IS YOUR WIFE SUPPORTIVE AND WILLING TO PLANT?
Each time I’ve planted a church or made a major life-decision, I’ve had to know two vital things about my wife in that particular season. There are certainly many other questions you want to ask, but these two things seem to be pretty important as base-level, initial things to assess about your marriage. Here they are:
1. IS SHE SUPPORTIVE?
Don’t even think about planting without her support. There are other great things you can do in the Kingdom. She is a gift for you and needs to be in a place where she can encourage you, especially in the tough times and loneliness that often come in planting. Church planting effects the whole family, especially your wife.
This is largely a question of marriage health. A wife can be unsupportive of her husband because she’s messed up, because he’s messed up, or because they both, together, are a big mess. So, to answer this question, you need to look at the health of your marriage. A wife’s godly and loving support of her husband (or “submission,” as Eph. 5 puts it), occurs when a husband approaches his wife with such a Christ-like sacrificing love. This love moves in her in such a way that she finds herself “for him.” Is your wife for you? Any frustration, tension, or issue you have in your marriage has a strong chance of being greatly amplified once you start planting. Your first job as a husband/pastor/planter/Christian is to love your wife in such a way that your marriage is more healthy. Nobody has a perfect marriage, and planting a church will certainly be used by God to sanctify you, your spouse, and your relationship. However, it is a good idea to have a healthy marriage that is growing, self-less, and centered around the good news of the Gospel. Don’t underestimate the importance of this.
If your wife does not support you, then planting a church is not your priority right now. Loving your wife and working on your marriage is. I know a guy who once had a desire to plant. His vision and plan seemed solid, and he had a lot of the characteristics of a guy who could possibly have apostolic giftedness. Theologically, he was a “giant.” He had a winsome personality, and ability to teach. He was “doing the work of an evangelist” and was discipling several younger Christians. His wife never seemed really behind the idea of planting, though, and their relationship had recently endured a lot of turmoil. My wife, Carol, met with her one evening and asked how the church plant was going, assuming that she was going to say how involved and excited she was. The wife answered by saying, “Oh, that’s his thing. I try to stay out of it.” Red flag. We tried to reach out to the couple, but the more we did, the more she withdrew. Over the course of a couple months, the guy had rapidly gathered a core team of 50 people and was intent on beginning weekend gatherings, even though we tried to urge him to take some more time and make sure his wife was on board. He always assured me that she was, even though all the signs pointed elsewhere. Shortly after they launched, he found out that his wife had been driving 200 miles away to meet with another man in a hotel for overnight stays. He also found images of her on pornographic websites. The marriage quickly fell apart and ended in an ugly 2-year custody battle for their two young children. This is one extreme example of how a desire to plant got in the way of a couple first tending to their marriage. This wife was clearly not supportive, and the signs were there early on. Sure, the planter was tragically deceived by his wife, but most of those around him could see that it was not the right time to plant, but rather to focus on the marriage. For those of you who are married, your relationship with your spouse comes first. It is the expression of the church that first demands your attention and work as a minister of Jesus Christ. One of the ways you know you’re ready to plant is that your marriage is healthy. If your marriage is healthy, your wife will be supportive.
2. IS SHE WILLING? REALLY?
Her supportiveness of you and her willingness to plant will not always occur simultaneously. Carol has always been a supportive wife, and the greatest source of grace in my life, but she has not always been willing to plant. When we assess planting couples, we often look at the couple to see what, if any, is the distinction between her support and willingness as it concerns planting a church. We want to make sure that she isn’t agreeing to plant out of a sense of mere obligation or as a misplaced way to simply please her husband. We want to see that she has a calling, too, and desires to join in the plant with him.
Sometimes an aspiring planter defines “supportive” as “she wants to follow me in planting this church.” This is not always the case. If you are preparing to plant, or trying to discern your calling to do so, pay attention to this in your own marriage. You can love your wife by giving space to allow for the Holy Spirit to move in her life and heart, and yours also! In doing this, you are really loving yourself (Eph. 5:28), because when you married her, you became one (Eph. 5:31). It is possible that God may also be using your spouse and speaking to her to keep you from jumping prematurely into a plant. In this instance, your wife’s support of you and her willingness to plant must be independent of each other.
