Lessons Learned from a Church Planter’s Wife

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The Apostles never wrote a list of qualifications for the church planter’s wife. That position comes without a title or job description. It comes without compensation. And the hours can be brutal. Also, sacrifices are required, and criticism is likely. 

And yet. 

You’ll get front-row seats to seeing God’s work in the lives of his people up close. And you can’t put a price on that. Perhaps more importantly, God has much in store to show you personally. 

Below are five lessons I have learned in the decade since I first arrived in an unfamiliar city with my husband, who had the task of planting a new church. 

1. Life is short; make the sacrifices.

The pressure on a church planter’s wife is intense. The job requires a certain scrappiness—making the most of scarce resources, seeing and meeting unnoticed needs, and being able to pivot quickly to the next item. It includes encouraging your discouraged husband, tending to needy children, helping a new church member, or showing hospitality to a potential one. Oftentimes you must do all those things simultaneously and usually without much recognition. A church planter’s wife can easily drown in the expectations and needs of others. And many do drown in the temptation of self-pity. 

After years of tallying the sacrifices I made and dipping my toe in self-pity’s alluring waters, I have learned this: life is short; make the sacrifices. 

Being a part of the effort to plant a church means you have the opportunity to help build an embassy of the kingdom of God. You have the privilege of working alongside your husband toward something that hopefully will outlast your own life and serve as a demonstration to the universe of the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10). The church you sacrifice for now seeks to preserve the gospel for the next generation as the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Should you need reminding, your labors are on behalf of the one institution in the universe that Christ so dearly loves he calls her his bride (Eph. 5:22–32). 

Our Savior loved his beloved church so greatly that he sacrificed his rights as God, his comfort in heaven, and his very life on earth to create the bride he loves. Keep that in mind, dear church planter’s wife, as you sacrifice your husband’s presence during another family dinner, a greater than preferred portion of your family budget to meet needs in the church, or the dreams you had for your own life. In the moment, those sacrifices can feel overwhelmingly large. But remember, Christ willingly went to the cross for the joy set before him. Don’t fall into a trap of self-pity that keeps your eyes on the here and now. Your life is short and eternity is very long. Make the sacrifices that you have the privilege of getting to make.

2. Church-birth is a season.

I have often thought new churches should be called church newborns and not church plants. While the correlations invoked in the agricultural imagery of a church plant are helpful, the process of seeing a new church come to life feels more like bringing a new child into the world. It can be all-consuming; it’s often marked by both joy and pain. The effort put into helping a newborn learn to crawl and even walk on her own seems a lot like taking a group of people and turning them into a unified body. Both require sleepless nights, ample nutrition to spur their growth, and lots of encouragement at the slightest cause for celebration. Both are fragile. Both require lots of attention. Both need someone lovingly tending to their needs. 

Being married to someone with a church newborn was an intense time for our family. A meeting went well, and we all rejoiced. Conflict erupted among church members, and family plans were scrapped to immediately deal with it. But similar to the foggy newborn stage I experienced after the birth of my own children, that season eventually passed. And in hindsight with both, that newborn season was shorter than it seemed while we were in it. 

Dear weary ministry wife, this season will not last forever. Encourage your husband as he invests in good health from the beginning of the life of your church. For all you know, that good health could lead to an early bloom, and your church baby could be walking sooner than you think. 

3. Value faithfulness, even over giftedness.

Praise God that he gifts his children with specific ways we can contribute to his church! Over the years of being a part of a church plant, I have seen some people remarkably gifted in teaching, evangelism, and hospitality who have contributed fruitfully to the planting of our church. Our temptation, though, is to place greater value on people with obvious gifts than those whose gifts are not as immediately apparent. Over the years, I have learned that obvious spiritual giftings are not the same thing as faithfulness over time. And long, steady faithfulness produces more fruit than short-lived, zealous giftedness. 

From my front row seats in the theater of God’s work, my eyes may be drawn toward the flashing neon sign on stage. And while I watch what is colorful and bright, I may not even notice the quiet yet indispensable stage crew changing a set. The same is true in a church plant. It is the faithful, sometimes quiet, members who contribute week in and week out to the often unnoticed work of caring for children, praying for those in need, and taking meals to the sick. As the body is built up and learns to care for one another, we create a culture, and we display to the world what it means to be a disciple of Christ (John 13:35). Don’t overlook the ordinary faithful members for the fervent ones. Ordinary faithfulness often outlasts zeal. 

4. Doctrinal foundations are a necessity. 

Do not mistakenly assume theology is only for your husband. Strong doctrinal foundations are the ballast that keeps your ship upright in the storm of church planting. You can get dizzy from the emotional highs and lows of the work, but doctrine stabilizes the ship so you stay the course. 

Your ecclesiology will be an aid to the unity of the body, especially as the temptation to grumble threatens disunity. Your steady trust in the authority of Scripture will undergird your confidence that God’s Word brings forth life and causes others to flourish under solid preaching. Your love for Christ—both for who he is and what he has done—will spur others on to love him and one another. 

Additionally, every ministry wife knows part of her calling is to encourage, build up, and strengthen her husband for the work God has called him to do. When your role is to remind him of truth at the end of a discouraging day, what is it that you say? Do you remind him of God’s steadfast love for him? Do you have reason to remind him that the church belongs to the Lord and not to him? Do you speak confidently of the unity God calls us to, which often requires us to keep short accounts toward those who have sinned against us? Take seriously the role God has given you to be a helper to your husband. 

5. Trust the Lord, even over your husband.

Ten years ago, when Josh and I got off the plane with our children in our new home, the unknowns of the future far outweighed the comfort of the familiar. Our international move made me feel as if I were stepping off a mountain cliff, and I was uncertain what was going to happen on the way down. As fear wound tightly around me, I remember Josh confidently telling me, “We may or may not plant the church successfully, but what is guaranteed is that we will get more of the Lord.” 

Over ten years later, I’m thankful we ended up successfully planting the church, but I’m far more grateful for “getting more of the Lord.” On the other side of the cliff, the Lord graciously met us and held us tightly. Over the last decade, the Lord has kindly revealed sin, strengthened our marriage, caused us to yearn for his glory, given us a vision for God’s heart for the nations, and caused us to see his greatness. John Piper famously said, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” While the external work God had for us to do over the past decade was to plant a church in the Middle East, I see most clearly what he has done in our hearts to grow us and our love for him. 

Jenny Manley

Jenny Manley is a mother and pastor's wife in the Middle East, where she also spends time writing, podcasting, and serving the persecuted church.

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