I wrote this post exactly 3 years ago while at the beach with family. After just spending a week at the beach with my crew and reflecting on so much that has taken place since then I wanted to re-share it with you with a few additional thoughts. For anyone who puts themselves out there and wrestles with people-pleasing, insecurity and comparison, this is for you...even if you've never been involved in church.
I once dated a pre-seminary student when I was in college. The thought of possibly one day being a pastor’s wife was, honestly, rash inducing. Really. The pastors’ wives I knew growing up sat in the front pew, had a flair for casserole preparation and were really nice. I was never going to be any of those things. Ever.
And I'd be lying if I told you that I didn't break up with him because I had no interest in pastor wifery or following him to Grand Rapids. I had plans. Music plans. Non-potluck plans. Nashville moving plans with one of my best friends. Songs to write and places to go other than sanctuaries or narthexes. Church people, you know what I'm talking about.
So, years later when I met my husband who was not a pastor when I first met him, and was more of a church staff member than pastor when I dated him, I had no idea what I was really getting into. Nashville turned into Virginia for me after college. Then India. Then, wait for it, MICHIGAN-- where my husband and I dated and married. Isn't it ironic.
But something was shifting in my systems loving, support staff, managerial husband. He loved speaking, studying, leading people. He had fallen in love with the local church and even though his wife sat in the back row, loathes casseroles and is inappropriately and hopelessly sarcastic, he wanted to become a pastor. A lead pastor much like the lead pastor for whom we worked and who had started that church from scratch over the course of many long, tumultuous years alongside and with the immense support of a fierce, generous, kind hearted wife and mother. Tremendously huge shoes to fill.
Scott wanted to be not just any pastor….but a church-planting pastor.
Starting from scratch. Moving to a new city and building a community from the ground up. The penniless kind of pastoring.
And I...still with no desire to be a pastor's wife, with tiny feet not meant for big shoe filling, wanted to be with him in it. That's all I knew. Also, escaping Michigan winter (aka 90% of the year).
There’s no man with whom I’d rather take on such a challenge…but 8 years ago when we moved to Charlotte, NC to start Watershed we really had no idea how PERSONALLY hard it is to start a church. It’s fabulously rewarding. It’s missional. And it’s tough on your marriage because it’s tough on your heart. At least at first. Until you work on heart-maintenance in this role.
And in those early years of our move to Charlotte, I'd look across the table with a baby on my shoulder at my husband who returned home covered in dust from installing countertops with his brother all evening to "make some money on the side" after I had worked at a preschool all day changing poopy diapers to also supplement our "income" and think WHAT THE HELL ARE WE DOING?!
Have you ever seen one of these BYE BYE BUGGIES? I used to push one while working at the preschool. In the heat, stuffed with 6 of the chunkiest babies (including my son) you have ever seen. I can remember while pushing it one day around Myers Park thinking... I have a degree....I had a senior recital...I lived abroad...I was going to do things. Things with an income or at least EXCITING THINGS. I DRIVE A DODGE STRATUS (any 90's Will Ferrell fans out there?)! Well, look at me now.
I felt defeated before we even started. And I felt like God had forgotten about the desires of my heart.
You see, when we were just staff members at a church, we took ownership in the church, but at a different level. I was a worship leader, he was a small groups and leadership development pastor. People would come in droves and sometimes leave in packs, but you move on. You do your job.
But when you start a church, person by person, family by family, each exit, each beef someone has with you, each “issue” and criticism can feel as though they’re calling your baby ugly. Your Facebook feed is filled with people who "used to" be a part of your church who now have moved on or haven't moved on at all and it's a constant, stinging reminder for which I was not prepared.
When people come to our church I always hope that they either just moved to town or that they never went to church before this. Because, if they left another church to be part of ours, usually we’ll hear their criticism of their former church. Which often means that we’ll be next on their list of letdowns and failure to please. I cried when a couple whom we valued deeply left our church and took several couples with them because we weren’t doing things the way they wanted. I lost sleep over our children’s volunteer who one day decided she and her family no longer needed a church community and just stopped being part of anything to do with us.
