.
And, this was only a small part of the struggle.
People we invited never came. People who pledged to us their loyalty didn’t come through. People who said they wanted us to succeed, that they were on our team, sure didn’t act like it.
Expensive mailings failed. Events didn’t produce the results we wanted. And my husband was discouraged…most of the time.
For the majority of the first 18 months of our church planting adventure, I would enter that elementary school building thinking that the workout would be easy that day…that I was ready for it. But, every Sunday afternoon I was beat down, defeated and struggling to figure out how I was supposed to encourage my husband to be any more hopeful than I was. It was too hard. How could I possibly go through that same exercise again…every week?
But none of my problems, none of my struggle with church planting was really about what other people did or didn’t do in relation to our new church. It was really all about me. The problem was my heart, my attitude, my expectations, my hope, my trust, and my (now-exposed) lack of faith that God was working and would provide…that God would sustain us.
Yet, he has.
He has been faithful to grow us. He has been faithful to change us. I picture Dr. Seuss’ Grinch at the end of the story, when his heart expands to ten times its size. I feel like God has stretched our hearts in the same way.
Through the maturing process he has shown me that what I thought was important—the exercises I was prepared for– are not the ones that matter. I no longer stress about how the donut table looks, mis-spelled words on the worship guide, or the fact that my daughter somehow made it out of the house wearing her well-worn pink Crocs with her frilliest red dress. I now understand that how the church looks and how I look don’t really matter all that much.
And, I’m starting to see how my role as a church-planting wife might not be all that different than my part-time job at the gym…How maybe the most important thing I can do for my family and for our church is to make sure I stay spiritually conditioned and then support, encourage and help others in the various stages of their efforts to shape-up their relationship with God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I wanted to be strong enough so I could do it on my own. (Pride…again). Now I’m experiencing a new phenomenon, in that, when I am weak that He is made strong. I’m being taught to surrender. I’m seeing his grace in the opportunities he gives me to grow. I’m being conditioned to rely on his ability to carry the weight. He’s showing me that only in His power will I be able to love people in the way he commands.
And, It’s the hardest workout I’ve ever done.
**If you are a church planter’s or pastor’s wife — I’d encourage you to follow Christine’s blog at www.gracecoversme.com. I’d also ask you to check out my other blog where a few other ministry wife friend’s and I post about our day-to-day struggles at www.journeysofapastorswife.com**