What do you do when your wife isn’t willing?
Wait upon The Lord without coercing or guilting her.
This is tough, because you want her to be honest. Carol and I have talked openly about her struggle with feeling guilty when she says “not yet” or “no.” I need to constantly check my motives, too, to make sure that I’m not coercing her. One of the best ways I do this is by simply asking if there is anything I am doing that causes her to feel coerced or guilty. I take time to reassure her that I want what God wants for us, even if it isn’t planting, and remind her that Jesus has taken her guilt. Carol has also grown in her confidence and strength in Christ, so it has helped her to be more honest with me. I’m happy about this!
Do not assume that just because your wife is unwilling to plant “right now” that she is just holding out on you, or will never be willing. She may be obeying the Spirit, and it is to your advantage to listen and be patient. The older (and hopefully wiser) I’ve grown, the more I see the value of waiting when The Lord is asking me to wait. Often times, he does so through Carol. I’m much more sensitive to letting God lead than I used to be. It has always been my desire to follow God’s leading, but as there have been trials and limitations throughout my life, I have learned the peace of not just jumping every time I get a good idea.
Over the past three years of not planting or pastoring a church, there have been numerous time when I was getting a strong itch to plant again. My wife has been strong to keep encouraging us to wait. She’d say things like, “We probably will someday, but wouldn’t it be great if we could get some of our finances in better order,” (that was one of our major goals) or, “How is your health plan coming along? Do you think you’re in a good enough place, yet?” or simply, “I don’t quite understand why, but I’m not ready, yet. It doesn’t mean I never will be, but I’m just not ready for that commitment right now. How do you feel about that?” Each time we’ve had these discussions, I’ve tried my best to approach her with respect, knowing that if she’s not ready, then neither am I. God probably has a good reason for her not being ready. The last thing I want to do is to just pressure her to say the “right thing” when she doesn’t believe it. During this season of not planting, there has been so much peace in my life and our marriage because we know we are listening, not pushing, not manipulating, and not wishing one another into something prematurely. There have been several times when I’ve wanted to plant a church when my wife was not quite ready. Looking back, had I gone ahead and planted anyway, it would’ve turned into a disaster! I’m so glad I held to the conviction that if I’m called, so will be my wife. If your wife is unwilling, then wait upon The Lord.
Trust that God has something great for you to do right now where you are!
“If the Lord wills it, we will do this or that…” (James 5:28). There was a time when I used to preach this, and at the same time secretly hate what James writes. His urge is for Christians to wait and see what God does. Don’t get so locked into your plans so much, that you miss the incredible journey God has for you. Don’t live so much in tomorrow, that you miss out on his exciting and unexpected work “today” and “right here.” If you need to wait, consider what God has for the both of you right now where you are.
As planting-types, we can have the tendency to look so far ahead, that we miss the great missional opportunities right in front of us. It is a myth that you need to plant. You don’t. You need to obey The Lord, seek his face, and be a disciple of Christ… planting or not.
Remember your identity is in Christ, not as a church planter.
I love the fact that there have been so many churches planted in the past couple decades here in the U.S. What I lament is that it has become so en vogue that some guys think that if they don’t plant they won’t measure up or attain some level of manhood. While I believe that planting a church requires a Godly man, we make a grave error when we think that planting a church is a measure of one’s masculinity. I have met men who have been assessed and told “no” numerous times, have their church telling them not to plant, and those closest to them telling them the same, yet they are bent on the fact that they “must plant this church.” If people around you (most importantly your wife) are telling you “no,” do not take it as though your life purpose is built around whether or not you plant. You are first and foremost a child of God. The Gospel teaches that, as a believer, your identity is found in Christ and not in anything you can do. If you feel the need to plant a church, why is this? When I was assessed as a planter, I remember being asked, “Is there anything else, besides planting this church, that you can imagine yourself doing.” The answer they looked for was, “no,” and sadly, I gave this “correct” answer. How ridiculous! There are a gazillion (that’s a lot) ways you can live your life and still fulfill your calling to God. Planting is not your destiny. It is one way some spiritual gifts can play out in the real world. Love your wife if she says “no.” It is a sign of grace.