I sighed with disappointment when people sent email or letters or voicemails stating how we’re not “meaty” enough spiritually or too deep, or too concerned with poverty and we don’t have enough programs, why don’t we own a building, we’re too gay, we’re not gay enough, we’re too loud, we’re too soft, we’re not as flashy as the church down the street…what my husband takes in stride, I take terribly personally.
After all...a lot of countertop installations, dipaer changes, moving trucks, sweat, missing of special events in friends'/family's lives (Matt & Rachael's wedding, my grandfather's funeral just to name a few), selling of our precious Harley, instruments and other things were involved to make this thing happen. That's all I could see but what most people probably couldn't.
I remember a few years after we started Watershed a young pastor moved to town to also plant a church but in the suburbs of Charlotte. They needed a place for their band to rehearse and we gladly shared our small, humble rehearsal space with them. We were happy to partner with them. A few years later, as they were exploding by the thousands and that same worship band who shared our rehearsal room was topping the iTunes charts, they decided to open what must have been their 10th campus only a block from where we meet on Sundays and never mentioned it. It’s not that we owned Uptown, it was just that it would have been nice to “partner” rather than all bark up the same tree on the same block. It hurt my heart. I understood that we were a small fish and all that,
but every time I’d see a sticker from that church on someone’s car I wanted to throw a casserole at it.
And somewhere in this process, as people come and “stick” and grow and go deep and we watch God transform people from “hey, what can I get out of this” to “hey, God, how can I be your hands and feet in this city”, we fall to our knees in gratitude that we get to have a front row seat to this taking place. One baptism in our makeshift tank ruins me and reminds me.
I began to start praying the prayer “God, give me a soft heart and thick skin.”
That’s the only prayer I can think of some days. It's an honest prayer and one of survival. It’s the prayer I’d implore any pastor’s wife to utter. Or anyone.
I’m so unfit for my role. I’m not sweet enough or southern enough or pastory enough most of the time (or ever). I make the wrong comment on Facebook. My nose gets out of joint with frequency. I talk too much when I should be listening. I am easily swallowed up by my fear of us not measuring up or meeting expectations.
But God’s soft heart overcomes my casserole aversion and rough edges and He toughens me for this people pleaser’s undoing called leading the local church.
My husband calls church planting “sexy”: I’d call it skin-thickening. But either way, I’m admitting to you and asking God to help me have a heart not only for those homeless students and their families in the school where we work down the street but also for the churchgoers who I felt belittled by or made me feel defensive of my husband and our church. Remember, this whole church is irrevocably entwined with our family and the mama bear will come out sometimes. But...
Soft hearts don’t grudge hold. And thick skinned get over it.
Soft hearts tell their spouse "I'm in" and support them in their dreams even if the pay sucks and even if it involves pushing sweaty chunky babies around nice neighborhoods you'll never live in.
Thick skinned move on from the constant comparison to local mega churches, Nashville musicians who song write instead of juggling sweaty babies and those who seem to be "making it" when you feel you're hanging on by a thread. Blessed are those who handle staff transitions and disgruntled staff spouses, continual parting of ways of congregants, and constant location moves because you don't own a building.
Soft heartedness finds contentedness with and gratitude for what I DO HAVE and where I AM RIGHT NOW..no matter who approves, stays or leaves. Blessed are those who can embrace entrances and departures. As Ingrid so beautifully wrote..... "open hands are hard to hold onto". It's true. I have to let stuff AND PEOPLE go.
The SOFT HEART/THICK SKIN combo carries the mantra of NOT MY WILL BUT YOURS BE DONE.
Dreams dashed or realized, Dodge Stratuses and all.
That's how the kingdom comes, you guys.
So, on Sundays, I have inched my way up to sitting in the second or third row (we don’t have pews) but the whole being considered “nice” thing, well, like I said, I’m in process.