She’s much more than a church planter’s wife

Does she know that? How do you see your wife in the journey of church planting? Is it the way she sees herself? Planter wives have an amazingly misunderstood and extremely difficult reality. I thought it would be helpful to expand on a thought from a recent conversation with a friend and leader in the church planting world. His original idea that I’m expanding included three categories; engaged and out front, engaged and behind the scenes, and unengaged. I couldn’t agree more, but I’ve added one more that you’ll see below. 

If your wife is unengaged, the clock is ticking for you as a church planter. I’m using “unengaged” rather than “disengaged” because disengaged assumes that there was a moment of engagement. While that may be true in some cases, most of what I see is never an initial engagement at all. I’ve gotten to the point in my being in the world of church planting that there are certain realities, that if they exist, I can confidently say that they have a near 100% chance at failing. One of those is an unengaged wife. It may not happen today, this year, or within three years, but it’s going to happen. Church planter, with an unengaged wife you are not going to succeed anything like you imagine. You cannot just make her be engaged, but you can certainly help.

Here’s the crazy thing, when it comes to the “black flags” in church planting, nearly every planter I’ve ever been exposed to that has a “black flag” reality is convinced that they will be the exception. I hate it and I know it’s heart breaking, but “black flag” issues are 100% fatal to the church planter. If you’ve ever watched racing or better known as “race’n“, you know that a black flag to a racer means they’re out of the race. They’re done without hope of reentry. If the planter’s wife is unengaged, that’s it. As my friend and I had lunch and he unpacked this realty that he’d seen over and over, I asked him one simply question, “How does she return from unengagement.” His response, “I’ve never seen it happen.” Never seen it happen! In all his years of church planting. He’s never seen it happen. As I thought about it, in my limited exposure to the church planting world, neither had I. 

The church planting wife is either engaged or unengaged. That’s it, but there are two tiers within each of these that need to be explained. 

Engaged

1- Directly

This is the planter’s wife that is just as out front in the active life of the plant as her husband is, and in some cases more so. She is happily engaged in overt visibility. Her husband, or anyone for that matter, doesn’t have to ask her to do much of anything regarding the church. She’s on it and out in front of it. 

2- Indirectly

This is the planter’s wife that may seem reserved, quite, and not so out in front, but they are very much engaged. They have personal interaction with the other ladies. They care for their family with the intent to making the family’s experience in ministry the best it can be. Their soft but powerfully condensed in their impact. 

Unengaged

1- Directly

This is the wife that is obviously not on board with planting a church and all that comes with that. She would just as soon have someone punch her in the face than have to engage anyone and it shows. She hates everything about what’s happening and has no problem letting everyone know. This is a very short-lived planting journey.

2-Indirectly

This is a dangerous place for her to be. She’s checked out and she’s the only one that knows the truth. She’s pretending everything is okay, but it’s not. She’s going through the motions, but she’s dreaming of the day that none of this is her reality. The deadliest part of this reality is that no one knows and she thinks its equivalent to know one caring. When it finally comes out, it will go from “0 to 60” in seconds on the “ugly” scale. She was dying inside to make you, the planter, happy, and when this finally turns on you, you will wish you had never been in ministry or church planting at all. This one is so difficult to deal with because it leaves so many questions. You will have a gut check that says something is off, but she’s so equipped at hiding it, if you call her on it, she’ll swear on her life it isn’t true. The only one who can release her from this hell is you, her husband, and that likely means walking away from church planting in your current capacity. 

Here’s the hard truth: You are not going to make it with an unengaged wife. 

Here’s the other hard truth: You think you’ll be the exception.

At the heart of what’s happening is a theological issue, not simply a “calling”, capacity, of fit issue. God literally cut Adam in half to form Eve, and put them back together in a covenant exclamation saying they are “one flesh”. Being in ministry and church planting with an unengaged wife is literally tearing you two apart. You weren’t meant to be Siamese Twins, you were meant to be one whole person. 

2 rules to protect her

1- She isn’t designed to bear the weight or carry the load you are designed for. Stop putting that weight on her. We hear a lot about biblical manhood anymore. A portion of our biblical manhood is bearing the weight designed only for us to bear in a particular aspect of church and kingdom leadership. There are many things you just need to deal with, either alone, with trusted elders, or another trusted male friend.

2- If she hears the SHIT, she needs to hear the FLUSH. Not my words. These came from Steve Treichler at Hope Community church downtown Minneapolis, a very proven leader in the church planting world. What he means to say is that if you violate principle #1 above and you lay a weight on her that she isn’t designed to bear, you need to see it resolved. She needs to SEE it resolved. Don’t just resolve it and move on without making certain she is apart of and knows about the resolution’s outcome. She must be part of the resolution and see that it is resolved. This can be so complex that it only stands as a reason not to bring her into many of the challenges you face. 

If you could invest in one thing this year, that one domino that eventually tumbles them all, regain a fresh focus on guarding your wife well. Even if she is a tough gal and thinks she doesn’t need to be guarded from issue. She does and you must. 


BY JOSHUA WHETSTINE – NORTH AMERICAN MISSION BOARD CITY MISSIONARY FOR MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL. 

Steve Treichler is also the originator of the three categories above involving the church planter’s wife.

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