Make sure your wife accurately understands the commitment of church planting.
One of the most common reasons planting becomes so difficult for some, is because the planter and wife are both unaware of the commitment required by planting. They get into it and quickly discover that it is way more than they expected. In many cases, it is way more than they can handle during a certain season of life. Gladly, God has been gracious to allow Carol and I enough experience that we are sober-minded about the intensity of planting. This is the greatest reason Carol has resisted to plant in recent years (and has encouraged me toward the same). We know that planting requires us to have our home open. We needed to be in a place where our health problems did not hamper this ability to live a highly hospitable life. A planting couple needs to be able to have an open home to gather, share life with the people they are discipling, and prep food. This can be particularly demanding, especially if you are starting with a small team, or parachuting into a new location. Plan on meeting in your home until it is “bursting at the seams.” Some spouses simply aren’t ready for this. They possibly lack giftedness in hospitality which makes it all the more cumbersome to have people over.
The financial commitment of planting is also unexpected, and likely greater than you or your wife will anticipate. Those who are good at raising funds can probably do okay the first couple of years. Year three and four can be a bear, though, if the church is barely self-sustaining. If you are a bivocational planter, your job will take away planting and family hours. Just about every planter I know has gone through some sort of financial “crisis” or major challenge in the first 2-3 years that has caused them or their spouse to wonder if they need to get out of it altogether.
Because Carol and I have planted a few times now, I can’t hide the fact of these challenges from her. She also keeps me in check when I start to think too overly optimistic about them or minimize them. If you’ve never planted, there are a few ways you and your spouse can grow together in learning the challenges of a plant before planting:
Go to a church planter training together. There are numerous bootcamps, workshops, and trainings around the nation. PlanterCoach has a relationship with Launch, which is an organization that trains planters all over the nation. There may be a Launch training in your area, and if not, contact us and we can possibly help put something together.
Build a close friendship with another more experienced planting couple. Most couples I know who have planted in the past would be more than honored to help invest in the life of a potential planting couple in this way. Carol and I started planting in the late 90’s, and we didn’t know any other planters close to where we lived at the time, but as I joined several networks of planters, we met people, and we have been greatly blessed.
Help with a church plant for 12-36 months. Live the life and closely observe the life of another planter and his wife through the beginning stages of planting. Carol and I are praying for 3-4 potential planting couples who can join us in our next church plant in this capacity. You can experience the bivocational lifestyle, opening up you home, trying some things out, and honing some skills before actually leading a plant yourself. We planted our second church with another couple who had 10 years more experience than us. It was invaluable to process what we already knew about planting with them, and see how they dealt with the many challenges from a point of greater maturity.
The other day, Carol and I were standing in the kitchen, and to my surprise she said, “I think I want to plant again. Do you?” In my mind I was moonwalking across the counter and yelling, “Of course! Let’s do this thing! The wait is over! Yes! Woot! Woot!” but out loud, I said in a calm demeanor, “Really? What has happened for you to get to this place?” She shared how, for the past several years, she knew we had both strong health and financial reasons not to plant, but that over the past few months, she had been noticing my good health, she has been feeling healed from past ailments, and our finances are in order. Then she told me something beautiful. “Now that we both aren’t pushing to plant a church, maybe this is the best time to start getting intentional about it and let God lead us into it.” Over the past couple of years, I had come to terms with the idea that we may never plant again, and I still feel good about this if it is what God has. Hearing that from Carol, though, made it all worth the wait. While we still need to see what this next year unfolds, and decide on a location to plant, we’re both looking forward to the possibility of working on this next plant together and letting it unfold naturally through our discipling and hospitality ministry in our neighborhood and city… as The Lord wills it.