An Introduction by Steve Childers
Introduction: Ladies First!
After more than 30 years of ministry experience as a church planter, pastor and seminary professor I think I’ve finally learned the secret to survival in the ministry: stop making the same old mistakes the rest of us have been making in the ministry for decades and start making brand new, bold, innovative and creative mistakes!
This is the first in a series of posts I’m calling, “My Top Ten Mistakes in Ministry (That I Can Share Publicly)“. But instead of starting with “My Greatest Mistakes–Part One” I thought it might be better to begin this series by allowing you the privilege of looking back at 25 years of real-life, in-the-trench church planting ministry through the lens of a good friend of mine, Shari Thomas*—a veteran church planter’s wife.
Knowing the depth of Shari’s spiritual maturity and the profound impact her ministry has had on so many Christian leaders (including me), several years ago I asked Shari if she would consider being one of the trainers at our annual Global Church Advancement North America Conference. She has been one of GCA’s most effective trainers ever since.
A few years ago I asked Shari if she would be willing to address all the conference attendees at our final plenary session—instead of only doing her excellent 6-session workshop alongside several others. She responded with her typical, refreshing, bold humility, “Sure! What topic would you like me to address?” I told her I’d like for her to answer the question, “What I Wish I Had Known About Church Planting”—and not hold back anything.
Below is a taste of Shari’s heart-felt answer to that difficult question. As you’ll see…she held nothing back. And I’m glad she didn’t.
A Church Planter Spouse Looks Back: What I Wish I’d Known About Church Planting! by Shari Thomas* (Given at the 2008 Global Church Advancement North America Conference.)
I wish someone would have told us (Shari and her husband, John), that we both would need a support system greater than just each other…
…that we would need coaches and mentors, and we should plan at more than one stage in the journey on getting counseling…
…and when we didn’t have this support system it would be up to us to seek it out!
I would have greatly benefited knowing that we needed to come to a mutual understanding and commitment about what my involvement in the church plant would be…
…that pursuing and nurturing my gifts was as important as nurturing his.
And that we would often need to review this involvement through out the stages of church planting and seasons of life…
…that when the children were young, my husband and children would require and need most of my time.
I wish he’d known how much I would need his support in sticking to these commitments rather than both of us rescuing ministries and people when they floundered.
I longed for someone to gently come alongside me and remind me again and again that what my husband needs from me most is love and respect.
He can find coaches, teachers, nags and critics in countless places. He already has one mother. And when it’s late at night and we are falling into bed that this is not the time or place to hear one more idea on how to make the church successful!
But at the same time I also wished he’d known how very important it was for the two of us to have our weekly “staff” times to talk about how the church and family life intersected.
I was a part of the church planting team and needed to know about the plant, give my input and have a place on the team. I wish we had spoken more openly about this to our staff as they too needed to work through their understanding of my role on the church planting team.
If I had known that my heart as well as our kids would be hurt, angry, and almost torn in two by this ministry we might not have planted a church
….but we also may never have learned the delight and satisfaction of pointing each other to Jesus, to the hope that only the gospel brings, and the deep joy of leading others to this hope.
…if we hadn’t planted a church I don’t know if we would ever have known the joy of watching the people we had led to Christ then turn and point our hearts to Jesus during our dark hours.
We would have benefited from being told that the question “should we stay in this church?” will be one that will haunt us through out our ministry lives. I was not prepared for him rolling over in bed doubting his call.
I didn’t know we would question if God had brought us here…that when my husband’s passion and energy for the church plant was waxing, mine might be waning and vice versa. It would have been helpful to know this was normal.
I am thankful that someone told us we would have to work harder for a marriage where there is spiritual, emotional, and physical intimacy than we would have to work at planting the church…that this would involve sacrifice on both of our parts, and it would be well worth it.
…that this would mean being honest about the damage we both do to one another and then seeking reconciliation to whatever point was needed for the sake of the other.
…that repentance involved not a simple “I’m sorry” but asking the other person to tell how we had harmed them and to listen without defending.
That it would mean doing this over and over in our marriage…that it would mean being willing to give up church planting, even leaving ministry for the sake of loving the other person.
I am glad my husband learned early on that church planting gave him great freedom to creatively mold his schedule to fit the needs of both his family and the church.
I am grateful he takes time from church ministry to pour into the lives of our kids: working on school projects, creating feasts in the kitchen, taking vacations, catching the latest blockbuster, filling their lives with music, asking them the tough questions, drawing out their hearts, repenting openly before them…
…I love watching their eyes fill with pride when they introduce their friends to their dad. Nothing draws my heart to him more than that he loves our children so well.
And at the same time when both he and I love our kids poorly, I really wish I had known that the Christian life and Church planting was not about working so hard to get it right, be right, and do right.
That it was not my job to perfect myself. That even learning the gospel was not another tool to add to my arsenal of how to live a better life. But it was church planting that finally brought me to the realization that I can’t change myself.
That it’s not about what others say about me. That Jesus has already said, “It is finished.” That God’s verdict spoken over me comes before any of my performance, before I ever started on this journey of church planting…he delights in me already!
If I had known this, I would have enjoyed life so much more. But the journey isn’t finished and I’m planning on joining the party more these days.
But I am most grateful that my husband keeps learning that no one can pursue, strongly lead and cherish me the way he can.
…that when I’m withdrawn and discouraged, his gentle wooing speaks volumes.
…when I’m masking deep hurt with anger, his strong, consistent pursuit melts me like nothing else.
…when darkness has masked Jesus face, I have felt another strong hand leading me home.
…and when it’s all said and done, and we are at The Great Marriage Feast I will recognize the tastes and sounds and smells. The dance will be vaguely familiar…
…for hints of the realm unknown have drifted across the border land.
…and I have caught glimpses of what is yet to come for so many of you, my friends, my church family, my kids and my husband have shown me the way.
*Shari Thomas has been involved with her husband, John, in church planting for over 25 years both in North America and abroad. Shari serves on Mission to North America’s church planting staff as the Director of Parakaleo, a ministry primarily to church planting spouses. Shari and/or Tami Resch (also on staff with Parakaleo) lead the Women’s Forum (6 Sessions) at the North America GCA Conferences & Seminars. John is the director of global training for the Redeemer Church Planting Center in Manhattan, NYC. They have 3 children who amazingly still claim them as parents. They love sailing, only do legal drugs, and are known coffee snobs.
Steve Childers is the President & CEO of Global Church Advancement, an inter-denominational ministry that provides church planting training, consultations, and resources for church planters, pastors and missionaries throughout the world. Steve has trained Christian leaders from more than 40 countries (curriculum in five major global languages) representing over 120 denominations and mission agencies. Steve is also an author, Professor of Practical Theology (since 1995) and the director of the doctoral program at Reformed Theological Seminary, in Orlando, Florida, where he teaches church planting, missions, evangelism and spiritual formation. To learn more about GCA:
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