3 Challenges for the Church Planting Wife

In 2008, my husband and I prepared to move our little family away from the only culture we’d ever known, with one mission before us—we hoped to plant a church where the gospel would be preached, known, and lived. We packed our years of ministry and life experience alongside the dishes and the baby crib in the moving van, but we didn’t then know how much we didn’t yet know.

Everyone cheered us on and told us they were proud of us for following God’s call, but some also warned us of the obstacles and difficulties ahead. We tried to wrap our minds around the challenges we might face, but we were full of zeal and youthful energy, and I imagined going toe-to-toe with those yet unseen difficulties and forcing them into submission.

Then we encountered the reality of church planting. In our new culture, which was so foreign to us, no one much cared that we’d arrived to save the day. Neighbors shrugged, fellow laborers said we weren’t needed, and we experienced the wariness, even opposition, of others around us.

We were a novelty because we seemingly appeared as aliens out of thin air, having had no prior connections to our new city. Few were intrigued by the thought of a new church or this Jesus we were sharing. In other words, it took precious little time for me to uncover the obstacles and challenges some had tried to prepare us for. And my courage and boldness dissipated into uncertainty and doubts.

1. Challenge of Loss

There are costs to following Jesus. Scripture tells us this is true, and we’re commanded to count the cost of following him. Many of us who’ve left “house or brothers or sister or mother or father or children or lands” (Matt. 19:29) have certainly counted the cost before leaving a place for the sake of Christ. However, we can’t know the daily consequences of that leaving until we’ve actually left.

The cost is counted before following Christ, but it is experienced in the midst of the work and, for most, experiencing the cost leads to grief. And I’ve found that women especially acutely feel the loss of stability and security. We may grieve cultural familiarity, changes in relationships, a way of life we’d envisioned for ourselves or our children, or even how different ministry looks in our new context compared to our old one.

There are costs to following Jesus.

These are legitimate losses. Grieving the cost isn’t wrong, but becoming embittered by grief can send us veering off course and onto paths of destruction. We must bring our griefs to God, the source of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3) and, taking our cure from Abraham and Sarah, let our disorientation and unfulfilled longings point us to our true home (Heb. 11:13–16).

2. Challenge of the Unseen

The big “go”—when we’re commissioned or when we make our commitment to follow God—is exciting, celebrated, and adrenaline-filled. Every other little “go”—laboring over language, deciphering the bus system, or figuring out how to purchase groceries—is rarely celebrated and rarely exciting.

And it’s in those very moments that we become ripe for frustration and feelings of being forgotten. The big go is comprised of a thousand little more, and most of them are unseen by human eyes and certainly not what we’d write about in a newsletter to our supporters. Many church planting wives, tasked with settling the family into a new home and community, may struggle to see the value of her faithful work in each little go.

The big go is comprised of a thousand little more, and most of them are unseen by human eyes.

However, it’s precisely when we’re seemingly hidden that we find out who we’re actually serving and why. It’s then that we consider whether the gospel is enough to hold us in place and enough to compel us outward to serve.

In other words, there’s a gift in being unseen and quite possibly forgotten by those back home—we find out that what we really need is something we already have. We have a God who sees and delights in our faithfulness. “[W]hat we are is known to God” (2 Cor. 5:11, ESV) Paul writes, and this truth alone can sustain us in the unseen work and in every little go.

3. Challenge of Persistent Discouragement

Each little go can become frustrating and wearying because we don’t always see direct results from our efforts. We wonder why God called us to a place only to seemingly leave us languishing and unfruitful. Discouragement seems ever-present. It certainly has been a plague for me, even as we’ve seen fruit from the seeds we’ve sown in church planting. I’m prone to look at what’s broken rather than what God has redeemed, including in my own heart. I’m also prone to look to myself as the antidote to my own discouragement, or to look to myself as the one capable to make spiritual fruit grow.

In the face of discouragement, we see only powerlessness and weakness in ourselves, and the only response is to shrink back in inadequacy. We must instead look to the all-sufficient Christ and his Spirit as our ever-present help. Our spiritual poverty teaches us to depend upon the true Grower in his time.

When we look at him instead of counting our disappointments and worries, we can instead celebrate the marks of his faithfulness along the way, however small, and see by faith how he will be faithful in the future.

Church planting wife, whatever challenge you face today, let your griefs and disenchantment with this world turn your face to the one who sees, the one who promises you will reap from what you’ve sown if you persevere (Gal. 6:9), the one who is preparing you a true home.

Turn your face to the one who is worthy of all your labor costs you.

He is pleased by your faith.

Christine Hoover is a church planting pastor’s wife, mom of three boys, and the author of several books, including Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships.