Okay, here goes. I’ve unsuccessfully started this post four times now. So I’m dispensing with the flashy opening and just going with the un-pretty truth: as a church planting wife, I feel invisible. I am under constant spiritual attack, I have no idea what I’m doing, and no one around me is married to a church planter. I’d love to read up on the topic and learn how to master the art of being in this peculiar place—after all, there are thousands of us around the nation—but resources are shockingly rare. Now if you’re a church planter, you’ve got it made: monthly meetings, books out the wazoo, training events, conferences, articles, blogs, podcasts, you name it. Planting is sexy. But being married to a planter is not.*
I have recently (and gratefully) learned that this is not just me being a weenie. A group called Parakaleo, which ministers intentionally to planting wives around the world, found that about 80% of us struggle with depression. Please don’t glide past that. I can’t qualify my husband for ministry, but I can definitely disqualify him for it. There is an overwhelming amount of pressure on us to pastor our husbands (praying for them, listening to them, advising them, loving on them, pouring life into them as no one else can), while also seeing to the church, our families, and our jobs if we have them. Many of us have moved away from our healthy support systems for the sake of the gospel, some soon after getting married or having kids, so we learn to be a missionary, planter’s wife, plain wife, mom, and adult in general all at the same time in a brand-new context where everyone and everything is unfamiliar. Throw in constant spiritual attack (because it makes the most sense to target the weaker partner) and a battle with depression, keep us feeling isolated and unequipped (not underequipped; absolutely unequipped), and remove us from authentic community (after all, it’s not okay to share about a fight you had with your husband when the woman you’re confiding in sees him as her source of spiritual food), and no wonder so many planters leave ministry—about 1500 per month! (I’ve known one planter personally who walked away from faith completely.)
Neglecting church planters’ wives is not just a sad fact; it’s hurting the kingdom’s advancement. Riley has told me that he would leave ministry if he had to choose between caring for my spiritual health and remaining at the church. As the one who brought up the possibility of church planting in the first place, my heart cries out against this. I want nothing more than to see darkness pushed out of our corner of New England, spreading the glory of Christ into generations who have forgotten it. But if I am spiritually anemic, I can’t be the helpmeet my husband needs, and if success comes, it will come after much more difficulty on his part than is necessary. I don’t want to be a feeble drain on Riley’s resources; my desire is to rise up and be a courageous warrior fighting beside him and pouring new strength into him when he needs it most.
Of course, we need planters. Of course, we need to make sure they have all the tools they need to see the Church take back ground. But why would we knowingly overlook half of every church planting couple we send to the field? Isn’t that just asking for trouble from the enemy? In my experience, no one, sometimes including the wives themselves, takes church planting wives seriously. I can’t tell you how many planter training events I’ve attended as the only wife present. In our personal assessment, the two interviewers would write down all of Riley’s responses on a pad of paper, meticulously recording his answers, but when they’d ask me a question, the pencils would be set down as though I had nothing of worth to contribute. But Jesus wired me with a brain and a sense of justice, and I’m tired of watching my sisters in the faith get walked all over by downright apathy.
And now, (oh thank You, Jesus!) now I can do something about it. I’ve been given the opportunity to immerse myself in training for planters’ wives through Parakaleo.** The program of study begins with developing a gospel lens for every aspect of life, role navigation, and boundaries, moves on to theology and conversation skills for gospel discussions, and ends with leadership training in facilitating groups for church planting wives. It includes personal mentoring, networking, and week-long intensives. The overall goal is for me to learn what I need to in order to resource and encourage every planter’s wife I can. And since Green Valley Crossing desires to plant churches that will plant churches that will plant churches, I am expecting the number of wives I encounter to be exponential (not to mention the few women in eastern Connecticut who are currently serving but not receiving any tools or support for their crucial role).
My heart stayed broken the first four years on the mission field by a terrible tension between crushing pressure (when people needed me to meet their expectations) and severe insignificance (when no one thought I was worth training), often at the same time. But one of the most beautiful pieces of the gospel is that Jesus never wastes pain. I have been given a unique chance to allow this holy discontent to funnel through me and create kingdom healing for others. If church planting couples are healthy and happy, both thriving with the energy that comes from being smack-dab in the center of God’s will, His mission will advance. And don’t you know the enemy will tremble? My prayer is for every planter’s wife in my vicinity to know who she is, what the Lord has called her to do, and how to carry out His dreams for her. My prayer is that she will be marked by joy, reflecting Her Daddy’s heart in serving well. And my prayer is to honor God in how we love His daughters. Won’t you join me?
Over the next few months, I will be fundraising to see this God dream put flesh on. The entire process will take $8000, but I serve a big God who has a big heart for His kids. He has always used His people to fund His work, and if you would like to be a part of this rescue mission for faithful women on the field, I would love to add your name as evidence of His goodness in my life.
POST UPDATE: God came through in a big way via His people. The $8000 came in, and I have begun the equipping process. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You can read all about the praise party here. (And if you’d still like to give, I’ll use the extra funds to love on and pamper the local wives I work with.)
*For a frame of reference, I typed in “church planter” into the Amazon books search bar and found 4,778 results. When I added “wife” to the end, the results went down to 50. Obviously, items were included in each search that shouldn’t be there (like a random book on youth ministry or on Muslims and Christians), but this gives a decent idea of the general disparity in resourcing between planters and their wives.
** Want more information about Parakaleo and their work? Go to parakaleo.us for training descriptions, church planting wives research and statistics, and testimonials.
*** Curious about what the $8000 covers? A cost breakdown is included after the video.
Parakaleo Cost Breakdown:
8 online network meetings – $600
12 coaching appointments – $600
Training track (three week-long intensives, practice teaching, room/board/travel, assessment, and credentialing) – $6800
TOTAL INVESTMENT – $8000