All summer long, I’ll be running a series of guest posts here on the blog called “Smokin’ Hot Conversations.” These will be posts about gender, relationships, power, and the church, meant to move us to deeper reflection and conversation about the often distracting or harmful messages in Christian culture. Osheta Moore joins us this week with a post about being a church planter’s wife – or is it a church planter? – in the Greater Boston area. She’s also a mom of three and a brilliant blogger. Learn more about her here.
And if you’d like to contribute to this series, drop me a line.
To be a Church Planter’s Wife or a Church Planter? Apparently, that’s the question.
I have a confession to make: I am a home based business drop-out. Actually, I’ve dropped-out of not one, not two, but four home-based businesses since I became a stay at home mom nearly eleven years ago. I’ve been a mystery shopper (which I don’t recommend doing with two toddlers; it’s kinda hard to “shop” on the down-low with Thing One and Thing Two tearing up the joint) and I’ve sold everything from all natural cleaners to luxury men’s wear.
I was all-or-nothing, go-big or go home, carpe diem with my businesses for…. about five months.
Around that time exhaustion from the intensity of my commitment catches up with me and the luster of my hot new business wears off. Then, I realize I’m more than a rouge pusher or stealthy swimwear shopper and gosh darn it, I want to buy Method cleaners from Target not stinky “non-toxic” concentrates that come in the mail.
So I quit. Until the next big opportunity come and this cycle starts all over again. I now instantly delete any “party” invites and I never bring up my constant struggle balancing a budget on a pastor’s salary with my friends who have home-based business. I know my weakness and it’s an inability to commit half-heartedly to any venture.
This all-or-nothing, white-or-black tendency that I have is probably why one of the first
arguments tense discussions about church planting that my husband and I had was about my role within our church plant.
Driving home from a week long camping trip was probably not the best time to dive into the thorny topic of roles, leadership, and women, but we had received our official invitation from our denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, to come to their Assessment Center – a four day interview of potential church planting couples in order to discern if we will receive support and funding from the denomination. One of the decisions left to make before accepting the invitation was whether we’d go to be assessed as church planter/spouse or co-planters.
“So, what are we going as?” I asked my husband when I realized our children were finally asleep for the rest of our three-hour drive home.
“Well, planter/spouse of course,” he said nonchalantly.
Ire slightly piqued, I asked, “Why ‘of course’?”
“Well, if we’re both planters, who’s going to take care of the kids?” he said, rationally.
“So, because I’m planting a church with you I can’t take care of the kids, as well?” I said. Voice slightly rising and head definitely wagging.
“Well, no. You could. But could you do both things well?”
I thought about that for a moment. I knew my threshold for external stress pretty well at this point. Between an unwed pregnancy at twenty and becoming homeless after evacauting New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, I knew how much I could take on and maintain (relative) emotional health. I knew full-time church planting and full-time motherhood was asking for trouble and a trip to Crazytown population: one.
“So, I can’t lead at all in the church?” I asked quietly.
“Why would you say that?”
“Well it’s either co-planters or planter/spouse right? One means I lead with you. The other means I just bless your calling with a smile and a tray of homemade cookies. I think I’m called to more than that. I think I want to teach and lead and shape the culture of New City…with you.”
My husband grew quiet for a moment and I thought that he was angry at my timid confession until he said, “Babe, I want you to teach and lead and shape the culture of New City. There isn’t anyone I’d want to plant with than you. I need you to do this. But our kids need you too and I think we’re creative enough to make space for you to lead our church and our family.” And then said something that I’ll never forget:
You have a Kingdom purpose, Babe. No lack of title or role can take that away from you and God will make space for your gifts. You have so many, so I’m confident that you’ll lead just as much as I will. I just think, you’d be happier with the boundaries and freedom from stress that going planter/spouse will afford. It’s not all or nothing, you know?
He was right. I knew it. He knew it. But this encouragement as well-meaning as it was, still didn’t sit well with me. It still sounded like being a full-time mom necessarily negated my calling to the church.
No one’s ever heard of an egalitarian pecan pie.
I came to faith and was discipled in the South where the pastor’s wife was expected to make a mean pecan pie, organize every single shower, potluck, death/baby/shut-in meal delivery, and have big hair. Bonus points you say any variation of “bless your heart,” “praise the Lord,” (and my personal favorite) “the devil is a liar!” at least fifty times per Sunday.
This is not me. Well, I love parties so I’m your girl for that, but my pie crust is a joke. Like seriously, my kids take my piecrusts and use them as zombie masks because that’s as much action as they’re going to get in the Moore house. I’m African American so big hair = bad hair day and as a good Southerner, I’d opt for a dirty bun over a bad day in the “house of the Lord.”
And I’m allergic to rote, insincere Christianese.
This was the model I grew up with and came to my mind when I heard planter’s spouse. I couldn’t relate to my pastor’s wife even though she was a sweet, dear lady. I’d come in to Sunday School with deep questions like, “Why are David’s bloodthirsty prayers against his enemies in the Bible when we’re called to love our neighbors?” and she’d look at me and say something like, “Well bless your heart. As you grow in stature in the Lord he will reveal that his ways are higher than ours. Praise the Lord! And you’ll learn that the devil is a liar and he’s just trying to put a seed of doubt in your heart, rebuke him in the name of Jesus! Hallelujah!”
