In 2008, God called my husband, Kyle, and me to plant a church in Charlottesville, Virginia. Though we had eight years of ministry experience under our belts at an established church, we didn't yet know all that we didn't know. We had much to learn and, more importantly, God had much sifting and pruning to do in our hearts.
God has shown me that, more than anything, he wants my heart. He wants a tender, moldable heart willing to obey more than he wants any obligatory service I can give him. As I write in my new book, The Church Planting Wife: Help and Hope for Her Heart (Moody, 2013), I've learned a thing or two in this crazy adventure called church planting—and I trust I'll learn more as we move forward. Here are 25 things I've discovered so far.
1. Hospitality is essential.
2. Church planting teaches two things more than any other: that God is faithful and that we must learn how to depend on that faithful God.
3. Programs matter a lot to some people, especially families with small children. It takes special families who can grasp the vision of church planting to invest in a church plant on the ground level.
4. On the other hand, some people love the early stages of church planting but become uncomfortable when the church grows to a size where they can no longer know everyone.
5. Church planting happens one relationship at a time.
6. Sometimes church planting feels like you're pretending to be a church. And then one day (after backbreaking work and lots of prayer) you realize God has built an honest-to-goodness church right before your eyes.
7. You cannot church plant apart from the support and encouragement of others.
8. The Word is living and active. When we let God speak through his Word, he changes people. Every church plant must gather earnestly around the Word and the Christ to which it points.
9. The church plant often takes on the personality and passions of the church planter and his wife. This is why it's important to cling to Christ with biblical vision.
10. Most people, especially outsiders, don't know what it means when you say you're church planting. And they think you're a little crazy.
11. One of the church planter's greatest resources is other church planters and pastors in the same city. These relationships should be cultivated.
12. Some of the hardest relationships a church planter may have are with other church planters and pastors in the same city. Sadly.
13. The calling to church plant must be sure since you'll need to return to it again and again in the face of discouragement, defeat, and uncertainty.
14. The gospel is everything: it sustains when discouragement comes (and it always does), it keeps a church planter and his wife in their city (because there will be times when they want to give up and leave), it compels its ministers forward (and sometimes it's the only motivation left), and it changes lives (which makes it all worth it).
15. A church planter cannot drive by an established church without appreciating what it took to make it that way. And he will first think about the secretaries, the nursery workers, the janitors, and the seats permanently bolted to the ground.
16. As much as possible, a church plant should be structured according to how leaders want it to look a year in the future.
17. It's unhealthy for the church planter, the church, and especially the church planting wife if she's doing childcare during church each week.
18. A failed church plant is not failure. Lack of faith is failure. Service in God's name with a heart far away from him is failure.
19. Slow and steady growth is healthy growth. Explosive growth can be fragile growth.
20. A good worship leader is important and hard to find.
21. Spiritual warfare is real.
22. Church plants should never be started by someone disgruntled or unable to sit under authority at his former church. Church plants cannot be rebuttals to another pastor's methods and ideas. They must be built on a clear call from God.
23. A church planter and his wife must pray for and develop a love for their city—and not just the city but for its people.
24. The church planting wife's main role in helping her husband is, like Aaron holding up Moses' arms in battle, praying for and encouraging him to press on.
25. There is unimaginable joy and reward in sacrifice and service.