The Safety Zone

The circle of trust for a church leader’s family, especially for a church planter’s family, can be a small place. By nature, starting a new church has a lot to do with the journey of the new church staff members, and by close association, the story of their spouses and children. This creates an unusually high level of pressure for those family members and some rise to the occasion while others struggle under the weight.

We could all agree that a pastor’s spouse should not be subjected to more scrutiny, more expectations, or more stress than anyone else’s partner, but that doesn’t change much. To whom would we appeal to “give her a break,” or “treat him with more understanding?” The very folks we are called to reach are often part of the stress. Some have either become convinced the pastor’s marriage should be a model, the pastor’s home should be an example of all that is virtuous, and the pastor’s children should be paragons of righteousness and respect toward all adults and the perfect playmates for all their peers. Or, even more troubling, they are looking for every flaw they can find so they can say “I knew it—they’re no better than the rest of us!” Of course that’s true, but it’s painful when your family’s shortcomings are the proof some use to discredit the church and God.

So how can a church leader’s family survive the pressure of examination and the stress of being an example while doing more work than most anyone else in the young church? Here are some suggestions from someone who’s been through it…

  • Make sure you’re all called by God. In our ministry, Stadia, we believe God doesn’t call just one spouse or the other. We believe he calls the whole family. If your family or your spouse is not on board with your vision, put the brakes on.
  • Don’t try to do it alone. Build a team, either sharing staff responsibilities or forming a launch core that is absolutely committed to one another. You need the support, your spouse needs the support, your kids need the support, and, honestly, it’s much more fun!
  • Involve your spouse and kids. This is a golden opportunity to share ministry with your family, with your wife or husband. If you don’t do it together, you have even less support and more pressure to handle on your own. And they are gifted people—you need them!
  • Have friends outside your church. Look outside the church and even outside the city for a couple that will be your close, dear, “share all our joys and struggles” with friends. They should be far enough away from the drama and personalities to be on your side no matter the circumstances.
  • Take your days off and vacation. I am in favor of “use it or lose it” vacation time—generous amounts of it. If you can’t discipline yourself to take a day off every week and time away with your family regularly, you’re not the leader the church needs. It’s not all about you anyway.
  • Put yourself under the care of others. We use teams of people to shepherd our planters. Management teams, coaches, project managers, special care providers, and Bloom!. Bloom! is Stadia’s ministry for planters’ spouses, especially valuable to the women spouses of our planters. They need community that is safe and supportive, no matter how difficult the journey becomes.

Make no mistake, the circle of trust is small, but God can make room for your marriage, your kids, and for you to be safe. At the risk of mis-applying scripture, “what does it profit a person to plant a church and lose his/her family in the process?”