You see my problem? This is why going to the Assessment Center, as a potential “planter’s spouse” was problematic for me. I was too excited about my calling and passions to have some group tell me that I misheard the God I’ve been walking with for over twenty years. I was sure at some point that weekend, I’d be pulled into a room with one of the assessor’s wives and told how important a happy home and plentiful sex would be to the life of our church. I was confident I’d be told to be a “helpmate” and focus on my husband’s calling because God’s economy functions with a Divine Two-fer: two gifted people, one calling.
I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was the assessing team diverse in age, ethnicity, and socio-economic status, but there was a female church planting lead pastor and several wives of seasoned church planters. All were really sharp women. All were leaders in the discussion and interviews. All were valued as equals in the process of discerning the next generation of Covenant planters.
And no one asked me to make a pecan pie! Score.
They did ask me to read a case-study and strategize why the church in question failed! They did ask me communicate the vision of our church plant and share the gospel the best I could. They did ask me what makes me come alive and how to gather people for God’s work.
They spoke my language! To me…a woman. And a black woman, no less.
It felt like the Kingdom. It looked like Jesus praising Mary for pressing into her calling as a disciple. It was Galatians 3:28 in the best sense. Beauty and shalom permeated that space.
We left that Assessment Center recommended to plant New City. I left that Assessment Center affirmed for my gifts even though my exact role was still undecided. I was finally excited about the freedom to be both mom and minister afforded me! Until we got home and I started looking up resources for church planting spouses and found that the leaders who shape the culture of church planting still function in that “all-or-nothing” mentality that I’ve found to be so destructive. Either you’re a woman in ministry (i.e. egalitarian, seminarian, liberal) or you’re a church planter’s spouse (i.e. complementarian, stay at home mom, conservative) and never the two shall meet. You must choose which track and the encouragement you’ll receive will be tailored to your position. But what if my positions are as diverse as Harvard Square on an autumn Friday night?
Awesome and available: Go Team Church Planter!
I recognized this troubling trend in church planting culture at Exponential 2013 in a workshop billed to help the church planter’s spouse (remember, the women who are not lead pastors of their church) find their role. With this description:
One of the most challenging roles in the church is that of pastor’s wife. Where do we fit? What is our role? Is our role solely to have our spouses back and love our families? Or is it more? Find out here.
I was confident that these women spoke my language too and could guide me in my dilemma.
I was wrong.
The class was sixty minutes of homemaking tips and direction on the proper care and feeding of a pastor. In case you’re curious: cheerleading, hot homemade meals, and awesome sex will guarantee your man’s fueled up and ready to go out and win souls for Jesus. Go Team Church Planter!
We touched on personal callings for maybe, five minutes with the presenter emphasizing that if you came to the class to learn how to define your role in the church or how to use your gifts for the church plant, then she couldn’t help you.
My biggest fear in dealing with other planting spouses came and I left that air-conditioned, portable classroom deeply, deeply saddened.
I left sad because God is calling his daughters to so much more. Not that godly encouragement, meals prepared lovingly, and generous intimacy are inappropriate, they’re just incredibly insular and inefficient in creating two dynamic, authentic, world-changing disciples. When the wife is not encouraged to partner alongside her husband—it is unlikely that the gifts God deposited in her and the blessing she is to the world will be actualized.
There’s no room for a blanket all-or-nothing/white-or black approaches to women’s role in the church and in this case, church planting. We need a culture among church planting spouses that embraces the gray—recognizing that some women will gravitate towards more traditional expressions as pastors’ wives and some (like me) will gravitate towards leadership in the church.
As an Anabaptist, I’m very comfortable with the gray-space between white and black. In my series called “Third Way Womanhood,” I explore what it’s like to be a woman in the middle of many polarizing positions and how I’ve learned to live at peace in this gray of modern “biblical womanhood.”
Third Way Womanhood is a position that looks to Jesus first to define my femininity or in this case my role within our church. It looks to create shalom where there is brokenness and it honors the story of an individual more than the role she fills.
I do believe this culture is beginning to change, though. I’m excited about a gathering of women leaders called “If” that challenges some of these blanket expectations and roles so that women will to move past the smokin’ hot, awesome and available, perfect pastor’s wife stereotypes that have served only to stunt our men’s spiritual growth and alienate ourselves from each other in order to move into a more holistic, authentic, and strategic calling. We are formidable and fierce. We are equipped to reflect Christ’s love in this world in stunning ways and as culture shapers of communities, I believe church planter’s wives should not only be validated as equals with their planting husbands, but be validated as leaders within the Body, in their own right, divinely appointed for this very moment.
This is how I’m functioning in my nebulous gray-space of church planter’s spouse. This is what excites me every day to work to build our plant. This is the venture that hasn’t lost its luster even though it’s infinitely harder than chasing down your friend at church to get her to host a home business party.
This is the business of the Kingdom that I’m confident I’ll see through.
Home-based business drop-out and all.