Church Planting and Leading Your Wife
“I don’t fear going there because it’s that city…I fear going to there with you!” This response no husband, much less church planter, ever wants to hear from his wife. All the Seminary training, ministry experience, and church planting strategies do not prepare you for this kind of conversation. However, our case isn’t uncommon for missionaries and church planters. I’ve had many conversations with friends who’ve shared like grief and conflicts on the field pertaining to struggles at home and in marriage. My desire here is to share how the marvelous grace of God has triumphed in our marriage recently, despite my many faults and failures in poorly leading my wife in this pilgrim’s progress. A Little Background I met my beautiful bride my senior year of high school while on a mission trip. Shortly thereafter, we began a beautiful long distance courtship, while we pursued deeper and more intimate relationships with Jesus, through prayer, studying God’s Word, and sharing in community life with our home churches. We married after finishing college and moved to NC for seminary, to further our preparation for life in ministry. My wife shared with me early in our relationship she would go anywhere the Lord would ask us to go, no matter the cost. I always believed that and still do. After all, she was willing to move away from family and her home country to be my wife! As Karla reflects back to when we met, it was my love for Jesus and my identity in him that she loved and that which compelled her to say “I do.”
How Did We Get Here? How did we get from being willing to go anywhere the Lord would ask us to go, to “I don’t want to go there…with YOU!” Was my response characterized by brokenness, humility, seeking forgiveness, and repentance? No, I was silent. In my silence ungodliness worked deep in my heart. This ungodliness sounded like this: “Karla, who do you think you are for saying that to me? Oh, if the Lord would only break my wife’s heart for the lost! Maybe she meant to say that she fears motherhood in the metro area, or the safety of our children, or the high cost of living there? What is our church going to think of us?” But the Holy Spirit broke me through the tears of my dear wife, bringing Ephesians 5:25-28 to mind, and in His kindness, my sinfulness was clear to me. Tears of repentance flowed as I asked Karla to share with me why it was so hard to follow me. She said I wasn’t leading like Jesus. I wasn’t walking with her, but too far ahead and making big decisions without praying with her and sharing in the joys of the Spirit’s leading. I was not shepherding well. I was not regularly praying with her and discipling her through the Word of God as she desperately desired. She said her confidence in following me has never been about me, rather, about the work of Jesus in and through me. Her confidence lay solely in Jesus and we weren’t seeking Him together. I realized I wasn’t leading her like Jesus. I wasn’t loving my wife “as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.” While Paul wrote, “let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself” (Eph. 5:33), I was leading in a way that served my own desires, and yet I expected my wife to follow my lead. I wasn’t being patient nor trusting in the grace of God over our lives or waiting at His pace. Karla willingly forgave me of my failure to lead both her and our family faithfully. Then, we sought the Lord in prayer and asked the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us, to open and close doors, and to sway our hearts together in unity, moving forward at His pace.
How refreshing it is trust in the sovereign grace of God. He was faithful to answer our prayers in restoring our marriage and bringing a Spirit-refreshing joy to step out in faith together seeking His will. I’ll never forget when I received a call at work from Karla expressing that she could not wait to be on mission with God wherever he leads us! I’m thankful for His grace! Despite my sin, she still says, “I do.”
Trust in the Grace of God in Leading Your Wife I would like to share a few things that I’ve learned through my experience and from Scripture that hopefully will help others who will or have faced similar struggles.
- Grow in Deeper Communion with Jesus (2 Peter 3:17-18) In order to have a life characterized by Christlikeness, you must be close to Christ. To lead your wife down the road of joyful obedience begins with a sweet, deepening relationship to Him. When I linger over His word, spend expanded time in prayer, and sit in quiet reflection, I experience a deepening fellowship with Christ through His Spirit. Communion with Jesus is the soil by which faithful Christ-like leadership grows to maturity.
- Pray Together with your Wife (Philippians 4:6-7) I have been staggered over the years that Karla and I have gone many a day without praying with one another outside meal times. The old adage holds true: “The couple who prays together, stays together.” I wondered why we were not on the same page in life and ministry, yet we weren’t seeking the Lord together. Karla and I grow so much closer together when we spend time together in prayer, no matter how hectic our lives. We’ve found this time of prayer is not something we just ought to do, but we must do as a means of survival. When we seek the Lord together, in prayer, making specific requests, confessing sin, and praising God for each other and His grace, our hearts, passions, and desires are knit together as we intimately seek the heart of God. What grace is available to those who seek Him in prayer!
- Communicate Joys and Struggles Together (1 John 1:5-7) Open and regular communication with my wife is extremely vital to the health of our marriage as we prepare to follow God's call. This communication includes sharing our fears and struggles as well as joys of God’s works of grace in our lives. (Aside: Keep in mind that fears are normal for any church planter, and need to be shared and prayed about together, something our entire team has shared together as well.) We’ve grown to treasure transparency and active listening. As married children of God, we are not only husband and wife, but brother and sister, two redeemed sinners who can share our weaknesses and take them to the Father together (1 John 2:1-2).
- Study God’s Word, Read Books, and Listen to Sermons Together (Hebrews 13:4-7) A dear friend and church planter reminded me to always remember that my wife is not just a ministry partner, she’s my greatest disciple. However, when we get together with friends, men and women usually separate having different types of conversation. The men typically discuss books, sermons, or just enjoy multiple rounds of theological smack-down, while the women usually have conversations about life, children, and home. What I fail to realize is that my wife desires to be discipled under the word of God together with me. The things I enjoy sharing with my friends, I haven’t been sharing with my wife. So, we’ve begun listening to sermons, reading books, and reading and studying the word of God, together. Remember, the Holy Spirit is at work to bring us closer together through studying His Word (1 Cor. 2:10-16). My failure in leading my wife well owed to my pride thinking I could convince her to follow me outside of the Spirit’s leading. It was not until we sought the Lord together in prayer and study of God’s Word that we have united in mission and ministry.