I can still remember the day my husband, Tom, returned from a church-planting conference and said those 10 words that changed our family forever: “I think God is calling us to plant a church.”
In the weeks that followed, both Tom and I agreed to earnestly pray about the possibility. After much prayer and counsel, we sold our home, packed our bags and took off for Centerville, Ohio, to plant a church.
That was 36 years ago, and we have had the journey of a lifetime. I’ve watched God use my gifts and passions to shape and mold me into the person I am today. God put a deep love for spouses in me, and I started a ministry called Bloom that offers support and encouragement to lead planters’ spouses. The heart of a church is directly affected by the heart of the leader’s spouse.
Recognizing the potential impact of your spouse, how can you, as the leader of your church and family, encourage and support them?
1. Acknowledge that God called both of you to a particular ministry. It won’t work if the spouse isn’t behind the ministry 100 percent. Take the time to allow your spouse to go through the process to hear what God is asking of your family. Our family believes God calls the family.
2. Help your spouse find their passion. The church has certainly changed since the days when all spouses were expected to play the piano, but there is still unspoken pressure on a spouse today. How many times is the spouse expected to be an extrovert, have perfect kids, a perfect house, a perfect marriage or lead a ministry they have no training for or desire to do?
I believe God calls the spouse to a church to serve, but helping them find their passion and ministry is critical. Begin by asking yourself, “Where is my spouse gifted, passionate and equipped to lead?” Pray with your spouse about where God might be calling them to serve. Helping your spouse find their role is critical!
3. Elevate your spouse. The greatest gift you can give your family and church is a strong marriage. No one should doubt how you feel about your spouse. Although we had times when there were crazy schedules and tons of work hours, I never felt Tom was “missing in action” when it came to our family. We would schedule times to get away (two weeks) so that we could be fully engaged with each other and our kids.
Another aspect of elevating your spouse is to understand what they might be dealing with. Reading a book such as Anne Milam’s Bloom Where You Are Planted gives you a glimpse of some of the emotions your spouse and family may be experiencing. Attending a conference session together or having your spouse help with a Sunday morning message is a great way to say, “I value and acknowledge what my spouse brings to this church.”
I have always appreciated Tom’s desire for me to be a partner in our journey and his making a point of publicly and privately acknowledging his support. Below are a few comments from other spouses on how they have been supported that may give you ideas for ways to affirm and encourage yours:
Meg Nuno (Los Angeles): “My husband released me to finish my schooling in the midst of church planting. His belief in me that I could handle both church planting and getting my bachelor’s degree gave me the emotional strength I needed. He also gave me a mini-'platform' ministry, putting me in charge of doing announcements, which helped me to stay involved and give people an opportunity to know who I was—without being in a super-consuming ministry mold.”
Sarah Burnett (Baltimore, Md.): “He is always pointing people in our church to me for my leadership advice, even though I have no official title and am technically a stay-at-home mom. But because he values me and my opinion, others do too. It keeps me involved and engaged.”
Debbie Jones has served with the Stadia team, a church-planting organization, for six years and is the director of spouse and family support. With 30 years of ministry experience, she has conducted numerous workshops and seminars throughout the United States. She founded a ministry for Stadia called Bloom to provide care and support to the spouses of church planters.